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SEC Basketball Preview: #5 Alabama Crimson Tide

Previewing the No. 5 team in the SEC, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Maryland vs Alabama Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The Nate Oats hype train has been in full effect after last season’s romping through the regular season complete with an SEC regular season and conference tournament championship. Alabama finished the regular season 26-5, landed a one seed in the NCAA Tournament and looked prime to make their first Final Four in school history. But the NCAA Tournament rarely goes how you think, and the Tide made just three 3-pointers in a disappointing offensive performance against San Diego State. Further, SEC Player of the Year Brandon Miller was awful shooting the ball throughout the tournament, and the season came to an unceremonious end in the Sweet 16.

It was the third straight tournament bid, and the second protected seed for Oats at Alabama after earning a 2 seed in 2021. The Oats method is working in Tuscaloosa, but after such a great season last year he’s having to hit a hard reset with a nearly entirely new roster. How will Alabama look? Let’s find out.


Previous SEC Previews:

Alabama Preview

#5 Alabama Crimson Tide

Last Season: 31 - 6 (16-2 in conference) No. 4 KenPom

My Prediction: 20 - 11 (10-8, 5th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 10.8 - 7.2 (5th in conference)

SEC Media Prediction: 5th in conference

KenPom Projection: 21 - 9 (12-6 in conference) No. 10

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-San Diego State vs Alabama Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Nate Oats | 5th Season, 92-42

The Nate Oats method of a very stylized offense of a heavy dose of three point attempts and shots at the rim with nothing in between, plus a stingy defense seems to be the right antidote for successful basketball in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has never had trouble attracting talent to the school, but they’ve had trouble winning big with that talent. So far Oats has shown he can attract the talent, and last seasons 31 wins were the most in school history. So clearly he’s doing something right. Still the frustration of having 10 Sweet 16 trips in school history and just one Elite 8 and zero Final Fours has to be wearing on the fan base.

For Oats there’s no pressure. Nor should there be. He’s doing what he’s been asked to do which is take the talent and win with it. Like most coaches you can chalk up any early exits to the randomness of the NCAA Tournament. But the way Alabama plays and the type of offense they run, mostly the reliance on the three ball, it can create a high variance. So with Alabama more so than any other team, they need a stingy defense to be a conference championship contender.

Seat Temp: COLD

sec preview alabama 10 year

For a long time there Alabama was the epitome of an above average team. They were good, but never that good. From the 2005-06 season until Oats second season, Bama almost always landed between 17-23 wins, and always double digit losses. But now with two 0.750-plus win percentage seasons in the last three years, there's a reasonable belief that Oats and Alabama will be there nearly every year.

Nearly.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Jahvon Quinerly transfer 35 49.21% 10.08% 8.40% 11.80%
Brandon Miller professional 37 80.00% 22.99% 22.85% 20.30%
Noah Clowney professional 36 60.60% 11.63% 13.23% 10.92%
Charles Bediako professional 37 50.73% 7.86% 11.46% 7.50%
Jaden Bradley transfer 37 48.54% 7.76% 6.91% 10.39%
Nimari Burnett transfer 27 26.23% 4.99% 3.57% 5.14%
Noah Gurley graduation 34 34.64% 5.52% 5.68% 5.33%
Dominick Welch graduation 20 11.99% 1.32% 0.86% 1.78%
Darius Miles jail 6 2.58% 0.30% 0.09% 0.59%
Delaney Heard* graduation 13 1.46% 0.50% 0.36% 0.36%
Adam Cottrell* graduation 14 1.52% 0.26% 0.08% 0.21%
Jaden Quinerly* graduation 13 1.46% 0.13% 0.12% 0.48%
Max Scharnowski* graduation 3 0.33% 0.00% 0.01% 0.01%
73.86% 73.34% 73.62% 74.81%

If there’s some reason for skepticism around Alabama continuing their run it’s probably starting with how much they lost from last year’s team. Most notably the walking newspaper headline that was Brandon Miller left for the NBA Draft. Miller was a freshman All American, the SEC player of the year, and was also recently named in a wrongful death lawsuit extending from his loose involvement in the murder charge which got his former teammate Darius Miles kicked off the Tide basketball team. Miller’s connection to the event at this point is well known, but what we don’t know is how it may have impacted his play in the NCAA Tournament. Miller was awesome all season, through the first 34 games of the season he failed to score in double digits just once. But in the three NCAA games Miller scored 28 points total, including zero in the first round, and just 9 points in 31 minutes against San Diego State as the Crimson Tide got eliminated. But Miller’s 18.8 points and 38% shooting from deep will be difficult to replace.

