Alabama begins new season with SEC Tournament game against Texas A&MBy Matthew Speakman | 03/07/2018 7:52pm
By Matthew Speakman | Sports Editor
It is a new season for Alabama basketball, and it comes at a good time.
The Crimson Tide ended the season with a five-game losing streak to thrust them to the edge of the NCAA Tournament. The future, however, remains unclear.
No. 9 seed Alabama (17-14, 8-10 SEC) will have work to do to make the tournament, and it starts with second-round SEC Tournament game against No. 8 seed Texas A&M (20-11, 9-9) at noon on Thursday. It will be broadcast by the SEC Network.
“It’s a new opportunity,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said. “We think the SEC is wide open, that anyone can win it. That’s been seen in the regular season.”
Most teams on a five-game losing streak would let it deflate a locker room. Its Alabama’s longest losing streak under Johnson and its first five-game losing streak since 2005.
This team is not doing that. Confidence remains high.
“I feel like the confidence in the locker room is probably bigger than ever because we lost five straight,” freshman guard Collin Sexton said. “I feel like everybody’s ready to play and try to get this win Thursday.”
It will be the second time in five days that Alabama will face the Aggies. Texas A&M defeated Alabama, 68-66, on Saturday. Alabama played the Aggies in the first game of the team's conference schedule and came away victorious.
Alabama and Texas A&M are as familiar with each other as any teams in the country.
“They know a few of our tendencies,” Sexton said. “They know what we do on offense.”
A win would get Alabama in a better position to be selected. A loss would mean bad news for the Crimson Tide. The Crimson Tide’s 14 losses are a big blemish. Only 12 teams have made the tournament with that many. Only one team, Vanderbilt last season, has made the tournament with 15 losses, which is what Alabama will have if it fails to win the whole tournament.
Still, Alabama has five wins over ranked opponents, including wins over the top two teams in the SEC: Auburn and Tennessee.
“Our resume speaks for itself,” Johnson said. “Yes, we have had some disappointing losses, but we’ve won a lot of high-level games. We’ve beaten a lot of really good teams.”
The NCAA tournament appears to be in the back of the team’s mind at this moment. The Crimson Tide will have to beat the Aggies, and possibly win another game after that against No. 1 seed Auburn.
Right now, Alabama is in 56 of 102 bracket projections, with its average seed being a No. 11, according to Bracket matrix. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Alabama in the “first four out” category.
Alabama isn’t focused on that.
“We just got to go one game at a time, so I don’t know if we win what happens,” Sexton said. “I just know we’ve got Texas A&M on Thursday.”
Rebounding is a focus right now. Alabama has allowed double-digit offensive rebounds in four of the five losses in the losing streak.
Texas A&M grabbed 31 offensive rebounds in its two matches against Alabama. Texas A&M out-rebounded Alabama in both games, including a 43-36 advantage.
The Aggies have two of the top frontcourt players in the SEC: Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, a projected lottery pick.
“We just got to work harder than what we’ve been working,” junior forward Donta Hall said. “Just doing what we have to do, crash the glass, get rebounds.”
There is a lot of noise surrounding Alabama, but it is not losing focus of its goal, which is to beat Texas A&M.
I don’t want to give you the coach-speak answer, but I’m really focused on today’s practice,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “I’m really focused on the type of mindset we’re going to need to prepare for this game on Thursday.”