Alabama basketball fans are tired of hopeful seasons ending in mediocrity. Let’s consider what is the true state of Crimson Tide basketball.
These words won’t mean much to Alabama basketball fans who gave up on another season a couple of weeks ago. For them, early losses in November, December and early January gave little reason for optimism. The final tune-out for those fans was losing 4-of-5 to LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn, with the lone win being over Georgia.
They are not fair-weather fans and deserve no derision. They are just ‘sick and tired’ of being ‘sick and tired’ of Alabama basketball.
The rest of us must have some affinity for disappointment or such a dose of Crimson optimism we never give up on any Tide team. Our annual hopes of Alabama basketball gaining NCAA Tournament respectability are rarely fulfilled.
As this season’s Crimson Tide teeters on the brink, needing probably five and at the least, four straight wins for an NCAA bid, some perspective is needed. As the early, tune-out group of fans would agree, reality defines the story. The reality is Alabama basketball lost its way 15 seasons ago.
It happened in an 18-13 season that included an NCAA Tournament win. At some point after the Elite Eight season of 2004, Mark Gottfried lost his coaching focus. Some detractors say he also lost some principles having nothing to do with basketball. His 2006 team lost its last three SEC road games and lost an opening SEC Tournament game to Kentucky. It limped into the NCAA Tournament having lost 4-of-7 to close the season. A win over Marquette, followed by a loss to UCLA ended the Tide’s season.
It would be four more seasons before Anthony Grant, one of the hottest, young coaches in America replaced Gottfried. All Gottfried had accomplished in Tuscaloosa (and more) eroded in his last three Tide seasons. Anthony Grant inherited some good players. They didn’t know how to play winning basketball. Grant’s recruiting was good but not great. His intense, but quiet personality was not a good fit. He was better suited for a basketball-first school.
Grant made some progress, including one NCAA Tournament win in 2012. But his last two seasons showed his Tide program was not improving.
Avery Johnson also had some success with recruiting and accomplished an NCAA Tournament win in 2018. All his NBA pedigree and bountiful enthusiasm were not enough. His coaching was suspect. In the end, he became another good guy who failed.
Late in Nate Oats’ first season, it is fair to ask a couple of questions. Anthony Grant and Avery Johnson were not bad recruiters, but neither ever had enough talent on an Alabama basketball roster. Can Nate Oats change that and get a Tide roster over the hump? Talent can be infused quickly in college basketball, often taking no more than one or two classes. The 2020 class is Oats’ first, true recruiting class. So far, it has one 4-Star and is ranked as the No. 91 class in Division One.
A second question is about basketball philosophy. Nate Oats uses an innovative style of play that is often fun to watch. It served him well at Buffalo. Can he win with it in the SEC? Because if he can’t win big in the SEC, more NCAA failures will follow. Like recruiting, Alabama basketball fans must wait for an answer. A season with an injury-depleted and transfer eligibility denied roster is not a fair measurement.
I gladly express enthusiasm for Nate Oats as the leader of the Alabama basketball program. I believe he will do well and has a real chance to get the Crimson Tide back to what it was in 2004.
For those wondering, John Petty with a sprained elbow is not expected to play against South Carolina. He might play against Vandy, but more likely will not return before the Missouri game.