So The Tide Thumped Gonzaga… Now What?
Nate Oats is a wizard. If that wasn't evident in January or February, it is now.
The Crimson Tide are not a one year wonder.
After losing a lot of key pieces from last year's SEC Champion and Sweet 16 team, doubts about reloading and staying at the same high level of play were valid.
The pieces that are back are better than last year, and the new introductions are everything we could've hoped for.
JD Davison is playing like a lottery pick, and Charles Bediako is a dominant force around the basket. There are even some pleasant surprises, like the emergence of Darius Miles as a very valuable contributor.
Despite these things being evident in good wins early this season, Gonzaga was always going to be a litmus test.
Many hoped the Tide would keep it close, but expected to lose. After all, Gonzaga had looked invincible so far this year, sparing a 3-point loss to Duke and Paolo Banchero. But the Tide did more than keep it close, they controlled it.
The game was hardly ever in serious doubt except for the start and with a few minutes to play when the score was briefly narrowed to a 4-point difference. Jaden Shackleford proved coming back to Alabama was the post important thing to happen this offseason. He had 28 points, nine rebounds and two assists.
Charles Bediako and Juwan Gary locked up potential No. 1 pick Chet Holmgren all night, keeping him to 10 points and combining for seven blocks. The 3s fell, the defense smothered, and the Tide thoroughly rolled. Alabama will now potentially be looking at a top 10 ranking again, and have a bigger target on their back. What does that mean for us coming up?
To say Nate Oats is an aggressive scheduler is putting it mildly. Gonzaga is just the beginning of a crazy stretch in which the Tide will play Memphis, Houston, start SEC play against the likes of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Auburn, as well as square off against defending national champion Baylor in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Things change drastically throughout a college basketball season, but Alabama should finish the season with one of the toughest schedules in the country.
If Alabama manages to win 2-of-3 against Memphis, Houston, and Baylor, it'd be reasonable to expect a No. 1 ranking in March if we can manage to repeat in a challenging SEC. With Gonzaga already in the "W" column, winning those other three games becomes somewhat of a fun challenge rather than necessary for respect. Still, it's important to look at how we match up with those teams.
Memphis is very talented, but has struggled at times early this season. Penny Hardaway's team is loaded with top recruits, but like similar recent teams, hasn't quite performed up to their pedigree. They may just be the easiest of the three teams for the Tide, but don't be shocked if an upset occurs.
Houston is a great basketball team who will likely also be a top seed in March. Seemingly always well coached and loaded with guard talent, they make a very interesting matchup that could easily repeat in the big dance. This game could be a toss up.
Baylor is currently ranked No. 4 in the country, and is following up losing most of their talent to the NBA by playing like they never skipped a beat. Former Texas Mr. Basketball, Matthew Mayer is back and just as electric. The rest of the team has been playing tremendously over their undefeated stretch, beating many good teams in the process and winning the Battle 4 Atlantis. This game should be a battle, as Baylor figures to be in the same echelon as Gonzaga this year, but as we've proved, we're good enough to handle the very best in the country when we're playing well.
I've said it before, but there has maybe never been a more exciting time to be an Alabama basketball fan. This team is not only electric and so much fun to watch, but historically good. A couple losses or more will likely happen throughout the year, but with the way this team is playing, it just feels great to finally be thoroughly optimistic about Crimson Tide basketball.