Jahvon Quinerly transferred to Memphis after playing three seasons under Oats. Quinerly was erratic but capable of brilliance as well. Noah Clowney went from a top 100 recruit to a 1st round draft pick after showing versatility on defense and an extended shooting range. Clowney’s ability to play the five in smaller lineups, while still providing needed rim protection. Clowney worked well with Charles Bediako also, and now Bediako is gone to the NBA too. His skill set never rounded into shape, but Bediako provided the baseline protection at the rim which anchored the Bama defense.

Surprisingly enough Oats also lost 5-star McDonalds All American Jaden Bradley despite Bradley playing a major role on the team last year. Bradley’s minutes seemed to ebb and flow a bit, but so did his effectiveness. With a larger role likely awaiting him this season he still chose the transfer portal and picked Arizona. Nimari Burnett also chose the transfer portal, again. Burnett was a five star signee at Texas Tech under Chris Beard, failed to crack the lineup consistently and then chose Alabama before tearing his ACL last year and having an up and down season this past year. Burnett will try his luck at Michigan this season.

Noah Gurley provided a solid interior scoring option in his last two seasons, and Dominick Welch played sparing minutes after transferring in from St. Bonaventure for his final season. And yeah, I mentioned the Darius Miles thing above.

THEN, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Mark Sears SR PG 37 73.05% 15.30% 58.11% 14.75%
Rylan Griffen SO WING 37 38.54% 7.20% 50.28% 6.35%
Nick Pringle SR POST 36 19.14% 4.16% 75.72%% 5.28%
Davin Cosby Jr R-FR WING REDSHIRT -% -% - -%
37 26.15% 26.66% 26.38%
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-San Diego State vs Alabama Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Sears | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

Considering every who didn’t come back, it was a boon for Nate Oats to get Mark Sears to return for his senior season. After transferring in from Ohio, Sears started all 37 games and became the second leading scorer at 12.5 points per contest. His BPR, per EvanMiya.com, was third highest on the team after Miller and Bediako. Sears firmly planted himself into the lineup at the 2-guard spot after primarily playing the point guard for Ohio for two years.

It may still yet be seen what position Sears lines up in this season for the Tide, but he’s going to line up somewhere and play a lot. What Alabama needs this season is a more consistent shooting touch, and the ability to control the offensive flow as the primary guard.

If Rylen Griffen ends up as Alabama’s leading scorer this year I wouldn’t be surprised. The sophomore experienced a few bumps as a freshmen but his compact shooting mechanics and ability to defend the wing should make him be a fixture in the lineup this season. But Griffen struggled shooting down the stretch and his impact was mitigated, so he’ll need to find a bit more consistency shooting the ball. Griffen shot just 12.5% from deep in the final 10 games, which dropped his percentage down to just a hair over 30%.

Nick Pringle served as a quality reserve for the full season, he was the primary backup for Noah Clowney and his efficiency stood out. As a player who fully understands who he is and what he’s good at, Pringle didn’t ever try to do too much.

AND, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
FR Jarin Stevenson 6'10 200 ★★★★ 48 CF
FR Sam Walters 6'8 180 ★★★★ 83 POST
FR Mouhamed Dioubate 6'7 215 ★★★★ 101 WING
FR Kris Parker 6'6 170 ★★★ 185 CG
SR Aaron Estrada 6'3 207 TRANSFER Hofstra CG
SR Grant Nelson 6'11 235 TRANSFER North Dakota St CF
SR Mohamed Wague 6'10 225 TRANSFER West Virginia POST
SR Latrell Wrightsell Jr 6'3 189 TRANSFER Cal St-Fullerton CG
NCAA Basketball: North Dakota State at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Grant Nelson | SENIOR | COMBO FORWARD

There are very high expectations for senior transfer forward Grant Nelson. The North Dakota native lands in Tuscaloosa after three productive seasons at North Dakota State, finishing out last season with a 17.9 ppg average and 9.3 rebounds per game. After testing the NBA waters, Nelson opted for Alabama where he could be set up to thrive in an offensive system that prioritizes spacing. Why the expectations are high is due to Nelson’s combination of mobility and offensive skill which could see him fill any number of positions from the wing on in towards the basket. His shooting from deep needs to improve as he shot just 27% from 3FG last season, and is just a hair over 30% for his career. But all the skill sets are there for Nelson to be a consistent offensive player.

If there’s an area of concern, it’s with Nelson’s performance outside of the Summit League. When faced with better competition, Nelson’s efficiency has plummetted. Against Tier A and B teams (basically top 50 or 100 opponents) Nelson’s 109.2 Offensive Rating dropped to 83.4. He’s gotten into foul trouble more often, and his turnover rate jumps to 25.1%. He’s also not known for being a defensive threat.

