Alabama Basketball: Psychology of a mid-major

2023 Discount Tire Hall of Fame Series Toronto: Alabama v Purdue
2023 Discount Tire Hall of Fame Series Toronto: Alabama v Purdue / Michael Hickey/GettyImages

When Alabama Basketball takes the court for the 2024 NCAA Tournament on Friday evening, it will do so as a cautious double-digit favorite. The Crimson Tide, who finished third in a very strong SEC, will try to avoid the dreaded March upset against the CAA champion College of Charleston. 

The 13-seeded Cougars will head into the Big Dance with an underdog mentality and nothing to lose. 13-over-4 upsets in the Tournament’s first round are hardly uncommon, and College of Charleston appears to fit the blueprint of a dangerous mid-major.

Charleston is a veteran team with a winning mentality and plenty of capable three-point shooters. Additionally, the Cougars have tournament experience, having gone 31-4 last season and nearly pulling off a first round upset of San Diego State. That SDSU team would go on to beat Alabama in the Sweet 16 and make it all the way to the national championship game. 

How will Alabama combat the complacency that reliably plagues high-major schools every year in this tournament?

The Crimson Tide will not overlook College of Charleston, if for no other reason than the Tide’s own program is built on mid-major DNA. 

Coach Nate Oats came to Tuscaloosa from the University at Buffalo, whom he built into a mid-major power during his time at the helm. Oats ultimately led the Bulls to three tourney appearances in his four seasons there.

In 2016, Oats’ Bulls won the MAC tournament and were rewarded with a 14-seed in the NCAA Tournament. There, they put on an impressive performance and nearly upset Miami, one of the best teams in college basketball that season.

Two years later, Buffalo would make it to the Dance again, this time as a 13-seed. The Bulls proceeded to shock the world, running 4th-seeded Arizona out of the gym by a score of 89-68. Buffalo was blown out in the second round by Kentucky, but college hoops had been officially introduced to Nate Oats. 

The following year, Buffalo enjoyed a 28-3 regular season before winning the MAC Tournament once again. This time, the Bulls were rewarded with a 6-seed and blitzed Arizona State before falling to eventual national runner-up Texas Tech. 

After coming to Alabama, Nate Oats has built his program largely using mid-major transfers. On the current team, four of the five leading scorers are former mid-major stars. Mark Sears (Ohio), Aaron Estrada (Hofstra), Grant Nelson (North Dakota State), and Latrell Wrightsell Jr. (Cal State Fullerton) all found success at their previous stops, and two of the four have played in the tournament as a mid-major underdog. 

Collectively, this Alabama Basketball team should have a chip on its shoulder heading into the NCAA Tournament. Not only has the Crimson Tide faced skeptics of its ability to make a run, but it is composed primarily of mid-major pieces. Led by an underdog coach of its own in Nate Oats, Bama Hoops has the makeup to avoid the upset.