Alabama Basketball sits alone atop the SEC and other roundball thoughts

An early February, Big Dance lock for the Alabama Crimson Tide, showed why, what Nate Oats has built in Tuscaloosa is so extraordinary

Feb 10, 2024; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide guard Mark Sears (1) passes the
Feb 10, 2024; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Mark Sears (1) passes the / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

With Auburn's thrashing of South Carolina on Wednesday night, the Alabama Crimson Tide moved into sole possession of first place in the SEC. While the winners of the SEC regular season and the SEC Tournament will not be known for weeks, Bama fans already know the Crimson Tide will move on to the Big Dance.

That NCAA Tournament assurance says more about what Nate Oats has accomplished in Tuscaloosa than do championships. Oats and the Crimson Tide have had great success in championships, winning both the SEC Regular Season Championship and the SEC Tournament in the 2021 and 2023 seasons. But championships cannot be won every season. What top teams can do every season is advance to the NCAA Tournament. Alabama will go to its fourth straight this season. In the SEC, only Tennessee is on a longer run of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Nate Oats has made Alabama an every-season NCAA team. Given what preceded him in Tuscaloosa, becoming a Big Dance mainstay is a major accomplishment.

Only six SEC basketball programs have been to more than 18 NCAA Tournaments. Of course, Kentucky is No. 1 with 61, Big Dance seasons. Missouri is next with 30, followed by Tennessee with 25, then Alabama and LSU with 24, and Florida with 23. The Auburn Tigers, trailing Arkansas (18), Texas A&M and Vandy (15) are well behind the SEC leaders with 12 NCAA Tournament seasons.

Before Nate Oats, Alabama basketball fans had been accustomed to sweating out every Selection Sunday, and far too often, not even being a bubble team. Alabama missed the Big Dance in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. After five straight seasons of making the field in 2002- 2006, the Crimson Tide made only one NCAA Tournament from 2007-2017. Avery Johnson got the Tide back to the Big Dance in 2018 and Alabama has missed just one NCAA Tournament since. For the record, while there was no NCAA Tournament in the 2020 season, Alabama, in Nate Oats' first season, would not have been selected.

Alabama Basketball Big Dance Seeding

Going into Wednesday night, Joe Lunardi moved the Crimson Tide to a 2-seed. With a tough finishing schedule, holding on to that seed will be difficult. On Selection Sunday, Alabama will likely be a 2-4 seed. Even a near-total collapse would not push the Crimson Tide down as far as a 6-seed. As a 100% lock to make the NCAA Tournament field, some projections give the Crimson Tide a better than 60% chance to make another Sweet 16 and better than a 20% chance to make the Final Four.

However the 2023-24 season plays out for the Crimson Tide, what Nate Oats has built in Tuscaloosa is extraordinary.

Note: NCAA Tournament history provided by Sports Reference

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