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March 6, 2011

HURT: Will the Tide make it to the Dance?

TUSCALOOSA | The game was over and an undefeated home season had been completed, but the University of Alabama basketball players didn't want to relinquish the Coleman Coliseum floor so quickly.

So they danced.

"I think Jason Carter is the best (dancer)," JaMychal Green laughed after the game, and the dance recital, had ended. "He has invented his own walk, so I vote for him."

No one asked what Carter's routine was called, but it might be dubbed "The Trite But Unavoidable Metaphor Shuffle."

In other words, the Crimson Tide was dancing. But will they be Dancing?

Questions about Alabama's NCAA Tournament chances were abundant, both in the building and in cyberspace. Mark Fox, the Georgia coach, was an SEC advocate, touting both his own team and the team that had just beaten the Bulldogs.

"I think they are (an NCAA team)," Fox said. "I think we are, too. "Anthony (Grant) and I were talking about it last night. Look at what we've both done. They're 12-4 in the league. We're 9-7 in the league and a Top 50 RPI. And it's the SEC.

"I will argue for us all day long, because I know how tough this league is."

That's what the NCAA selection will have to sort out this week. Is the SEC, in its 2011 incarnation, good? Or is it bad? Or, to boil it down to the core, is the SEC worse in 2011 than it has ever been before in the big-tournament era?

Unless the committee decides the SEC is worse than it has ever been - not just "as bad as " but decidedly "worse than" ever - then Alabama has a strong argument. Since the SEC went to two divisions and a 16-game schedule, no SEC team with a 12-4 record has ever been left out of the NCAA field.

For that matter, no eligible team with an 11-5 record has been left out, either.

Georgia self-imposed a ban in 2003 as Jim Harrick was being investigated, or its 11-5 team would have been a sure-fire selection. I am not saying Alabama is in for sure - in fact, I tend to think otherwise - but black-balling the Crimson Tide with its current conference record would be unprecedented.

With all that said, there are counter-arguments, almost all of them based on a bad week that UA suffered in the Virgin Islands in November, and the generally low level of the Crimson Tide's non-conference competition. There is the painful possibility that the fact Tony Mitchell's 10-footer at the buzzer against St. Peter's bounced out instead of in could make the out/in difference for Alabama as well.

There is no way to tell where the committee, bereft of any SEC representation, will come down on the issue. It might have helped, from a perception standpoint, if Alabama could have made the "league champion" argument as well, but Florida took care of that in Nashville on Saturday night. Alabama fans can't be too hurt by that, disappointing as it might be. Florida had two hurdles put in its path in the final week and cleared both.

I don't know what will happen with Alabama. I know a win over an East Division team on Friday - a win which would push the Crimson Tide to 5-2 versus the East - would help. A rematch with Auburn, now the West No. 5 seed, would be entertaining, but not as valuable as another Top 100 win would be.

The best way for the UA team to approach things is to play like it needs three wins to make the NCAA Tournament field. Whether the number really is three - or whether it is two, one or zero - makes for a lively debate, and this Alabama year's team deserves credit for making it that far.


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