Nate Oats did not invent the system used by the Alabama basketball program. No one coach did, but what Oats has cobbled together as his approach to winning is arguably the best set of schemes in college basketball.
When Alabama is on, forcing tempo, drilling threes, and getting to the foul line, the Crimson Tide can compete with any team. Maybe as important as the Oats' system is his determination to stick to it - even in games when the opponent's defense is much better than the Tide's defense.
Alabama loses games when two of the following three things occur: poor interior defense, too many turnovers and shots are not falling. When all three happen in a game, the Nate Oats' system cannot prevail.
After beating a not-bad LSU team Saturday night,109-88, Nate Oats was asked about the Crimson Tide's regular season championship chances. His response was "if we don't fix our defense ... it's going to be hard to win it."
He is right. The SEC is brutal this season. Ten teams are legit NCAA Tournament contenders. Only the Big 12 can boast as many contenders, including more highly ranked ones. SEC road wins are hard to gain, whether because of hostile crowds or inconsistent officiating.
At not quite the halfway point of the SEC regular season, Alabama leads the conference at 6-1. A half-game back is Tennessee at 5-1, followed closely with two SEC losses are Auburn, South Carolina, and Kentucky.
Like poll rankings, predictions at this point of the season are more noise than substance. Given the transition from last season, Alabama at the top of the SEC is impressive. Nate Oats lost all his assistant coaches to head coaching jobs. Only three scholarship players returned from a 31-win season.
The rebuild of the 2023-24 roster was masterful. The Tide's only roster weakness, a rim protector resulted from a late surprise by Charles Bediako to turn professional.
The January portion of the Crimson Tide schedule comes to a close Wednesday night away against Georgia. After losing to Tennessee five games ago, the Bulldogs beat South Carolina in Columbia, lost to Kentucky by nine in Rupp, squeezed by LSU, and had an overtime loss to Florida on Saturday in Gainesville. Alabama will be favored in the road contest.
It is not likely that 6-1 turns into a 17-1 sprint to another SEC Championship. There is plenty of challenge ahead, but Nate Oats has the Crimson Tide in a good position. Oats does not have a Brandon Miller or Noah Clowney, and not even a Charles Bediako. Based on continued progress by what Oats does have, Bama looks to be a tough out for any opponent in February and March.
The SEC has crowned seven champions since Nate Oats arrived in Tuscaloosa for the 2019-2020 season. A Nate Oats team won four of them.