Where it was started, we may never know. What we do know, however, is that high expectations are hanging over Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Among the reporters/publications riding the proverbial “bandwagon” including the following:
-ESPN.com’s Andy Katz – a 15th pre-season national ranking for the Tide
-ESPN.com’s Dick Vitale – a 9th pre-season national ranking
-Rivals.com – a 6th pre-season national ranking
-Lindy’s Magazine – a 6th pre-season national ranking
-Athlon Sports Magazine – a Final Four appearance prediction
What, exactly, is examined in these “pre-season” rankings? Alongside a general gut-feeling call, one tends to look at numbers first. Enter exhibit “A”. While Alabama managed to squeak out a second-place finish in the SEC West last season – which came down to the very last game of the season – the Crimson Tide achieved a regular season record of only 18 wins and 13 losses. This barely “average” season included losses to a pair of 15-15 teams in Georgia and Mississippi State, a 16-14 Notre Dame, and a 17-15 Temple. Despite a couple of substantial wins over Tennessee and Florida, Alabama hardly dominated in the 2005-2006 season. In fact, ‘Bama was not ranked in the final polls of any major publication, including AP, ESPN/USA Today, or CBSSportsline.
Speaking of numbers, here’s some for you. Last season, Alabama ranked 123rd in the nation in scoring offense, 142nd in the nation in scoring defense, 98th in turnovers, and 248th in assists.
Numbers aside, how does the Tide’s performance in last season’s NCAA Tournament affect the team’s current pre-season hype? Apparently very little. Mark Gottfried’s squad struggled to defeat unranked Marquette, and was sent packing by UCLA in the second round, failing to reach the Sweet 16.
Even more astonishing, however, is how many times the name “Ronald Steele” has been thrown around by everyone and anyone with any influence in the national scene. In fact, Steele is ranked as the number one point guard in the entire nation by Lindy’s magazine, backed by Andy Katz’ remark that Ronald is “one of the top point guards in the country”, along with Dick Vitale’s similar claim that he is “one of the premier point guards in America”. Big words.
Unfortunately, they’re too big. Steele averaged 14.3 points per game (9th in the SEC), along with only 4.26 assists per game (8th in the SEC). Decent, no doubt – but it should be difficult to believe that a player who failed to dominate in his own conference will magically improve his skills over a single summer to become the country’s top floor-leader.
An argument can be made, however, that a point guard’s supporting cast makes or breaks his performance. Not in this case. The Tide return only 48.9 points per game along with merely 25.2 rebounds per game. Coming in to back up last year’s remaining group are a class of seven freshmen and two transfers – a recruiting class not mentioned in any major publication’s Top 25 recruiting rankings.
One can only speculate as to why such a drastic media frenzy has occurred over a seemingly average Crimson Tide team. Some teams are forced to prove their worth on the court; ‘Bama has gotten lucky enough to have been blessed by the press. In any light, one truth remains this off-season: Alabama is the most overrated basketball team in the country.