TUSCALOOSA — The two words around which Alabama has shaped its season are right there on the back of its white warmup shirts, written in red block letters.
“No Noise,” Collin Sexton said Tuesday, “on outside distractions. So we just worry about what’s in the locker room and what we can control.”
Avoiding any “noise” around and concerning the Crimson Tide basketball program borders upon impossible. Once considered an automatic at-large NCAA tournament team, Alabama has plummeted, losing its final five regular-season games to become somewhat of a national punchline.
After publishing his latest bracket projection that did not include Alabama, CBSSports bracketologist Jerry Palm eviscerated the Crimson Tide on Monday’s edition of the Paul Finebaum Show.
“There’s no point in considering them,” Palm said.
Twelve teams have received at-large bids to the NCAA tournament with 14 losses. Vanderbilt got one last season with 15, the most ever for an at-large bid. The Crimson Tide enters the SEC tournament Thursday at 17-14.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still predicted Alabama in his bracket Monday, part of the First Four in Dayton, Ohio — in other words, one of the last four teams in — before the Tide’s SEC tournament opener Thursday against Texas A&M.
That game against the Aggies, the two teams’ second meeting in five days, was — at first — the only game Tide coach Avery Johnson chose to discuss Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to give you the coach-speak,” Johnson began. “I am really focused on today’s practice. I am really focused on the type of mindset we’re going to have in order to prepare for this game on Thursday.”
Midway through his answer, Johnson could not escape the petitioning.
The coach lauded veteran sports information director Aaron Jordan for his upkeep of the team’s resume — it does have five Quadrant 1 wins and four wins against AP Top 25 teams. Only 15 teams have more Quadrant 1 wins than Alabama.
“Yes, we have had some disappointing losses, but we’ve won a lot of high level games (and) we’ve beaten a lot of really good teams, as much as we’ve had a five-game losing streak we’ve had a four-game winning streak in arguably the toughest conference this year in basketball in the SEC,” Johnson said. “You can go online and look at (the resume) … we’ve been injured, missed a lot of guys that missed a lot of games.”
Sexton among them. He sat out the team’s season-opener against Memphis, a one-game suspension for his alleged involvement in the FBI scandal enveloping the sport, before missing two more conference games with an abdominal injury. Alabama was 3-0 without him.
Neither of the Crimson Tide’s seniors — Riley Norris and ArMond Davis — have played in two months. Freshman Herbert Jones missed Saturday’s loss against Texas A&M with a concussion and his status for the SEC tournament is questionable. Forward Donta Hall is still playing with a surgically-repaired right wrist.
“Yes, all of those things are facts, but the tournament that we’re focused on and focusing on today is the SEC tournament and how we can finish with one more point than Texas A&M,” Johnson said.
Though he said Tuesday he’s given no thought to his future plans, Sexton is projected as an NBA Lottery pick in June’s draft. It is almost a foregone conclusion that this season — one so perilously close to ending without an NCAA tournament appearance — will be his last in Tuscaloosa.
Forecasting such gloom to the Tide freshman, or any of his teammates, falls upon deaf ears.
“I feel like the confidence in the locker room is probably bigger than ever because we’ve lost five straight,” Sexton said. “I feel like everybody is ready to play and try to get this win Thursday.”
Added Hall: “There’s nobody on this team that is going to give up on anything we have at stake. I feel like we’re just going to keep hooping and keep working.”