State of Alabama Basketball today and what the future holds

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports /

An Alabama Basketball season ended in a Sweet 16 matchup for the ninth time. Some perspective might prove valuable.

For the record, I have seen every one of the Crimson Tide’s 49 NCAA Tournament games. Going beyond recency bias, I can say many of the Tide’s 24 Big Dance losses were harder for me to accept.

Arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all time was UCLA’s John Wooden. Any counterargument to Wooden’s greatness must provide the name of a Division One head coach whose teams won 10 National Championships in a span of 12 seasons.

In a game that cannot be controlled by any coach or any one player, Wooden, much like Nick Saban tried to leave nothing to chance. At Wooden’s first UCLA practice every season, his first lesson for players was how to tie their shoes. Trying that today would be laughable.

Wooden worked so hard to prepare his teams, he once described his role during games as sitting back and watching.

John Wooden would be lost trying to coach college basketball today.

Nate Oats and Alabama Basketball do not play the same game Wooden’s UCLA teams played. It is not so much that the old fundamentals no longer apply, but rather that they no longer matter as much.

Comparing Nate Oats to John Wooden is meaningless. There is, however, a coach from a previous generation that can be used as a comparison. Guy Lewis coached the Houston Cougars, going back to when Johnny Dees coached Alabama Basketball. Lewis’ Houston tenure ran for a decade after the end of the John Wooden era. In 30 seasons coaching Houston, Lewis’ teams won 592 games. Lewis took teams to 14 NCAA Tournaments and five Final Fours. The Cougars never won a National Championship.

What Lewis is most known for is the array of exceptional athletes he attracted to Houston. The most prominent examples were Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Birdsong. In the early 1980s, Drexler, Olajuwon and Benny Anders played together on teams labeled Phi Slama Jama; a tribute to their fast-breaking, slam-dunking, almost playground style.

In earlier Houston seasons, when Birdsong was raining long-range jumpers, Guy Lewis would pace the sidelines, sometimes waving a red-and-white checked towel and often shouting, ‘Sing Bird, Sing’. Guy Lewis let his guys play; with an attitude of what Bear Bryant long-ago called, reckless abandon.

But the most-remembered thing about Guy Lewis is none of his teams ever won it all.

Any comparison between Alabama Basketball coach Nate Oats and Guy Lewis can only be a potential one. It is unlikely Guy Lweis considered such a thing as analytics would have anything to do with basketball. On a surface level, Guy Lewis was a relaxed, sideline crooner. Nate Oats barks commands with unbridled intensity.

It could be ironic or it could be coincidental, but in 30 seasons, Guy Lweis’ teams won 68% of their games. In eight seasons, Nate Oats’ teams have won 68.9%.

Alabama Basketball and winning the last game

On the minds of Crimson Tide fans is whether a Nate Oats Alabama basketball team can ever win it all. After a sensational season ending in a disappointing Big Dance loss, the question has merit.

Is Nate Oats’ offensive system of tempo, rims, frees and threes enough? It has been popular this season to talk about Alabama running a Houston Rockets, NBA offense. Two points stand out. One is offensive success for the Rockets was predicated by the performance of one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, James Harden.

Admittedly the NBA is different from college basketball. But the Rockets never won an NBA Championship with James Harden. Neither have the other three of Harden’s NBA teams.

In only three of Nate Oats’ eight head coaching seasons has he had enough talent to measure the effectiveness of his offensive system. Those three seasons produced 76 wins, two SEC Regular Season Championships and two SEC Tournament Championships, along with four NCAA Tournament wins. By any fair measure, that is success.

Nate Oats said earlier this season the Crimson Tide kind of just does what it does. Is what could be called ‘full tilt boogie’ hoops enough? Or is some adjustment needed before another NCAA Tournament?

dark. Next. Tide freshmen faltered in Sweet 16.

With no adjustments by Oats, Alabama teams will continue to win lots of games and more SEC titles. Right or wrong, Nate Oats will ultimately be measured by Final Fours and National Championships.