Postseason least of Tide’s worries

Spencer White

Forget about tournaments.

The NCAA. The NIT. Anything with bubbles or brackets or basketballs.

Even if the Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball team somehow earns a bid to a postseason event, it won’t matter. How can a team that can’t finish in the regular season expect to close the deal when the stakes are at their highest?

This season has almost functioned as a panorama of how to fall flat on your face. But with the Tide, it has become a full-out sprinting slide through viscous mud.

There have been blown double-digit second-half leads. Extended stretches of unfortunately selected shots that leave bright red spots on the aching foreheads of frustrated fans across the state. Inspired rallies that give the Tide a final decisive chance to deliver a last-second win, only to see destiny flattened by the brick wall of misfortune.

Imagine every clichéd sports movie ending, but make the Tide the opponent, the nameless and faceless antagonists that seem invincible at the outset, only to be bested by the plucky “underdogs.”

There is no denying the Tide has talent. Teams don’t routinely build 15-point leads against top-5 opponents like Purdue. It takes players making plays, something Alabama has found ways to do. Mikhail Torrance and company can play outstanding defense, routinely holding opponents below their season average.

The Tide’s problems are not physical, and never have been. Head coach Anthony Grant knows and has known for some time, leaving cryptic hints and even outright declarations throughout this miserable campaign of missed opportunities.

Alabama doesn’t have the mentality to win. It seems so startlingly simple, written here on this newspaper page, but is perhaps the most difficult job any coach can tackle. It is a job that doesn’t take a season but a shift in personality and personnel.

Last night’s 74-66 road loss against Mississippi State functions as no more than a glimpse through the shop window of exactly how the Tide has gotten to its present state.

A careless inbound pass, intercepted by a Bulldog defender. A sloppy dribble picked away and driven down the court for an easy bucket. Charging again and again and again into the mitts of Misssippi State big man Jarvis Varnardo, plugging Swat along to the NCAA block record.

Little things. So many little things. But the problem with little things is that they grow and gather and congeal into a giant blob of big problems. And the Tide has a monstrous blob. One that for all the exertion and want-to that Alabama has shown in admirable efforts all year long still leaves the Tide with a 14-13 record and a sub-par 4-9 mark in Southeastern Conference play.

For all its torrid pacing and quick moves, basketball is still a game that requires good decisions and smart instincts. Alabama has shown that it can put that together for a solid 20 minutes, perhaps even 30.

The problem is, a standard collegiate basketball game remains 40 minutes in length. Where the Tide finds the extra length is a quandary it will ponder this March.