The University of Alabama got a head start on the madness of March this week, suspending four starters indefinitely. Call it February frenzy, but the Crimson Tide just got a lot younger and a lot less potent, losing its top three scorers in a matter of days.
While the news of junior forward Tony Mitchell’s suspension on Tuesday wasn’t earth shattering, the loss of JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele in one fell swoop on Saturday afternoon was nothing if not surprising. Steele, who had become something of the team’s spokesman in his fourth season at Alabama, wasn’t viewed as being located anywhere near Grant’s doghouse. Green seemed to have turned the corner from a lengthy suspension his sophomore year. Releford was considered a model citizen in his second year with the Tide.
The reason for their suspensions, for now, is left to the imagination.
One thing is certain, though. In his third year leading the Tide, Grant is making a statement. The message is as loud as the boom of Denny Chimes through the quad on a quiet Sunday morning: This is his team and they will follow his rules.
With less than 10 games remaining before the start of the SEC tournament in New Orleans, the question has to be asked: is Grant throwing out the baby with the bath water? He said, “talent is a gift but character is a choice” in response to the suspensions. While character can play great defense, it doesn’t score many buckets.
Just look at what Alabama lost with four starters now in street clothes: 68 percent of its scoring, 45 percent of its rebounding and all of the legitimate playing experience. Of the three players left with 10 or more starts, all are freshmen. None average more than 7 points per game.
There’s talent left with freshmen Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph leading the way, but with No. 8 Florida on deck Tuesday and Alabama flirting with a reservation on the proverbial bubble, the coaching staff has created a sink-or-swim moment. Will they rise to the occasion or flounder under the pressure of carrying a program that started out the season with top-25 expectations?
Freshman Nick Jacobs may grow into a force under the basket but he’s not there yet. He’s certainly not the skilled scorer Green is. Charles Hankerson has showed flashes of the scoring threat Mitchell was, but do you trust a player without a career start and a right knee that just required surgery?
Projections for the NCAA Tournament have Alabama as an eight-seed playing Harvard in the opening round. It doesn’t take an Ivy League education to know that position is now in jeopardy.
Alabama just got out of a losing streak. The suspension of four key players threatens to return the Tide back to the losing column. With the NCAA Tournament just weeks away, one has to wonder if the lesson learned by suspension wouldn’t be better served as disciplinary action dolled out during practice. The punishment may fit the crime, but the timing couldn’t be worse.