I’ve been covering Alabama basketball for Roll ‘Bama Roll since the 2013-14 season, and I’ve been a massive fan of sports of all kinds for long before that. This is absolutely uncharted territory. In case you have already quarantined yourself to nothing more than your laptop and bed, the novel coronavirus strain, COVID-19, has suddenly hit the sporting world hard. Nearly every conference in collegiate athletics, including the SEC, has announced that, at the least, the rest of each respective conference basketball tournament will be closed to the general public. Outside of whoever is deemed ‘essential personnel’ and some family and friends, the rest of the college basketball postseason will be played in front of nothing more than empty seats.
That extends to the NCAA Tournament, as well. In fact, the NCAA was the first to step-up and announce the closure of the biggest postseason tournament in college sports on Wednesday afternoon. Whether or not you think this is a massive overreaction is neither here-nor-there; the truth is that the world of sports has been rocked by this disease. Rudy Gobert, star center for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, was rushed to the hospital minutes before tip-off of the Jazz-Thunder game last night. He tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA outright suspended the season almost immediately following the news.
That the NCAA might follow suit is hardly a long-shot at this point. As of this writing, at 9:43 PM CDT on Wednesday night, there has been no indication the the NCAA will outright cancel the rest of the post-season. But, I certainly wouldn’t be stunned if the powers that be made that final decision Thursday morning.
That’s Depressing, How About the Game?
For now, Nate Oats and his Crimson Tide (16-15, 8-10 SEC, NET: 53, Kenpom: 60) are scheduled to meet up with the Tennessee Volunteers (17-14, 9-9 SEC, NET: 63, Kenpom: 67) in the 8 v. 9 match-up of the SEC Tournament. In their only meeting this season, Tennessee came from behind to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa 69-68. It was one of the first signs of the coming collapse for ‘Bama to end the regular season, as the Vols shot a measly 35% from the floor, including a dreadful 2/18 from downtown, yet still got the victory on the road.
This was the second game that Herb Jones missed after the wrist surgery he had to undergo following the trip to Baton Rouge, and boy, did it show. Alabama got out-rebounded by nine, committed 20 turnovers, and were outscored by 18 from the free throw line. Sure, Herb may not have made a major difference in the turnover margin or the free throw disparity (Coleman home-court disadvantage strikes again), but his presence on the glass alone would have likely made the difference in this one-point loss.
Obviously, Herb will be back in action Thursday for the Tide. As will John Petty, though it remains to be seen how effective the latter will be. Petty was clearly not himself on the road at Missouri last Saturday, shooting 0/5 from the field and contributing just five rebounds and a single assist. It’s hard to see a path to victory against a well-coached Tennessee team that’s been really playing quite well recently if Petty puts up a similar stat-line in Nashville. Oats has mostly played all injury updates pretty close to the vest, so there’s not much clarity as to how much Petty has been affected by his elbow sprain and whether or not he has progressed much since Saturday.
This is a very winnable game for Alabama, obviously. Both of these teams seem destined for the NIT (if that tournament still happens), but Tennessee has been playing better basketball than the Tide has in recent weeks. The Volunteers have beaten the likes of Florida and Kentucky while Alabama has been picking up losses from the likes of Vanderbilt and Missouri. The team has really seemed to fade down the stretch, and it’s clearly weighing on their psyche. The lack of fans in the crowd probably won’t help in that regard.
If the game does end up being played, the Tide will need to put the end of the regular season behind it and regroup. The start of the SEC Tournament presents the opportunity to put everything that happened in the lead-up to it to bed and play win-or-go-home basketball. That should be enough to fire up any competitor.
The game will, hopefully, tip at noon CDT and will be televised on the SEC Network.