Anthony Grant’s tenure at Alabama ended with a loss to Miami in the 2015 NIT, which closed the book on a seven-year run that saw the Crimson Tide always competitive, but rarely challenging the upper echelon of the SEC. Fair or not, a 54-48 conference record and lone NCAA Tournament appearance were not enough for the administration in Tuscaloosa.
The way those results were compiled may have been a factor too.
As the Grant era came to a close, there seemed to be a consistent din of criticism: his teams simply didn’t get people excited. Here’s how Alec Lewis, then of Team Speed Kills, summed it up at the time:
What am I trying to say? Alabama under Anthony Grant play a slow, grind-it-out, tough-to-watch, defensive brand of basketball and in a day and age where college basketball’s play is scrutinized greatly, that’s not what you want.
A campus publication — Dateline Alabama — was on that same wavelength.
There is a level of frustration surrounding the Alabama basketball program right now. The frustration does not only fall on the players and coaches, but the fan base as well. At the end of the day, fans don’t want to see a slow-tempo Alabama offense bore everyone in the arena to death, only to lose to mediocre opponents.
And the numbers did bear that out. Grant’s Alabama teams consistently played at some of the slowest tempos in the country, and while that did contribute to some elite defenses — including top seven national units in both 2010-11 and 2011-12 — it didn’t rack up the gaudy win totals that were evidently expected.
A half decade later, Grant’s is buttering his bread in a different way.
In his third season at Dayton, the Flyers have exploded, riding the early season momentum of a tremendous trip to the Maui Invitational to being a legitimate contender not only in the A-10, but nationally as well. In the process, they’re playing far from the aesthetically-displeasing, plodding brand of basketball that Grant was criticized for at Alabama.
Sophomore forward Obi Toppin deservedly gets the star billing, but he’s surrounded by an array of dangerous shooters like Jalen Crutcher, Ibi Watson and Rodney Chatman. That’s led to the country’s most efficient team shooting the basketball, and sixth-most efficient offense overall per KenPom. And while the Flyers haven’t played at a break-neck pace, they are playing the fastest of any team Grant has coached since taking the Alabama job in 2009.
Anthony Grant’s teams’ pace, per KenPom
Is this a case of a stubborn coach adapting his ways to a changing game? Did his sojourn to the NBA with Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder enlighten him? That’s the easy narrative to fall into, but might not be accurate. It’s not as if Grant was a dinosaur at Alabama; his final two teams did embrace the three-point shot, and he had plenty of offenses based around perimeter players — like Trevor Releford — and versatile big men, like Rodney Cooper and Shannon Hale.
Still, credit should go to Grant for leaning into a style that goes counter to what he’s had success with in the past. Every major contributor, other than Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers, are players that he recruited, and they’ve played one of the most eyeball-pleasing varieties of basketball in the country this year.
Currently, they’ve got the best team effective field goal percentage in Division I (61.2 eFG%), which is fueled by the ninth-best field goal percentage at the rim (71.8%), seventh-best field goal percentage on two-point jumpers (44.8%) and 17th-best three-point percentage (39.0%).
To add to that, they’re not overly reliant on scoring in any of those three ways, and are deadly in transition. The Flyers simply have a lot of ways they can beat teams on offense, and don’t have to only rely on tremendous feats of athleticism like the one below from their star.
Obi Toppin with a poster moment. Maybe his best dunk of the year. pic.twitter.com/Uysd16GZFK— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) December 31, 2019
Those weren’t things Alabama fans were saying about Grant when he left Tuscaloosa, and it’s hard to throw the “boring” label at him now.
Dayton opens Atlantic 10 play with a game at La Salle on Thursday night.