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Jeff Eisenberg

Alabama may soon be the nation's most intriguing bubble team

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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If Alabama can ride this astonishing hot streak a few more weeks, it may soon emerge as the nation's most fascinating bubble team.

The Tide upset Tennessee on the road 65-60 on Saturday to improve to 7-1 in the SEC, a mark typically belonging to a Final Four contender and not a bubble hopeful. Of course, most previous 7-1 SEC teams probably didn't have the disastrous non-league season that Alabama did.

Believe it or not, Alabama's most impressive non-league victory is likely over Lipscomb, a team that has now lost two straight to slip to fourth place in the notoriously weak Atlantic Sun Conference. The Tide squandered chances for marquee non-league wins against Purdue and Oklahoma State and also lost to the likes of St. Peters, Iowa, Providence and Seton Hall.

Normally a power conference team can overcome its non-league failures with a brilliant conference season, but that is more difficult for Alabama because it's a member of the SEC West.

Each of Alabama's SEC West peers were equally awful out of conference, meaning that the Tide aren't getting much of an RPI boost from beating Auburn, LSU or Mississippi State. Even with its gaudy conference record and wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, Alabama's RPI entering Saturday was a mere 114.

The most intriguing question now about Alabama is how many SEC wins the Tide needs to feel confident about its chances of earning an NCAA tournament bid.

Could a 12-4 SEC team miss the NCAA tournament? Hard as it may be to believe, yes, considering the Tide's RPI likely would be hovering in the 90s in that scenario.

Even though the Tide still have games against Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia, it's definitely conceivable that they could get to or even eclipse 12 conference wins the way they're playing and as weak as the SEC West is.

Forward JaMychal Green has established himself as one of the top players in the SEC. Sophomore Tony Mitchell has 47 points in his past two games and to raise his season-long average to 14.9. And senior Senario Hillman has emerged as a perimeter stopper for a team that has held SEC opponents to 61 or fewer points in six of eight games.

Alabama fans who have taken a break from spring football talk won't be pleased to hear 12 SEC wins may not be enough for an NCAA tournament bid but consider this:

A month ago, the idea of Alabama making a run at March Madness seemed preposterous. That should be a reminder that the bubble isn't the worst place to be.

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