Alabama Basketball: Tough scheduling pays dividends in the end

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament  - Practice Day - West Regional
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Practice Day - West Regional / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

Earlier this season, many wondered if Coach Nate Oats had regrets about making Alabama’s non-conference schedule so difficult. 

Bama already had to play a full slate in the SEC, which proved to be one of the better conferences in college hoops. In addition, the non-conference schedule was loaded up with high-major opponents and top-10 teams.

In a tough three-game stretch in November, Alabama sandwiched losses to Ohio State and Clemson around a win over Oregon. Just two weeks later, the Tide would drop three straight games to top-10 opponents in Purdue, Creighton, and Arizona. All three of these teams maintained that top-10 status all year, ultimately all earning top-3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and reaching at least the Sweet 16.  

Coming out of that stretch, Alabama was sitting on a 6-5 record and was considered to be a somewhat disappointing team that had perhaps been overrated in the preseason. This was Oats’ third straight season putting together a monster non-conference schedule, but Bama’s early blemishes only appeared to prove that the team wasn’t as good as last year. 

Nate Oats playing the long game

The Crimson Tide’s recent exploits in the NCAA Tournament, which include upsetting top-seeded North Carolina and reaching the Elite 8 for just the second time in school history, are the beautiful yield of a very slow-growing crop. 

Though Bama was never able to notch an “elite” regular season win, it entered the postseason as one of the most battle-tested teams in the sport. If anything, the Tide’s many high-profile losses only made it an overlooked and underrated team. 

Now, Nate Oats’ squad is reaping the benefits of the lumps it took in December, and even as recently as early March

Alabama entered 2023-24 with a lot of newcomers, having experienced extensive roster turnover in the offseason. It took the group a little longer than most to mesh, but the lessons it learned in its 11 losses have proven to be critical. 

With plenty of talent, plus the leadership and guidance of Oats and his staff, the challenging schedule the Tide played ultimately helped it to develop into a unit capable of making a tournament run. 

Having played so many of the nation’s best teams (13 games against top-7 seeds in the NCAA Tournament), it was only a matter of time before Alabama figured out how to beat them.