If Alabama coach Avery Johnson had his way, his players would spend the final two weeks of the regular season locked in a bunker capable of withstanding an alien invasion, a nuclear strike and even the mention that Alabama just might find its way into the NCAA Tournament picture.
Johnson will have to settle for checking his team into a hotel the night before games even when the team plays at home, but Johnson is determined not to let the NCAA bubble talk distract his team during this crucial stretch.
“I didn’t do a great job of kind of telling them the truth [last season],” Johnson said. “Everybody else was talking about it [the NCAA Tournament picture]. I was trying to stay away from it, but we’ve talked about it already. It’s over with… We know where we are.”
Where exactly the Crimson Tide is (16-10, 9-5 in the SEC), with four games remaining in the regular season, seems to be up for debate, but most media outlets seem to project the Crimson Tide anywhere from four to 12 spots away from a bid.
Alabama found itself in a similar position last season. Junior Riley Norris remembers how consumed his teammates became with the ever-fluid NCAA Tournament picture when the bubble talk started. Then the talk stopped when the Crimson Tide dropped four of its final five games during the regular season.
“I think that [distraction] led to a couple of crucial losses for us last year down the stretch [in] games we should have won and this year I think we can kind of tune that out,” Norris said.
Alabama likely needs to avoid losing more than once, if it can even afford that, over the next 10 days to even be in the conversation on Selection Sunday for an at-large bid, but Thursday’s matchup has big implications for the SEC Tournament as well.
“If we take care of our part of it, we want to get [one of] the top four seeds [to get] the double bye,” Norris said. “[But] at the end of the day all of our focus now is towards Georgia.”
A win over the Bulldogs (15-12, 6-8 SEC) guarantees the Crimson Tide will receive at worst an eight seed and a single bye in the conference Tournament. It also places Alabama in a three-way tie for the No. 3 seed (and the two byes that come with it) alongside Arkansas and South Carolina.
When the Bulldogs visit Tuscaloosa, they will be without the SEC’s No. 5 scorer Yante Maten (17.6 points per game). He is expected to miss the game with the same right knee injury that caused him to miss all but the first two minutes of Georgia’s last game.
Despite the injury, Johnson said he will prepare his team, as he always does, for every opponent just in case. One opponent Johnson has no doubt he will see plenty of on Thursday is Georgia senior, and the SEC’s No. 3 scorer, J.J. Frazier.
He finished with his second lowest point total of the season (four points) when Alabama defeated the Bulldogs 80-60 on the road on Jan. 25
“He’s a kid that’s capable of getting 30 points any night,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have his best game against us [last time] so I know he’s going to look to come to Coleman Coliseum and try to makeup for his lack of production.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports