AP photo by Rogelio V. Solis|
Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried knows his team could miss the NCAA tournament if it doesn't start producing quality wins with five regular season games left on its schedule before SEC Tournament play begins.
Alabama needs victories to
ensure spot in NCAA tourney
By Josh Cooper
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
Following each conference loss, Alabama coach Mark Gottfried gets pushed and prodded about his team's NCAA tournament chances.
Gottfried typically responds by saying that it's too early to say.
However, the Crimson Tide (18-7, 5-6 SEC) might be running out of time to make its case for an NCAA berth. With five regular-season games remaining — only two of which coming against potential tournament teams (Kentucky and Tennessee) — Alabama could be losing chances for quality wins.
"I think it's clear that for teams that are bunched in the middle of their conference races, we're heading into the home stretch here," said Gary Walters, chair of the NCAA's Division I men's basketball committee.
"The committee is focused pretty highly on the quality performance as we complete this home stretch," he said.
Alabama's best wins have come against NCAA tournament bubble teams Xavier, Iowa and Georgia.
Gottfried has tried pushing as many buttons as possible. He has benched players and changed the team's strategy by shifting the focusing away from guard play. But overall, the results have been similar.
Against Florida on Wednesday, Alabama had an 18-point advantage in the first half and led for most of the second half. But lack of execution down the stretch contributed to what the tournament committee would have called a "quality win" slipping through the Tide's fingers.
Alabama's 5-6 conference record is by the slimmest of margins. The Crimson Tide has the second-worst point differential in conference play at minus-6.7. Alabama has scored 68.2 points against SEC opponents while allowing 74.9.
South Carolina is the worst at minus-12.1, and Auburn is ahead at minus-6.3.
So what can the Crimson Tide do to get into the tournament? Has it exhausted its opportunities by losing both games to lowly Arkansas, blowing a fourth-quarter lead at Ole Miss and getting blown out at Auburn?
"Alabama needs quality wins," said Jerry Palm, who owns and operates the Web site CollegeRPI.com. "If they're going to make anything, they need to do it these next two games because once you get to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn, those aren't tournament teams, and they're bad losses if you don't win.
"Alabama needs to make some hay here in these next few games or in the conference tournament — or else they may not get in."
On his bracket online, which was last updated Feb. 9, Palm had Alabama ranked as a No. 11 seed, facing off against No. 5-seed Southern California in Columbus, Ohio.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com also listed Alabama as a No. 11 seed, playing Virginia in the first round.
While these sites offer projections and nothing concrete — Palm and Lunardi are not committee members — with March fewer than two weeks away, the sentiment around NCAA basketball is that Alabama needs to step up its play.
"If I was one of the committee members, I'd have a hard time voting for Alabama," Palm said. "I think the actual committee will view them more kindly than I do at this part of the season, but there are still games left to change minds."
Gottfried, as he always does, stayed with his usual response Thursday: "I think there's too much left to play."
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