The Nate Oats era at Alabama opened with an 81-80 home loss to Penn, which eventually turned into a 2-4 start.
Some fans were already convinced that Alabama made the wrong hire. The season was over, and the search for a new coach had already begun.
Judging a team and coach after six games? The epitome of brutality.
Since that point, Oats’ team has won 8 of 11. One of those three losses came by two to a 13-5 Penn State team on the road, and another came in a double-overtime loss at Florida in a game the Tide should’ve won.
It’s not just that they’re winning, it’s how they’re doing it. The Dec. 18 game against Samford may have been a turning point. Alabama scored 105 points in that game and seemed to finally find a rhythm in Oats’ unique offensive system. It has continued over the past month, with the Tide scoring 83 or more points in every game except the 76-67 loss at Kentucky.
That type of scoring outburst was inevitable. It was just a matter of when Alabama would find its groove.
When Oats was hired, it was obvious the program was going to look drastically different on offense and defense. But that overhaul was going to take time. Adjusting to a new system in the offseason is different than adjusting to a new system during the regular season.
The turnovers and defensive struggles early in the season were proof of that. But now, with 17 games under their belt, Kira Lewis and company look like seasoned pros. They’re taking better care of the ball. They’re finding better shots. They’re making it much harder for opponents to get easy baskets.
Simply put, Alabama is fun to watch.
While everything goes through Lewis, it hasn’t just been about him. John Petty, once criticized for his inconsistency, has become one of the most reliable scorers in the SEC. Herbert Jones has not only emerged as a scorer (11 or more points in six of the last seven games), but he’s Alabama’s most valuable defensive asset. Jaden Shackelford continues to impress. Alex Reese has stepped up big at times since the Stephen F. Austin win. And the list goes on.
Combine all of that, and you’ve got the SEC’s most improved team since the start of the season.
Of course, you also have a team that’s back in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
According to KenPom, Alabama ranks 20th nationally in strength of schedule. That’s the best of any team in the league. The recent wins against Auburn and Mississippi State were Alabama’s first two top-50 KenPom victories this season, but having four other top-100 wins against Furman, Belmont, Richmond, and Missouri help the NCAA Tournament resume.
Success in sports is often about momentum. And there simply aren’t many teams around the country that has the type of momentum that Alabama has right now. Just ask my friend Erik Haslam, founder of Haslametrics, who has the Tide ranked second nationally in momentum.
Maybe Alabama will make the tournament, maybe it won’t.
However, things look much different than they did in November. That’s coaching, players buying into the system, and other intangibles that can’t be measured on a stat sheet. Improvement leads to more wins, and again, I’m not sure there’s a more improved team in the conference.
If that trend continues, the Tide will be a factor in March. Good thing that Oats guy didn’t get fired after six games, huh?
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As always, special thanks to friend-of-the-site Blake Lovell for writing today’s content. Be sure to subscribe to Blake’s Newsletter (blakelovell.substack.com), and follow him on twitter (@TheBlakeLovell).