Is Alabama’s NCAA Tournament success a paper tiger?

Charleston v Alabama
Charleston v Alabama / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Critics of the Alabama Basketball program will be quick to point out that the Crimson Tide have defeated a 13-seed and a 12-seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. While true, this doesn’t devalue the accomplishments of Nate Oats’ team so far this postseason.

Sure, Bama’s wins over College of Charleston and Grand Canyon may not have been the most difficult first weekend path in tournament history. They also were not cupcakes, as both opponents are winning teams that were both regular season and tournament champions in their respective conferences. They are led by two of the brightest young stars in the coaching world, both of whom could be at high-major jobs this time next year.

Charleston has gone 58-12 in the last two seasons under Pat Kelsey, making the tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 1999. Similarly, Grand Canyon won 30 games this year and has gone to three of the last four tournaments under Bryce Drew. Drew is the younger brother of Baylor coach Scott Drew, and is a March Madness legend in his own right.

Grand Canyon had played three tournament teams this season heading into its second-round matchup with Alabama. In the regular season, it fell 75-68 to an SEC opponent and eventual 6-seed in South Carolina. Two weeks later, it knocked off a ranked opponent and the 2023 national runner-up in San Diego State. The Aztecs would go on to earn a 5-seed, and are still dancing heading into the Sweet Sixteen. Lastly, the Antelopes toppled 5-seed Saint Mary’s in the first round of the tourney before losing a competitive game to the Crimson Tide. 

College of Charleston’s track record wasn’t nearly as impressive. The Cougars actually went 0-4 against tournament teams this season, dropping all but one game by double-digits. Early in the regular season, Charleston lost to 11-seed Duquesne by 18 points and 13-seed Vermont by 9 points in back-to-back games. It would also lose to 8-seed Florida Atlantic by 16, and lost to Alabama by 13 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Alabama escapes first weekend with two different-looking wins

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bama’s run so far has been its ability to adjust to its opponent. College of Charleston was one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation and played a similar style to that of the Tide. Allowed to live in its comfort zone, Alabama racked up 109 points in a relatively easy win. 

Just two days later, it played a Grand Canyon team with what Nate Oats called high-major athleticism and “SEC talent.”

Despite not shooting the ball particularly well, Alabama was able to own the glass and suffocate the Lopes on the defensive end of the floor. Bama’s 72 points was its second-lowest total of the season, and by far its lowest output in a win.

If the Crimson Tide have finally figured out how to win with defense, it can go even further in this tournament.