Last season Alabama Basketball won 31 games, was the SEC Regular Season Champion, and won the SEC Tournament. The Alabama Crimson Tide was an NCAA Tournament 1-seed for the first time and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Based on those accomplishments, many will claim the 2022-23 season was the best coaching performance of Nate Oats' career. Another opinion is also possible. It is that this season might instead become Oats' best.
Coming to such a conclusion is impossible before March. Alabama could struggle to finish strong and limp into the post-season as an 8-11 seed in the Big Dance. If so, it would take making a Final Four to warrant a claim Nate Oats had turned in his best performance.
The current Crimson Tide does not resemble a Final Four team. Alabama has serious weaknesses in interior defense, turnover margin, and offensive rebounding. According to Ken Pomeroy's broadly respected algorithm, the Crimson Tide is No. 2 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and No. 57 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency among all Division One teams. Driven largely by the Crimson Tide's No. 2 Strength of Schedule (SOS), Pomeroy's ratings have the Crimson Tide as the nation's No. 8 team. The NCAA's NET Rankings also have Alabama at No. 8. Only two SEC teams are higher; Auburn at No. 7 and Tennessee at No. 3.
In the recent 20-point loss to the Vols, Alabama had trouble defending Dalton Knecht who poured in 25 points. Knecht was not very good from outside the arc, but he overpowered Tide defenders when the 6'6" guard took the ball to the rim.
Bama's struggle with Knecht was predictable. In the Tide's opening game of the SEC season, 6'6" Vanderbilt freshman, Jason Rivera-Torres was a similar matchup problem. He scored 20 points in 23 minutes of play. In both games, once a driving opponent edged past a Tide defender, Alabama had little rim protection.
The Tide's defense close to the basket has been vulnerable throughout the season. For whatever reason, Nick Pringle fails to consistently execute sound defensive principles. In a few games, the performance of Mo Wague was encouraging, but in recent games, he has been hampered by a recurring foot problem. The lack of rim protection has been a problem all season. Those looking to criticize Nate Oats can claim the Tide's roster has a serious weakness with no competent or healthy inside defender.
While the calculations by Ken Pomeroy provide optimism for Crimson Tide fans, other key stats paint a different picture. NCAA stats show the Crimson Tide is 80th in Offensive Rebounding, No. 142 in Field Goal Percentage Defense, and No. 248 in Turnover Margin.
What Alabama Basketball Has
Credit goes to Nate Oats for having a team that does not back down. Like Oats, his players show grit and determination. That is especially true in Mark Sears, Grant Nelson, Rylan Griffen, Aaron Estrada, and Latrell Wrightsell. Sam Walters can provide needed offensive boosts. Reserve Mo Dioubate provides intensity every minute he is on the court.
If Mo Wague can fully recover from his injury and Jarin Stevenson continues the progress seen in recent games, the Crimson Tide can accomplish much. A deep run into March is not impossible. If it happens, Nate Oats will have done the best work of his career.