Any momentum Alabama generated surviving Arkansas and Ole Miss at home last week vanished Monday when coach Anthony Grant announced that the Tide's second leading scorer has been suspended indefinitely.
Tony Mitchell will miss at least Alabama's road game at Auburn on Tuesday night as a result of conduct detrimental to the team. Grant told the Tuscaloosa News that the suspension was a result of "an accumulation" of issues, but he would not elaborate further.
The timing of Mitchell's suspension comes two days after he came off the bench for the first time this season in a double overtime 69-67 win over Ole Miss. Mitchell drew postgame praise from Grant after scoring 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting and grabbed four offensive rebounds.
"Tony stepped up and was terrific down the stretch," Grant said. He took a blow to the head in the first half and had to sit for a while in the second half, but he was dying to get back in there and he really made some plays for us there in the end."
Whatever happened in between Saturday night and Monday morning could be costly for an Alabama team that has slipped toward the NCAA tournament bubble due to a lackluster start in SEC play. The Tide (15-7, 4-4) still have a top 40 RPI thanks to a strong strength of schedule, yet their best wins (Wichita State, Purdue and VCU) all came in November.
Mitchell has not been as efficient a scorer as he was a year ago when Alabama missed the NCAA tournament despite a 12-4 SEC record, but the high-flying wing is still averaging 13.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. An extended absence would be ill-timed with the Tide facing important road games against Auburn and LSU this week, followed by a golden opportunity for a much-needed marquee win at home against Florida on Feb. 14.
Alabama probably needs a minimum of five wins in its final eight SEC games to feel confident about its NCAA tournament chances. The uncertainty surrounding Mitchell's place on the team certainly won't help the Tide achieve that.