The start of the 2015-2016 college basketball season is likely far from the top priority for fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
After all, Nick Saban’s football team is getting ready to take part in the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year. But while the football has, deservedly, been capturing most of the headlines around Tuscaloosa, Avery Johnson’s team has quietly begun the year with a 6-2 record, with several quality wins coming in the process.
This Alabama team was selected to finish thirteenth in the SEC in the preseason. Despite, the high-profile hire of Johnson in the offseason, the Crimson Tide still came into the year missing its top-3 scorers from a team that finished with a losing record in conference play a year ago.
Johnson certainly brought energy and excitement with him when he came to Tuscaloosa, but still didn’t have to great expectations to live up to in his first season as a collegiate basketball coach.
But while it’s still too early to make any brash claims about this team, Alabama’s success in the early going has been one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season.
Two of Anthony Grant’s most prominent transgressions during his last few yeaars at Alabama were his inabilities to beat ranked teams and execute in close games. In only games as coach of the Crimson Tide, Johnson has already experienced success in both of those areas.
On November 26, Alabama defeated then No. 20 Wichita State on a neutral floor in Orlando. The victory snapped a 21-game losing streak against ranked opponents for the Tide. The next day, Johnson’s squad followed the win up by beating No. 17 Notre Dame.
While ending several years of futility against ranked opponents had to be a welcome sight for Alabama fans, the way the Crimson Tide one both of those games had to be an equal relief.
Against the Shockers, Alabama took a three-point lead with five minutes remaining and was able to execute on both sides of the floor to hold on for a narrow victory. The following evening, trailing the Irish by a point with 28.6 seconds to go, Johnson drew up a play for senior guard Retin Obasohan, who converted to give the Crimson Tide a win by the narrowest of margins.
Each of Alabama’s two wins since then were road matchups against Southern Mississippi and Clemson, a pair of close calls.
But most importantly, with only a few games remaining before the start of SEC play, Johnson has this Alabama team believing and playing with confidence, something the Tide have lacked in recent memory.
With only major non-conference opponent left in Oregon, this portion of the schedule should already be deemed a success barring any major slip-ups agaisnt Jacksonville State or Norfolk State.
The Crimson Tide are 6-2 with two wins that will look nice on a tournament resumé if Alabama finds itself in that position near the end of the year. Also, there now seems to be a formula that works in close games which will be needed once the Tide enter SEC play.
For the first time in several years, Alabama fans have a product on the court they can be genuinely excited about. And it’s all come from a team and a coach that noone expected anything from this season.