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Scouting the Contenders 2023: Alabama Crimson Tide

Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama
As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, scouts their strengths and weaknesses, and takes a best guess on just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We begin with the nation's new No. 1 team, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Track Record

  • 22-3 overall, 12-0 SEC
  • Wins over Michigan State (81-70), Houston (71-65), North Carolina (103-101)
  • Losses to UConn (82-67), Gonzaga (100-90), @ Oklahoma (93-69)
  • No. 2 in KenPom rankings
Scouting Report
Alabama is likely always going to be a football school, but there's no denying that head coach Nate Oats has built a winning culture on the basketball floor in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide have been one of the SEC's top dogs since Oats took over, but they have their sights set on even loftier goals in 2023. They celebrated another achievement earlier this week, earning their first No. 1 overall ranking since 2002-2003. It's an impressive accomplishment, but one that will feel hollow if the Tide aren't able to deliver when things really matter in March.

Versatility on both ends ... Oats and company have epitomized the idea of position-less basketball, flaunting a roster full of guys who can play just about every role on the floor. It's an approach that gives Alabama nearly unlimited versatility and can allow them to find and attack mismatches more effectively than a traditional lineup. Take a guy like Mark Sears, who is currently second on the Tide in scoring this season. At 6'1", 185 pounds he acts as a guard, but you'll often see him defend forwards when needed, and his ability to crash the glass is one you don't often see at his position. Or, take freshman phenom Brandon Miller as an example. The 6'9" combo forward is a tough player to guard no matter the defender, but he can also handle the ball, and his passing ability is similar to that of a savvy veteran guard. This amount of versatility makes it incredibly hard for opponents to game-plan against, and makes the Tide particularly scary. It's certainly proved to be effective on the offensive end, as Alabama currently ranks seventh nationally, averaging over 83 points per contest.
They're incredibly tough ... One thing I've always appreciated about Nate Oats-coached teams is that they play with a certain attitude and purpose. You saw it when he was at Buffalo, and it hasn't disappeared at Alabama, as the talent level has elevated. The Crimson Tide are a tough basketball team, one that isn't going to be pushed over by any opponent they face. They play physical, aggressive on-ball defense and force offenses to beat them off the dribble. They're incredibly active in the post and on the glass; in fact, their 44.4 rebounds per game leads every team in Division I basketball, despite the fact there are plenty of larger teams out there. Even some of the smaller things, like setting hard screens or getting on the floor for loose balls, this team does. It's that type of toughness that doesn't always show up on the stat-sheet, but you see it every time this team takes the floor. And, it's there for the full 40 minutes, also. You won't see this Alabama team taking any plays off.
Depth ... Modern college basketball teams don't go 10-12 guys deep like they once did, but I still look for depth when evaluating which teams I believe have a legitimate shot at taking home the National Title. You need fresh legs deep in March if you want to win it all, and you never know when one of your key players gets in foul trouble. Fortunately, Alabama is a deep team with a balanced workload, especially in the backcourt. Beyond Sears and Miller, no player on this roster sniffs 30 minutes per game, a testament to just how many players can come in and contribute important minutes on this roster. Oats deserves ample credit for constructing a roster with this amount of depth, which becomes even more impressive when you consider the circumstances of this team. Forward Darius Miles was expected to play an important role on this team this season, but has since found himself in an ongoing legal battle that has cost him his spot on the Tide roster. Former Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett was also expected to play a role on this team, but has been out indefinitely since mid-December. Despite the absence of those two, the Tide feature an impressive second unit that could go toe-to-toe with just about anybody in the country.

Pesky turnovers ... Oats has always featured a high-flying offense, one that plays incredibly fast and looks to get up as much shots as possible. It's been effective all season, but that comes with a catch: turnovers. It feels like this team can play too fast, where they get sped up and make poor decisions, which is backed up by the numbers. Their 14.1 turnovers per game are ranked 292nd in the nation, nestled among such college basketball heavyweights as Cal Poly and Hartford. Their turnover rate of 16.0% may rank higher, at 165th nationally, but it's still a startling number for a 22-3 basketball team. It puts the Tide in a precarious position every time they step out on the court, and the program knows first-hand the type of negative impacts it can have in March. As the No. 6 seed a year ago, the Crimson Tide looked like they got sped up and out-of-sync against Notre Dame and it cost them, with a 78-64 loss. Turnovers weren't the only problem on offense, but 14 of them doomed any chance of a heroic Alabama comeback. This team has to learn to take better care of the basketball, or it's hard to imagine them advancing deep in the chaos that is March Madness.
Do they have the three-point shooting? ... It's well-known that Nate Oats absolutely detests the mid-range jump shot. He wants his Alabama team to get downhill and get to the rim, or settle for a three-pointer rather than lean on the low-percentage mid-range game. It's a roster that's conducive to that game-plan, but the three-point shooting hasn't always shown up. In fact, Alabama's three-point shooting has been a major problem in all three of their losses so far, including their most recent blowout defeat at Oklahoma. The Tide went 6-22 from three in that loss, and it didn't help that they couldn't get any stops the other way against the Sooners. Alabama as a whole only has one player that currently shoots over 40% from three, which would be Brandon Miller, and shoots 35% as a team. It's understandable that a young team would have their struggles from three-point territory and it generally hasn't been a problem most of the year. But, you do wonder if it could be an issue if Alabama runs into a hot-shooting team down the stretch and isn't able to respond.
Lack of March experience ... NCAA Tournament experience is more of a luxury than commodity in modern college basketball, even as we transition into the NIL era and away from the "one-and-done" era. Even so, it is something to consider when scouting the top contenders for the National Title, and the Tide simply don't have much March experience. Sears played in the NCAA Tournament while at Ohio and won one game, but isn't exactly a Tournament veteran. Jahvon Quinerly, who started his career at Villanova, has also seen a decent dose of March action, but this team is extremely inexperienced beyond those two. That doesn't mean they can't achieve a deep run, but March Madness basketball is different than the regular season. The stakes are higher, the fans are louder, and the pressure is taken up a notch. Whether this team, which is still very young, can respond to that type of environment remains to be seen at this point.

The Verdict
As I said in my "Scouting the Contenders: Purdue" post, it's hard to feel particularly confident about any team at this point in the college basketball season. Every team in the country has taken their lumps this year, and there's still several weeks before we have a firm idea what the bracket will look like. With that being said, I'm a big fan of this Alabama team, and believe in them a lot more than many others at the top of the polls. That may not be a controversial statement considering they're the top team in the nation, but it still feels like a wide swath of the college basketball community isn't sold on the Tide just yet. To be fair, teams that turn the ball over at the rate Alabama does always have a high variance of outcomes in March. It would not shock me if this team ends up in Houston, but it also wouldn't shock me if they get knocked out during the first weekend. Such is life in college basketball, and what makes the NCAA Tournament such an engaging event. Yet, I'm willing to throw some weight behind the Tide and pencil them in as a Final Four team in my current bracket. In fact, there's only one team I prefer to the Tide at this point, and it's not Purdue (but we'll get to that in a later scouting report). 

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