Alabama entered a new era under first-year coach Avery Johnson this year with barely any expectations. But don’t look now: the Crimson Tide are shockingly in the mix for an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
The team that was picked to finish 13th in the SEC in the preseason media predictions is currently listed as the first team out of ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s bracketology projections. Alabama has already defied expectations this season, even if the Crimson Tide weren’t listed in Lunardi’s projected field. Johnson admitted that he never thought going to the big dance was feasible for his team.
“We never even talked about the tournament,” Johnson said during Monday’s SEC teleconference. “We just wanted to come in, see if we can lay the foundation for our program this year, see if we can get better as the season goes on.”
The Crimson Tide (15-9, 6-6 SEC) are no longer just laying the foundation. They’re in contention for a tournament bid and have posted an impressive resume heading into the end of the season.
Alabama ranks 34th in RPI and rank 12th in strength of schedule, according to ESPN. The Crimson Tide have gone 4-5 against the RPI Top 50 with only one loss against a team ranked outside of the RPI Top 100 — an 83-77 road loss against Auburn on Jan. 19.
The preseason apathy has turned into postseason hype, but Johnson said his team’s focus hasn’t shifted toward making the tournament.
“Nobody expected us to even be in the conversation, let alone make the tournament,” Johnson said. “We still don’t talk about it. We just talk about getting ready for the next game.”
Alabama will have plenty of opportunities to move off of the bubble. The Crimson Tide will travel to LSU and Kentucky over the course of their next three games for pivotal road contests.
Alabama has already proven it is a program on the rise. An invitation to participate in March Madness would only further validate the program’s progression.
“We’ll let all of that stuff take care of itself,” Johnson said. “We’re just a one-minute, one-day-at-a-time team. At the end of the season if we’re fortunate to make it, we’ll definitely take it. But that would be just a significant overachievement for our team.”