If last season felt like a disappointment for the Alabama Crimson Tide, then you probably weren’t paying close enough attention to the previous 10 - 15 years of Alabama basketball.
We talk about outliers, and after watching the Crimson Tide underachieve last year it’s probably best to look back at 2020-21 as the outlier. Rather than the 2022 squad being underachievers.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the reality is I’ve watched Alabama closely under three different head coaches. They generally have highly talented rosters, and they’re rarely bad. They’re also rarely great. And last season the Tide looked a lot like a typical Tide team. Talented, capable of being great, but a team who didn’t quite have the same gear to defend as the previous version did.
There’s no mistaking the talent level on this team as well. But to be a great team you have to have a different gear, and it’s typically on the defensive end. Will we get that from Nate Oats’ squad?
Previous SEC Previews
- 6. Florida Gators
- 7. LSU Tigers
- 8. Texas A&M Aggies
- 9. Missouri Tigers
- 10. Ole Miss Rebels
- 11. Vanderbilt Commodores
- 12. Georgia Bulldogs
- 13. South Carolina Gamecocks
- 14. Mississippi State Bulldogs
#5 Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Season: 19 - 14 (9-9 in conference) No. 28 KenPom
My Prediction: 19 - 11 (10-8, 5th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 11.8 - 6.2 (5th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 5th in conference
KenPom Projection: 18-11 (10-8 in conference) No. 35
HEAD COACH: Nate Oats | 4th Season, 61-36
When Nate Oats was hired away from Buffalo, he came in with a different approach from much of the rest of the country. Alabama was going to play fast on offense and make an attempt to virtually eliminate the mid-range jump shot from their arsenal. In 2021-22 the Alabama Crimson Tide had 2,083 field goal attempts per SynergySports.com, and just 58 (or 2.7%) ended in a jump shot in the mid-range. That means 96.7% of shots were either a 3-point attempt or a shot at the rim. Those numbers were even more stark the year before, so Oats has come in and done what he promised to do. There aren’t many coaches following suit, but he’s cornered the market on the style of play.
The results have been mostly successful, too. Alabama has capitalized on its talent level and been to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. He’s changed the perception of what Alabama basketball can be, and the expectations are as high as they’ve been in years.
Seat Temp: COOL
What I was saying above (about watching a lot of Alabama basketball over the years) - well, here it is in chart form. There’s a pretty flat line from 2014-15 (coincidentally the season I started writing here) through last year, with one exception. 2020-21 was the outlier... or was it the program revving up?
That’s the question we’re going to try and answer here.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
While Alabama basketball struggled at times last year, it wasn’t from a lack of production from Jaden Shackelford who had his best offensive year and left to go pro. Shackelford’s minutes, points, possessions, and shots all went up with only a minor dip in efficiency. He still put up a robust 107.8 ORtg, and tied for the most team MVPs with Keon Ellis. Ellis, a JUCO transfer, fit in right away and watched his production boost from 5.5 points per game to 12.1 points last season.
Losing both Ellis and Shackelford will leave a lot of production on the table to be made up for, but then 5-star freshman J.D. Davison took his wild athleticism (and even wilder hair) to the NBA where he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Boston Celtics. Davison took a few lumps early, and his season was bumpy, but when he was good he was really good.
I also think the Tide will miss transfer Juwan Gary, who ended up at Nebraska. Gary’s stats won’t blow you off the page, but he was a switchable defender and a guy who did the little things in the half court to keep the offense going. James Rojas struggled with some injuries off and on during his time in Tuscaloosa but looking for a fresh start and a larger role he opted to transfer to Wichita State. Jusuan Holt transferred in conference to Georgia after a freshman season where his playing time fluctuated. Both Alex Tchikou and Keon Ambrose-Hylton left the program after struggling to make an impact. Tchikou was a former top 70 forward who ruptured his achilles tendon before his freshman season and is still looking to get right, which he’ll do at Rhode Island. Ambrose-Hylton had similar, if less serious, afflictions. He ended up at Southern Methodist.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
Jahvon Quinerly | SENIOR | POINT GUARD
There’s a bit of a caveat with this addition, but much of Alabama’s season likely hinges on how healthy Jahvon Quinerly and his torn ACL recover. Quinerly injured his ACL in the NCAA Tournament against Alabama, and while medical advances have allowed players to completely recover following such an injury, it’s still a lot to ask for him to be full strength by the time the season starts. Originally the expectation was to have him ready for SEC play, but Nate Oats has stated more recently they think he’ll be ready before that.
If Quinerly is back, Oats has his floor general. A slick ball handler and excellent passer, Quinerly at times can be a bit passive defensively, but he’s such a plus offensively he makes up for it. Two years ago, Quinerly was a 43.3% three-point shooter, which dropped to just 28.1% last season. If Oats can get Quinerly’s three-point touch back, along with his already excellent assist rate, then Jahvon should be Alabama’s best player.
