It's time to assess what we have learned about the men's basketball teams at Alabama, Auburn and UAB through the first half of play in their respective conferences and hand out their midterm grades.
Alabama Crimson Tide (13-9, 3-5 Southeastern Conference)
Alabama can't seem to catch a break. They head into the second half on the heels of back-to-back one-point losses at Auburn (58-57) and at home against Florida (66-65) in the first meeting between new Tide coach Anthony Grant and his former boss, the Gators Billy Donovan. They also dropped a one-point decision to Vanderbilt (65-64) and suffered a close loss at home to Tennessee (63-57).
When it comes to winning time, the Tide finds a way to lose. Part of that is senior Mikhail Torrance (pictured right) is not a true point guard. He's having a fine season -- in the loss to Florida he had 22 points and five assists -- but in late-game situations, the Tide needs someone to break down the defense in the half-court and make a play. That's what point guards do.
If Torrance had a point guard to get the ball to him at crunch time instead of trying to run the offense himself, he would be more effective, but he has to try to do it all. Other teams know that and make sure Torrance isn't the one who's going to take the last shot to beat them. And since no one else is capable of making a play in the late-game situations, the Tide continues to come up short in close games.
With four of their next fives on the road -- at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi State -- and no more games remaining against LSU (two of the Tide's three SEC wins have come against the winless - toothless? - Tigers), the Tide could be headed for a losing season overall.
Auburn Tigers (11-11, 2-5 SEC)
The Tigers actually have been half good. Really, they have. They trailed South Carolina only 32-29 at halftime before losing 80-71; they trailed No. 14 Tennessee only 38-37 at halftime before losing 81-55; they trailed No. 4 Kentucky 39-26 at halftime, but rallied in the second half before losing 72-67; they led No. 18 Vanderbilt 43-32 on the road at halftime before losing 82-74; and they led No. 25 Ole Miss 41-38 at halftime before losing 84-74.
The reason Auburn is only half good is because the Tigers have half a team. Their backcourt trio of DeWayne Reed (16.1 points per game), Frankie Sullivan (13.2 ppg) and Tay Waller (12.6 ppg) is pretty good, but their inside game is non-existent. Forward Lucas Hargrove (pictured right) averages in double figures (13.2 ppg), but he's not a low-post player. That's why Reed, Sullivan and Waller have combined to launch 338 3-pointers (making 125, 37.0 percent).
The Tigers also get next to nothing from their bench.
Auburn's only SEC wins have come against winless LSU (84-80) and hard-luck Alabama.
No wonder head coach Jeff Lebo might be headed for the firing squad.
UAB Blazers (18-4, 6-2, Conference USA)
A week ago, the Blazers were riding high. They were ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, were undefeated in C-USA, following a rousing 65-55 victory against Tulsa, and were off to the best start (18-2) in program history.
But after a tough double-overtime 74-65 loss at home to UTEP that left the Blazers battered and bruised (point guard Aaron Johnson's nose was broken in the game and reserve center Kenneth Cooper suffered a concussion) and their annual hiccup at Memphis, 85-75, on Wednesday, the Blazers fell out of the rankings and suddenly find themselves in a third-place tie with Memphis in the conference standings, staring up at co-leaders Tulsa and UTEP.
Johnson, wearing a facemask (pictured right), and Cooper did play Wednesday, but they couldn't prevent the Blazers from losing for the 11th consecutive time at Memphis. UAB has not won a regular-season game at Memphis since Jan. 2, 1999.
Keeping Johnson healthy the rest of the way is vital for the Blazers. Although swingman Elijah Millsap is a leading candidate for C-USA Player of the Year, it's Johnson who is the heart and soul of the team. He's also the team's only point guard and that's why he leads the Blazers in minutes played (35.9 per game).
UAB head coach Mike Davis needs to right the ship in a hurry because C-USA is probably going to receive only two bids to the NCAA Tournament, although this season the league deserves at least three.