In need of ball handlers Nate Oats quickly set his sights on Hofstra transfer Aaron Estrada. Estrada is well travelled, starting at Saint Peters, then transferring to Oregon before landing at Hostra for each of the last two seasons. At Hofstra, one of the top schools in the CAA, he blossomed with an 18.5 ppg average as a Junior, then 20.2 last season for a KenPom top 100 club. He’s a great fit at Alabama with a high volume three point accuracy of nearly 37%, and a respectable turnover rate for a guard who uses nearly 30% of the possessions at just 16.7%. He’s joined in the transfer class and backcourt by Latrell Wrightsell, a 6’3 combo guard who played the last three years at Cal State Fullerton. A 38.3% outside shooter, Wrightsell is good in the pick and roll as well as on spot ups where he drained over 40% of his catch and shoot opportunities.

Alabama also solidified the depth on the interior with West Virigina transfer Mohamed Wague. Wague isn’t a big offensive threat, he scored 13 of his points on putbacks, but where he’s good is getting himself into position for those putbacks. Wague’s offensive rebound rate is a stellar 19.6%, which is right where Oscar Tshiebwe was last year.

Then there’s also a 4 man freshman signing class. The crown jewel is Jarin Stevenson, a North Carolina native who reclassified from the 2024 class into the 2023 recruiting class and saw his ranking drop from a fring 5-star to 48th and a 4-star. Stevenson is a skilled and athletic forward who is still figuring out how to play with consistent energy. Maybe the top player to watch in the class this season is top 90 forward Sam Walters. Walters has a ton of skill, and can stretch the floor with a quick left handed trigger past the arc. I’ve got him listed as a post above, with Stevenson as a combo forward, but both players are really more of a true four and I don’t envision either defending any SEC level wings if Nate Oats can help it. But Walters has a pro skill set offensive already and will likely see a hefty amount of minutes with his ability to stretch the floor.

Mouhamed Dioubate has a college ready body on the wing at 6’7 and 215 pounds, he’s a physical driver and rebounder with a skill set thats rounding into shape still but should see minutes early for some energy off the bench. Then there’s 3-star lengthy combo guard Kris Parker, who struggled to shoot the ball during the summer sessions and watched his ranking fall a bit but he’s still a projectable athlete with an enticing body and mobility. If he can put the rest together he could be a pro.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Mark Sears Latrell Wrightsell
(2) Combo Guard Aaron Estrada Davin Cosby Kris Parker
(3) Wing Rylan Griffen Mouhamed Dioubate
(4) Combo Forward Nick Pringle Jarin Stevenson
(5) Post Grant Nelson Sam Walters Mohamed Wague

There are a number of ways Nate Oats can go here. As usual I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to returning roster players, but picking both Nick Pringle and Rylan Griffen to be in the starting lineup might be asking a bit too much. Griffen I expect to play a lot, but Pringle served such a reserve role last season it’s hard to see him fully thrust into the starting lineup. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sam Walters step into the four spot with Nelson at the five. Mark Sears and Aaron Estrada are looking like interchangable parts at the primary and secondary ball handling spots with Wrightsell as the first guy behind them. Then I’m interested in how Oats handles the wing because there are a lot of unproven guys after Griffen, who’s only sort of proven. Cosby entered college early, so there’s no telling what if anything he can provide. So while the three experienced guards are ready, the wing has a bit of a question mark. Maybe Oats just goes with three combo guards in the starting lineup?

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 20-11 | KenPom Projected Record: 21-9

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Purdue Vs Fairleigh Dickinson Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 5 Home Morehead State 212 W
Nov 10 Home Indiana State 111 W
Nov 14 Home South Alabama 153 W
Nov 17 Home Mercer 247 W
Nov 24 Neutral Ohio State 33 W
Nov 25 Neutral Oregon / Santa Clara 41 / 150 W
Nov 28 Home Clemson 51 W
Dec 4 Home Arkansas State 172 W
Dec 9 Neutral Purdue 1 L
Dec 16 Away Creighton 12 L
Dec 20 Away Arizona 6 L
Dec 23 Home Eastern Kentucky 135 W
Dec 30 Home Liberty 76 W
100.75 10-3

Alabama schedules as aggressively as anyone in college basketball, and that’s something to admire. There are two things that I like in this schedule, the first is there are no bad teams. Mercer is the lowest rated KenPom.com rated team on the list at 247, then Morehead State is also sub 200, but everyone else is in the top 200. There’s something to be said about being a Power Conference team and scheduling in a way where you’re not afraid to put good mid majors on your schedule.

