Alabama Basketball: To win in Tuscaloosa Nate Oats must …

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images) /

Projecting what Alabama basketball coach, Nate Oats must do to win, first requires consideration of what he inherited in Tuscaloosa.

It is not easy to win, as in win big, for Alabama basketball. There are reasons why, of which there is little consensus. Is it an old arena, not being a ‘basketball school’ or that in-state basketball talent has weakened? It could be any one of those reasons or any combination of them, including all three.

Rather than adding to the frequent debate on those issues, understanding less discussed aspects of the program is worthwhile. What Nate Oats can achieve is unknown after one season. What Nate Oats inherited with the Alabama basketball job can be defined.

Ultimately, Nate Oats will recruit well enough to win with his system. Or he will adjust his system to the players he can sign. He did a bit of both in his first Crimson Tide season. Whatever always evolving amalgam he chooses, the core question will be can he win big.

Winning Big in Tuscaloosa

What coaches have won big in T-Town? We could go back to Johnny Dee and his Rocket Eight. More comparable are the Tide careers of coaches going back to C.M. Newton. Newton built a tremendous program for two reasons. One was the patience of his Athletic Director, Paul Bryant, with a slow start. Newton won only 12 games in his first two seasons. The second reason was the recruitment of mostly, Alabama born, black players. Blessed by Bryant, Newton integrated basketball so Crimson Tide football could follow.

In Newton’s sixth season, the Tide won the SEC Championship, subsequently followed by two more conference championships. In 1976, the third of those SEC Champions became the second-best team in college basketball. And came close to being the best, losing to eventual NCAA Champion, Indiana.

Alabama basketball has not ‘won big’ often

Going back so many decades may be irrelevant. But there is merit in comparing when Alabama basketball was able to ‘win big.’ Before playing Indiana in the 1976 NCAA Tournament, the Crimson Tide blew-out North Carolina. The five Tar Heels starters were on NBA teams within two seasons. In Dayton, OH, Newton’s team beat North Carolina by 15 points. From 1974-1976, Alabama basketball ‘won big.’

Wimp Sanderson’s teams made the NCAA Tournament 10 times in 12 seasons and won five SEC Championships. Wimp’s teams won consistently but ‘winning big’ does not quite fit an era when NCAA Tournament games were lost to Lamar, Illinois State, South Alabama and Loyola-Marymount. Make no mistake, Wimp is a legitimate Alabama basketball legend, but the Crimson Tide was never a national power under him.

Mark Gottfried’s 2004 Alabama basketball team ‘won big’ by beating three top 10 teams and advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight. As good as that team was, it lost 13 games. The next season the Tide got bumped in the first round by Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Bruce Pearl.

Debates can ensue over the meaning of ‘win big’ and when the Tide has done so. We can all agree it has not been often enough. C.M Newton won big for a short while. Wimp Sanderson won a lot. Next season will be the 29th since Wimp stepped down. C.M. is no longer alive.

Since Wimp, except for the then surprising 2004 NCAA Tournament run, the Crimson Tide has won many big games but the program has not ‘won big.’

That is what Nate Oats inherited. Can he change the trajectory of Alabama basketball? It is a tall order, for any coach. If he can successfully recruit to his system, he has a chance.

Next. Who can Oats add to 2020-21 roster?. dark

Most Crimson Tide fans love the Oats’ style of play. A few wonder if it can hold up against top SEC talent. Nate Oats’ first Tide season did not provide an answer.