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yoco :: College Basketball
(a sports weblog) news and commentary on men's college basketball and the ncaa tournament

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

low tide

Note: This post was written and published (see time stamp, below) before Alabama lost to Florida. Don't I feel smart?

Reader John Geer emails asking that I explain my skepticism about the Crimson Tide. Fair enough. But before doing so, let's review the case for Alabama.

The No. 11 Crimson Tide has won its last six games to pull within one game of Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama (17-3, 6-1) has two prolific scorers in forward Kennedy Winston (17.8 points) and guard Earnest Shelton (17.4), the SEC's top three-point shooter. The Crimson Tide has two tall, athletic big men in forwards Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson. But whether Alabama can match last year's success in the NCAA tournament -- when the Crimson Tide advanced to its first region final -- could depend on the play of freshman point guard Ronald Steele, who has been remarkably steady. Steele, from Birmingham, is averaging 5.15 assists, third-best in the SEC, and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2 1/2-to-1. Alabama also plays stout defense, holding each of its last six opponents to 61 points or fewer. "They're clearly one of the most established teams in our conference," Georgia Coach Dennis Felton said. "They are extremely experienced coming off of last year's great season. Really, they've got all the parts."

If only that were true. Alabama lacks quality wins, an impact coach and premier point guard play.

The Tide's two most impressive victories to date? Over Minnesota in Alaska and Mississippi State at home. But the Golden Gophers of November 2004 bear little resemblance to the squad that today upset Wisconsin. And the Bulldogs never recovered from Lawrence Roberts' early season suspension. The thumping the Tide administered against MSU was impressive, but is tempered by Alabama's one point victory over Charlotte, five point win against Auburn, six point defeat of Temple, and eight point margin over Tennessee State. Call me a critic, but I have a hard time getting excited about a Tide squad that lost by 14 (!) to Vanderbilt.

Early in the season, I frequently suggested that Wake Forest was a foolish favorite for the national championship because Skip Prosser did not (yet) have the experience necessary to win five or six in a row during the NCAA Tournament. Ditto for Mark Gottfried. Was he around for Jim Harrick's success at UCLA? Sure. Is he building a nice program at Alabama? Yes. But -- and maybe regional bias is at play here -- I continue to believe he is not quite one of college basketball's top 25 coaches. Do you disagree?

Ronald Steele, Alabama's two-time "Mr. Basketball," is having a tremendous freshman season. But he is doing so in a weak SEC, only the nation's sixth-best conference, and lacks the maturity necessary to outplay the big-time point guard against which he will likely compete if the Tide advance to the Sweet 16. Over the years, several high-profile freshmen have led their teams to success during March Madness. But Steele wasn't in their league during high school and hasn't yet earned "diaper dandy" status in college.

Defense may win championships, but coaches and point guards win games in college basketball. As the Tide's record -- gaudy at first glance, but lackluster during a second review -- would suggest.