Then they went out and still scheduled Purdue, arguably the best team in the country going into the season, Creighton, and elite 8 team a year ago and one that returns a lot from a very good team, and Arizona, likely the best team on the west coast this year.

All of that and they are still in a solid MTE with Ohio State, Oregon, and Santa Clara.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 6 Away Vanderbilt 79 W
Jan 9 HOME South Carolina 66 W
Jan 13 Away Mississippi St. 27 L
Jan 16 HOME Missouri 55 W
Jan 20 Away Tennessee 8 L
Jan 24 HOME Auburn 15 W
Jan 27 HOME LSU 47 W
Jan 31 Away Georgia 57 W
Feb 3 HOME Mississippi St. 27 W
Feb 7 Away Auburn 15 L
Feb 10 Away LSU 47 L
Feb 17 HOME Texas A&M 24 L
Feb 21 HOME Florida 39 W
Feb 24 Away Kentucky 18 L
Feb 28 Away Ole Miss 82 L
Mar 2 HOME Tennessee 8 W
Mar 5 Away Florida 39 L
Mar 9 HOME Arkansas 14 W
avg 37.06 10-8

It should surprise absolutely nobody if Alabama gets off to a good start to the SEC slate and then hits a little skid. The combination of opponents and home and away games in the first half of the schedule versus the second half of the schedule is notable. In the first half they play Mississippi State on the road, who might still be working Tolu Smith back into the rotation, and Tennessee. The other road games are Vanderbilt and Georgia, two games they should win, theoretically.

The second half is another animal all together, road games at Auburn, LSU, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Florida. Home games against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Arkansas. There’s a path for Alabama to navigate their early schedule where it provides them enough cushion to absorb some losses in the second half and still beat the predicted 10-8 finish.

OVERVIEW

If there’s one thing we know about Alabama is they’re going to be able to score a lot of points. The offensive approach Nate Oats espouses has shown, year after year, to produce an offense that generates a lot of points. They play fast and shoot a lot of threes. It’s only then their shooting fails them big time (which happens several times a year to everyone) where things get dicey.

In four seasons under Nate Oats when Alabama has been great — two years — they’ve had an elite defense to accompany the offense. In the other two seasons, Alabama has fallen short thanks to a leaky defense. Which is one area where I greatly disagree with the early projections from many of the analytics sites projections as they’re weighing heavily that Alabama has a good defense again.

KenPom.com has Alabama as the 11th best defense. EvanMiya.com has Alabama as the 25th best defense. BartTorvik.com has Alabama as the 5th best defense. Nate Oats first season the Alabama defense was 114th, then 3rd, then in 2022 it was 92nd, then last season it was 3rd.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Alabama vs Miss. St. Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s far more likely that Alabama is closer to 92nd than 25th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency because while they do have some solid length on the bad side, they don’t have anyone close to the elite shot blocking and shot affecting presence of Charles Bediako. Of all the great offense they got from Brandon Miller last season, losing Bediako might have been the biggest hit to Alabama’s roster with all the NBA defections.

The worst offense Oats had fielded was his first year at 37th, the best was two years ago at 16th. Its also likely this team is closer to that 16th than 37th, so this season and this teams ceiling is going to come down to how well they defend.

Can Grant Nelson stand up to the athleticism of the SEC on a regular basis? Can Oats’ smaller stable of point guards be physical enough defensively to keep opponents out of the paint where there isn’t the same kind of back line athleticism Alabama has had in the past?

There is a healthy amount of offensive talent on this roster, but Oats is also accustomed to having several lead guards or the type of wing you can put into isolation and let them go make a play. That wasn’t Mark Sears last year, Estrada did it but did it at Hofstra, Wrightsell did it at Fullerton. But can those two make the leap to the SEC and still handle that level of usages without seeing a dip in efficiency?

There are reasons to be excited for this version of the Crimson Tide, but be weary of looking past some very real and glaring questions that need to be answered first.

Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC

All this comes down to whether or not Nate Oats can coax a good defense out of this team, which given his recent success over the last few years that’s not an outlandish ask. The offense will be there. Alabama is going to score points. If they can defend with the same vigor there’s no reason why this roster can’t compete for a league title.

Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC

Maybe asking this version of the Tide to be tough defensively is a little too much to ask? I don’t know. The offense will be a bit more ‘by committee’ than in previous years where they clearly had one or two guys who they could ride for long stretches of time. It remains a pretty big question of someone like Mark Sears can handle that much of a work load. All in all, this looks like a good but not great team.


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.


GLOSSARY

* - 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.