Getting Charles Bediako back was a big step for this team. Bediako is the perfect rim protector and rim runner for what Oats wants to do on both ends of the floor. At 7’0 tall, Bediako is low usage, and doesn’t require touches on the block to keep him happy. He had just 5 such plays all last year total but was used in a Pick and roll 67 times. One of the reasons so many wings found their way into the transfer portal was the impact of Darius Miles. Miles saw his minutes increase from just 4.3 per game to 17.2 per last season. His overall production when on the floor could be better, as he shot under 30% from three-point range. But his willingness as a defender, and ‘little things’ guy is what moved him into the lineup.
Noah Gurley returns for another post-grad year. Gurley was a heralded player when he transferred into Alabama from Furman, but Gurley’s game at Furman was more based upon his ability to attack post-defenders in the mid-range. His efficiency suffered a bit at first but as the season wore on, he got more consistent.
The big name lurking in the shadows is former 5-star and top 30 recruit Nimari Burnett. A flashy combo guard with great size and length, Burnett struggled at Texas Tech as a freshman under Chris Beard. He entered the transfer portal and landed at Alabama, when he tore his ACL in practice before the season. Burnett could be a big-time addition to this lineup, but it’s hard to predict what Oats will get out of the former elite prospect.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|Jr||Nick Pringle||6'9||220||★★★||JUCO - 5||POST|
|G-Sr||Dominick Welch||6'5||205||TRANSFER||St. Bonaventure||WING|
Brandon Miller | FRESHMAN | COMBO FORWARD
Few players in the SEC will have the opportunity to step in and impact the league quite like the fluid forward from Nashville, Tennessee, Brandon Miller. Rated as a 5-star prospect and ranked 15th in the 2022 class, Miller stands at 6’9 but his length and ability to shoot at distance makes him such a tough matchup and a good fit at ‘Bama. While you wouldn’t call Miller an explosive athlete, he’s a very fluid athlete with great hands and feet and can play through contact despite needing to add a few extra pounds. Early NBA Mock Drafts have Miller as a potential lottery pick and when you watch him it’s easy to see why.
An early report from Alabama’s recent scrimmage against TCU had Miller dropping in 33 points on the Horned Frogs. Miller, if he gets it going, has the capability of being a First Team All-SEC player.
Miller wasn’t the only 5-star player to join the roster, either. Nate Oats also got the commitment of Jaden Bradley, who is listed as a point guard but looks a bit more natural as off ball secondary creator. He’s got a sturdy body and a solid frame which allows him to create space in the lane on drives, and he can get the ball off for tough finishes. He’s joined in the backcourt by top 60 guard Rylan Griffen. The 4-star played with Kentucky signee Cason Wallace in high school and is a highflyer and three-level scorer who still has to come into his body a bit. The last freshman in the class is another top 80 player, Noah Clowney. The lengthy forward isn’t a big inside-outside threat just yet, but his outside jumper is developing, and he does have a soft touch. Where Clowney should excel is as the Roll man and in the dunker spot, being able to attack the rim off drives and putbacks.
JUCO transfer big Nick Pringle is a big body who can rebound out of his zone and defend the basket, and he’s good around the rim. But he’s got a ways to go before he’s a guy you want to run any offense through.
Mark Sears proves that you can always go home again. The Ohio transfer is a Muscle Shoals, Alabama native, and was an All-MAC point guard who averaged 19.6 points per game last year with a 111.9 rating on offense. He also shot 41.0% from deep, so not only is he capable of handling the ball and running offense, but he should also fit right into the lineup as a floor spacer. He’s joined by Dominick Welch, a Buffalo, NY native who Nate Oats recruited while at Buffalo. Welch eventually chose St. Bonaventure and completed a four-year career there by scoring almost 1200 points while playing almost 3800 minutes.
|(1) Point Guard||Jahvon Quinerly||Jaden Bradley|
|(2) Combo Guard||Mark Sears||Dominick Welch||Rylan Griffen|
|(3) Wing||Nimari Burnett||Darius Miles|
|(4) Combo Forward||Brandon Miller||Noah Gurley|
|(5) Post||Charles Bediako||Nick Pringle||Noah Clowney|
Nate Oats has what you call a good problem. This team has a lot of talent, he’s just got to figure out how to manage the minutes. Until Quinerly is ready to go, it’s likely Mark Sears is the starter, and Nimari Burnett steps in as the combo guard. It seems certain Brandon Miller will be the starter, it’s just a question of whether Oats goes small and plays Miller at the four spot or if he plays a bit bigger and plugs in either Gurley or Clowney at the other forward spot next to Bediako. The question is— can he keep everyone happy with their allotted minutes?
