Coming off two big wins, Alabama Basketball fans are filled with optimism. It was no small feat to beat Gonzaga in a virtual road game and persevere against Houston and arguably college basketball’s top defense. Two wins against two of last season’s Final Four is huge.
Nine games into the season are enough to start rating the Crimson Tide’s March prospects. The NCAA NET rankings do not start to be meaningful until about 10 games into the season. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is the small sample size of games for the algorithm to calculate. The other is many teams schedule early games against weak opponents. This season, particularly, those ‘bought’ wins have backfired on several teams. A few examples are Furman beating Louisville, The Citadel beating Pittsburgh, Murray State beating Memphis and Texas Southern beating Florida.
There have been other surprising results, but not all are major upsets. Included in that group are Notre Dame over Kentucky, Georgia over Memphis, Navy over Virginia and Oakland over Oklahoma State. What the surprise results prove is that in any given game, no team is immune from losing.
After nine games, the Alabama Crimson Tide is No. 13 in the NET ranking. Ken Pomeroy has Alabama Basketball at No. 11. Two teams the Tide has beaten, Gonzaga and Houston are ranked higher than the Crimson Tide by Pomeroy. The Zags are No. 1 and Houston is No. 5. The Alabama loss to No. 111 Iona is diminishing the Tide’s ranking.
How good is Alabama Basketball?
More important than how good the Tide is now, is how good can it be in March. A valid argument is that with Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford and J.D. Davison, Nate Oats has the best group of guards in college basketball. Houston executed its strong perimeter defense Saturday night and the Tide’s trio of guards were only able to produce nine three-point attempts. Fortunately, Shackelford made 5-of-7, including two huge treys in the game’s last three and a half minutes. Juwan Gary’s 19 points were essential to the Tide win.
Houston’s swarming defense and doubles on Quinerly and Shackelford gave Gary, Keon Eliis and Darius Miles nine shots from outside the arc. Gary made one and otherwise, the group was 0-for-8. Houston also beat up the Crimson Tide with offensive rebounds. The leading rebounders for the Tide were Shackelford and Davison.
To be a championship team in March, the Crimson Tide will have to get better defense and more rebounding from its bigs. Two more things stood out against Houston. Nate Oats only used eight players, despite Noah Gurley and Charles Bediako fouling out. If Oats goes through the season, choosing to not put Keon Ambrose-Hylton and Alex Tchikou in tight games, Bediako and Gurley must improve.
What about an Alabama Basketball SEC repeat?
There are three more non-conference games before SEC play begins on Dec. 29. The now, 5-4 Memphis Tigers could bounce back strong Tuesday night after four straight losses. A, 3-5 Jacksonville State should not be a problem. Colorado State is 10-0 and cannot be taken lightly. Pomeroy has the Rams at No. 38. There may not be eight SEC teams better than Colorado State.
The Tide’s SEC schedule opens with Tennessee in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 29. At this point, the Crimson Tide or Tennessee might be the league’s best. If LSU, Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas are behind the Tide and the Vols, none of them are far behind.
It is a great time to be an Alabama Basketball fan. Nate Oats has done a superb job rebuilding this year’s roster. His late-game adjustments against Houston were spot on. And it is obvious this team likes playing with each other and for Oats.