It looked fun and sounded better. Now he’ll experience it for himself.
The Alabama junior basketball player said it was an emotional scene in the room when the Crimson Tide saw its name in the NCAA field released Sunday evening. Alabama, the No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region, will head to Greensboro, N.C., for the Friday meeting with Missouri Valley Conference tournament champion and eight-seeded Creighton. Game times are still to be determined.
But for an Alabama program that hasn’t tasted the tournament since 2006, just getting the invitation was reason enough for celebration Sunday night. Steele thought back to the stories he heard from big brother Ronald Steele who played on Alabama’s last tournament team.
“He said it was the best experience in the world,” Andrew Steele said.
After a regular season of incredible peaks and valleys, landing one of the coveted 37 at-large bids added another twist.
Alabama (21-11) entered the year with a preseason ranking that rose as high as No. 12 in late November. But the Tide dropped three of four after that. Then came the four-game skid in January followed by suspensions of four starters, including Steele, in early February.
Only second-leading scorer Tony Mitchell remains suspended for a team that’s been angling toward the tournament in the past few weeks. Wins in eight of the last 12 games paired favorably with a strong non-conference schedule that included six tournament teams.
The tough times Alabama faced was “just part of college basketball,” coach Anthony Grant said.
“You have adversity that you have to face over the course of the season,” he said. “And I think it makes you stronger if you handle it the right way, it can only help you. … Really there’s an excitement to get in, but what you remember is winning. So trying to put ourselves in position to advance in the tournament is the goal.”
A win Friday would almost certainly pair the Tide with in-state favorite North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.
Standing in its way is a Creighton team riding quite a hot streak.
The No. 19 Bluejays (28-5) won seven straight games including three in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Grant said little was known about Omaha-based school in the moments following the Sunday selection.
“You guys probably know more than I do,” he said while glancing at the Bluejays stat sheet. “I’m sitting here as you’re asking questions, I’m look at the numbers and it’s impressive.”
Creighton scores 80 points a game, the sixth-highest average in Division I. Alabama, conversely, has the No. 9 scoring defense allowing just 57.9 points a game.