My Projected Record: 19-11 | KenPom Projected Record: 18-11
|Nov 15||Away||South Alabama||222||W|
|Nov 18||Home||Jacksonville State||217||W|
|Nov 24||Neutral||Michigan State||31||W|
|Nov 25||Away / Neutral||UConn / Oregon||27 / 29||L|
|Dec 3||Home||San Diego State||131||W|
|Dec 20||Home||Jackson State||319||W|
Another reason to admire Oats and his approach to running a program is his fearlessness in scheduling. There’s only one sub-300 team, and it’s SWAC opponent Jackson State, and that game is one of only five games against teams rated below 100 in KenPom’s preseason rankings. They play in the Big 12-SEC Challenge at Oklahoma, and that’s one of the easier games. They also face preseason top 10 team Houston on the road, with Kelvin Sampson reloading after a Final Four run last year. Then comes a rematch against Gonzaga, who returns Drew Timme and have another preseason top 5 roster. Alabama has also signed up to play in the Phil Knight Invitational where they open with Tom Izzo and Michigan State, and then will play either UConn or Oregon in round two. On the other side of the bracket is North Carolina, Villanova, Iowa State and Portland...It’s a tough slate.
|Dec 28||Away||Mississippi State||53||W|
|Jan 3||Home||Ole Miss||49||W|
|Jan 25||Home||Mississippi State||53||W|
|Feb 22||Away||South Carolina||78||W|
|Mar 4||Away||Texas A&M||45||L|
Alabama has the kind of schedule which could see them contend for a league title. They open with a winnable road game at Mississippi State, and a home contest against Ole Miss should be another tally in the win column. Then comes the kind of game which can be a difference maker in the league standings— a home contest against conference favorite, Kentucky. Starting out 3-0 would be huge for the Tide because it’s really difficult to win on the road in Bud Walton Arena these days. But coming off a 3-1 start, Alabama has seven games in a row where they are probably going to be the favorite. The range of outcomes could see the Tide sitting at 10-1.
After 11 games in conference play, Alabama could be staring into the eyes of a protected seed. If everything goes well.
When Alabama is right, they’re very right. Offensively they can be lethal when the 3-point shots are falling. Last season the Tide buried Gonzaga and Houston (both finished the year 1 & 2 in KenPom.com) in back-to-back non-con games behind a barrage of threes. They also dropped conference games to Missouri and Georgia. Last year, the lack of interest at times seemed to permeate through the roster.
Gone were senior leaders like John Petty and future All-NBA Defensive Player, Herb Jones. The players who replaced them were just as talented, but they lacked real leadership. Leadership gets you through tough cycles and difficult plays. But more than anything it forces more buy-in defensively.
Go back and look at the Offensive and Defensive Efficiency over the last few years and it’s easy to see where the 2021 team stood out and why the others haven’t. Last year was Alabama’s best offensive team under Nate Oats in terms of offensive efficiency. His first year the defensive rank was 114th, and the Tide finished 8-10 in Conference play. In 2021 they ranked 3rd and finished 16-2 in Conference play. Last year, again with the best offense yet, the Defense landed at 92nd and finished 9-9 in conference play.
Nate Oats’ best team at Alabama was an outstanding defensive team. So, we have to ask—what will this team be?
They’re going to be good offensively, that much you can guarantee. But for all the high rankings and preseason marks, Alabama has got to find a way to dig in and get stops, because at some point the offense will bog down. With the way Alabama plays, with so much emphasis put on the three-point line, there are going to be stretches and games where those shots don’t fall.
Alabama lost 10 games last year where their opponent shot an effective field goal percentage of 50% or more. In six of those games they also shot over 50% eFG. That’s the difference between being 19-14 and 25-8.
The talent on this roster is as good as anyone in the SEC, if not better. Brandon Miller is a first-round draft pick, if not a Lottery pick. Nimari Burnett was a 5-star player out of high school for a reason. Jahvon Quinerly was a 5-star point guard. Mark Sears averaged nearly 20 points per game for a good MAC team. Dominick Welch averaged double figures for the best A-10 team a few years ago. This team is talented.
Will they guard?
I don’t know the answer to that question, and it’s the answer needed to tell us how good the team will be. If they don’t defend, they’ll still be good. They’ll win a good amount of games, and probably still make the NCAA Tournament without sweating it out on Selection Sunday. But if Nate Oats can get buy-in and effort on defense, this is a team that can easily get a protected seed, and be a contender for a Final Four appearance.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
If you’re an Alabama fan there’s no reason to not be optimistic. Talent is a driver for success in College Basketball and the foundation of this roster is deep with talent. Alabama is a team that will be able to score in bunches, and do so with flash. Brandon Miller is an exciting talent and he’s surrounded by talented guards who can attack the rim and shoot from distance. There are posts around the rim who can catch lobs and block shots. The Tide are going to be a very fun team this year.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
Is fun enough? They may be able to score in bunches, but last year - and three years ago - the team struggled to prevent the opponent from also scoring in bunches. Nate Oats had an All-NBA defender on his roster and built a great defense around him. But outside of that one year, the defense has been lacking. Without a defense this team is just spinning its wheels.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in “the Masses” picks. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.
* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team
%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.