That’s not to say one victory will get Alabama in the NCAA field.
That’s not to say two victories will do it. But Alabama has chances to build something college basketball chatters say it doesn’t have … a resume.
It starts today at 2:30 p.m. in Bridgestone Arena against a Tennessee team that has swelled into a more helpful opponent.
If Alabama (20-11) wins, chances are the Crimson Tide will get a shot against top-seeded Florida, and beating the Gators has a way of swaying perceptions. Look what it did for Kentucky.
First things first, and Tennessee (20-11) looks even more like a resume builder after beating Mississippi State 69-53 Thursday. Alabama has a chance to beat another 20-win team in front of what’s likely to be a partisan Tennessee crowd.
The NCAA selection committee looks at how teams finish, and Alabama can get a win over a Tennessee team that’s won nine of its past 10 games.
A quick glance at ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi’s projections Thursday showed Tennessee is last among his “last four in” the NCAA field. Alabama, which stands second among Lunardi’s “next four out,” can make it two victories in three games against Tennessee this season.
If Alabama wins, that’s a victory against a team that beat Wichita State, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky (by 30 points). Tennessee is 4-4 against the top 50.
The biggest knock against Alabama is a slate that includes losses to Dayton, Mercer, Tulane and Auburn. Being the only team to lose to Auburn over the Tigers’ final 17 games was especially ugly.
The Tide’s only counterweight is a victory over Kentucky, which came before a season-ending knee injury sidelined Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats’ first-team All-SEC pick and freshman All-American.
Now, Alabama can knock off a hot Tennessee team, which has a resume many judge as good enough to make the NCAA field. Beating Tennessee would look nice — much nicer than when the Tide split two games with the Vols in January.
It’s probably not enough to promote Alabama from a “next” to a “last” in Lunardi lingo, but adding victory over Tennessee, then Florida just might get anyone yawning at Alabama’s record to snap to.
Of course, there’s nothing like winning the SEC tourney and its automatic NCAA bid to eliminate resume worries. Short of that, Alabama needs a more balanced resume.
Victories over Tennessee and Florida would look nice next to that victory over Kentucky. What’s more, two of those victories would have come in the final two days before Selection Sunday.
Assuming Florida doesn’t trip up against LSU today — and the Gators beat the Tigers 74-52 in January — those opportunities will have lined up. The Tide must take advantage of its one last chance to show it deserves a second NCAA berth in as many years.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.