The next step for Alabama Basketball

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

Alabama Basketball has reached new levels under Coach Nate Oats. Coming off of the first Final Four appearance in program history, Oats and his staff have assembled what is arguably the best roster the team has ever had.

The returns of Mark Sears and Jarin Stevenson, who withdrew from the NBA Draft on Wednesday evening, solidified this 13-man roster. Excitement and buzz surrounding the Alabama Basketball program has never been higher. So, other than the obvious progression to a national championship, what is the next step for Coach Oats and Bama Hoops?

Though it has had much success to this point, Alabama will have to find a way to have regular season success and postseason success at the same time. 

Regular season success

The college basketball regular season is a grueling 4-month process. Most teams will have some tune-up games mixed in with challenging non-conference opponents, destination tournaments, and other multi-team events before getting into their conference schedule around the holidays.

Because the regular season is so long, slip-ups happen. Unlike football, teams very rarely go undefeated in college basketball. Even the best teams will probably be upset a couple times over the course of the season. Still, a 30-game season gives a crystal clear picture of a team’s focus and consistency as well as its talent. 

A dominant regular season is the mark of a great team. Winning 25+ regular season games takes incredible amounts of concentration and effort over a long period of time. Under Oats, the Crimson Tide has put together two elite regular seasons. In 2020-21, the Tide went 21-6 in a shortened regular season, including a 16-2 mark in SEC play. Two years later, it posted a 26-5 regular season record, once again going 16-2 in the SEC and winning the league. 

It can’t be said that Alabama didn’t have postseason success in 2021 and 2023. In both years, the Tide went 5-1 in postseason play, won the SEC Tournament, and advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. However, each of its Sweet 16 losses in those respective years were relative disappointments. 

In 2021, Bama took an overtime loss to a UCLA team that was subpar in the regular season. Of course, that team was peaking at the right time and went on to make the Final Four, but it wasn’t a game that Alabama expected to lose. In 2023, 5th-seeded San Diego State upset the top-seeded Crimson Tide. Once again, the Aztecs would advance to the Final Four, but it was a bitter loss for an Alabama team that was good enough to win it all. 

In my opinion, 2020-21 and 2022-23 were the best teams Nate Oats has had at Alabama by a wide margin. Their steadiness and consistency of performance throughout the entire season was a testament to just how difficult they were to beat.

An unexpected tournament run

When these two seasons are compared to the most recent season, however, those that don’t follow college basketball closely might be left puzzled.

Despite a frustrating regular season that saw the Tide really struggle against quality opponents, Bama flipped a switch in March and made the program’s first ever Final Four. How did a team that was disappointing for most of the season make it further than two previous teams that were so much more well-rounded and consistent? That's just how college basketball works sometimes.

While the 2020-21 and 2022-23 squads were much better wire-to-wire, the 2023-24 team was the one that got hot at the right time, and will go down as the most memorable as a result. 

Going forward, with the program now well-established and expectations through the roof, will Alabama be able to combine regular season and postseason success? The 2024-25 team has the makeup to complete a dominant regular season and then put together a tournament run to match.