With four new head coaches in the SEC, here’s a question I’ve heard numerous times in the offseason:
Which coach will have the most success in his first season?
My answer has been the same every single time: Alabama’s Nate Oats.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Talent hasn’t been the issue for the Crimson Tide in recent seasons, and there’s a lot of it returning on this particular team. Perhaps most importantly, the talent fits Oats’ aggressive style perfectly.
Here are some random thoughts:
Kira Lewis is one of the best point guards in the country, and if Alabama reaches its full potential, he’s a dark horse candidate for SEC player of the year. His ability to both get to the paint and score on the perimeter will prove to be an invaluable resource in the new-look offense.
John Petty is one of the top shooters in the conference, even if the consistency hasn’t been what he and others would like it to be. Still, going into his junior season, the expectation is that he’ll thrive in Oats’ system.
Herbert Jones is a versatile talent who will do a little bit of everything. He may run the point, he may play the four. No matter where he plays on offense, he’s the best defender on the roster and may play as many minutes as anyone.
Elsewhere, Alex Reese is a breakout candidate as a frontcourt player who can make shots beyond the arc. Galin Smith brings a toughness that will be needed as a rebounder and defender. West Virginia transfer Beetle Bolden brings experience and other important intangibles. And there are other newcomers who will give the Tide nice depth.
Combine all that together, and it’s easy to understand why some (myself included) consider Alabama a potential top 25 team.
Sleeper player to watch:
I’ve talked a lot about Reese, so maybe he’s not even considered a sleeper at this point. But someone that is (and probably won’t be once everyone watches him) a sleeper is Jaden Shackelford. Oats said at SEC Media Day a few weeks ago that the 6-3 freshman could be the most Division I-ready player that he’s ever coached. Shackelford then went out and delivered an impressive performance in Alabama’s exhibition win over Georgia Tech. He’s clearly going to play a big role this season, and it’s not a stretch to think that he could be among the most impactful freshmen in the conference.
Where could Alabama finish in the SEC?
My thoughts on the league pecking order hasn’t changed all that much throughout the offseason. Kentucky and Florida are preseason top five teams for a reason. They both have an assortment of playmakers and figure to be contenders for a national title. After those two, I’d put Alabama in the same group with teams like LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee. All four of those teams have a lot of potential, but they also have question marks.
For Alabama, it’s rebounding and rim protection. For LSU, it’s rebounding and the challenge of replacing a dynamic guard like Tremont Waters. For Auburn and Tennessee, it’s finding a way to keep the momentum going after losing some of the best players in program history. However, the positive is that even if the Tide finish fourth among that group, they’d still be a tournament team. I think the 4-6 range feels about right. If that prediction is accurate, there should be a ton of confidence about the program’s direction with Oats in charge.