Today marks the two year anniversary of the University of Alabama hiring Nate Oats. Andrew Parrish takes a look at how the coach's success compares to other coaches in the SEC.
Following the loss to Norfolk State in the National Invitational Tournament on March 20, 2019, Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne decided to make a move regarding the leadership of the men’s basketball program at the University of Alabama. Avery Johnson was fired, and a national coaching search was launched to find the next person to attempt to lead the Crimson Tide back to where they had not been very often in the previous ten seasons: the NCAA Tournament.
After sifting through rumors that former Ohio State head man Thad Matta was the choice of Byrne, “The Ninja” (as he is commonly referred to) struck with a coach that had not been heavily considered by Alabama fans and media alike. That man was the 44-year-old head coach of the University of Buffalo named Nate Oats.
Oats’s first season showed promise with a fast-paced, three-point shooting offense but was hampered by poor defense and injuries. A 16-15 season capped off with losses to conference bottom-feeder Vanderbilt at home and to middle-of-the-pack Missouri on the road, in which the Tide scored a season low 50 points in a 19-point blowout was a disappointing ending to a somewhat encouraging, if not downright fun first season.
Heading into his second season at the Capstone, the Alabama squad was met with some optimism from certain media outlets (Stadium’s Jeff Goodman projected Alabama to win the SEC in his preseason rankings) but was regarded by most as a team that would finish middle of the pack.
The season that transpired has been nothing short of incredible compared to those preseason expectations. 26 wins (and counting), an SEC regular season title, an SEC tournament title, and a Sweet 16 appearance later, with potentially more to come as the NCAA tournament continues, define the 2020-21 Crimson Tide squad as one of the best in school history. Additionally, senior Herbert Jones was named the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, while senior John Petty joined Jones in receiving first-team All-SEC honors, while sophomore Jaden Shackelford and freshman Joshua Primo earned second-team and all-freshman SEC honors, respectively. Additionally, Oats earned SEC Coach of the Year honors, while surpassing Anthony Grant as the coach with the most wins as a second-year coach in Alabama history and leading the Tide to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2004.
These accolades that Oats and company have earned this season beg the question: Is this the best second season of any current SEC coach at their current job? The records of the first two seasons of each current head coach and where those coaches ended their seasons tell the story:
Excluding the outlier that is Kentucky and their one-and-done system, only Oats, Eric Musselman, Will Wade, and Mike White have achieved this level of success in conference play and in the NCAA tournament in their second season. Comparing those three coaches in their second season brings along some similarities, with both Wade and Oats winning the SEC regular season title in their second season (Musselman had the unfortunate situation of coaching his second season alongside Oats, and White finished second behind Calipari in his second season). The similarities in success are beyond that are few and far between otherwise, however.
Oats was the only coach of the five mentioned to both win the conference regular season title and the conference tournament title in the same season.
Oats was able to lead his team to a top-30 KenPom offense and defense, which can only be matched by Calipari, while also playing at a pace that had not been seen in the SEC since the 2007-08 Tennessee squad that finished in the top 30 in offense, defense and tempo.
Alabama had the highest strength of schedule margin (measured as average offensive efficiency of opponents – average defensive efficiency of opponents) on KenPom of the five coaches considered while also playing in the SEC, which has the second highest conference-wide efficiency margin of the years considered.
It is no secret that Nate Oats and Alabama have had a historic season from both an internal and external perspective. The Tide have smashed offensive program records and conference records while maintaining a top-three defense in the country. These performances have translated to a 26-win season, two trophies with the potential of adding a third, and a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament (so far). All of these successes are magnified when considering that Oats is about to complete his second season at the Capstone. As far as the question posed above, the facts speak for themselves. The fact that Oats was able to lead a team that had won one tournament game between 2007 and 2021 to all of these accolades, while maintaining a top-30 performance on both sides of the ball and playing at such a high pace against the toughest schedule compared to those coaches that have matched his success is incredibly impressive and already places Oats as one of the top SEC coaches in recent memory. Keeping up this level of success will be a completely different challenge, but a few more seasons at this level will help Alabama complete the shift from “football school” to “championship school”.
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