Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Alabama basketball’s overall consistency hasn’t been the problem.
In fact, according to Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision, the Tide were the most consistent team of the decade. Here’s how he described it in a January newsletter:
“It wasn’t a particularly good decade for Alabama, but it was a consistent one. The Crimson Tide finished with just two NCAA tournament appearances and one top 50 KenPom appearance, but they also never completely bottomed out.”
Not bottoming out is great and all, but Alabama fans have reached a point of wanting more than just an average season. The two tournament appearances in 14 seasons and one above .500 conference record in seven seasons is no longer enough.
Instead, the Crimson Tide want to be the next SEC team to quiet the critics and either win a league title or achieve incredible postseason success.
In 2017, it was South Carolina making a run to the Final Four. In 2018, it was Auburn and Tennessee sharing an SEC regular season title after being picked ninth and 13th in the preseason media poll. In 2019, it was LSU winning the regular season crown before Auburn completed its spectacular run to the Final Four.
Could Alabama make that jump as soon as this season? The optimism is understandable.
While replacing do-it-all point guard Kira Lewis is going to be a tough task, Nate Oats does have a roster that should stack up against most teams in the SEC.
Getting Herbert Jones back was undoubtedly the most significant development. His offensive game continues to expand, but it’s his defense and the other 97 things he does on the court that make him one of the most valuable players in college basketball.
Elsewhere, even if John Petty doesn’t return, the Tide have a variety of playmakers.
Jaden Shackelford emerged as one of the SEC’s best freshman last season and should carry that momentum into his sophomore campaign. Jahvon Quinerly, the former 5-star recruit who sat out last season after being denied a transfer waiver (classic NCAA), should fit better in Oats’ up-tempo offensive system than he did in Jay Wright’s more methodical approach at Villanova. There’s also Jordan Bruner, the talented Yale grad transfer who should make an immediate impact after nearly averaging a double-double (10.9 ppg, 9.2 reg) a season ago.
Alex Reese and Javian Davis also return in the frontcourt, and both James Rojas and Juwan Gary are set to make their Alabama debuts after being sidelined the entire season due to injuries.
But wait, there’s more. Oats also secured a top-20 recruiting class that includes 5-star combo guard Josh Primo, a four-star forward in Keon Ambrose-Hylton, a versatile 6-7 forward in Darius Miles, and a top JUCO guard in Keon Ellis.
That’s quite an assortment of talent for Oats and his staff. There’s depth and experience, not to mention having several potential All-SEC players among the group.
On paper, Alabama should be a very good team, and the necessary tools are there to be the next SEC program to transform itself into a national contender.
But let’s go back to that whole consistency thing for a second.
In making the declaration that the Tide could be an elite team next season, there’s a consistent trend that’s also worth acknowledging: I thought the same last season and the season before that, only for Alabama to struggle to meet preseason expectations.
Maybe the expectations were too high in Oats’ first season in Tuscaloosa. His hiring signaled the Tide’s desire to move from losing 15 or more games per season - which they’ve done in six straight seasons - to winning 25 or more games per season, a feat they’ve accomplished only once since 2002.
In Oats’ second season and beyond, perhaps things will be different. Having high expectations is one thing, but meeting or exceeding those expectations is another.
For Alabama basketball to be great, it’ll need to be more consistent at doing the latter.
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