TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Wednesday night, there was a lot of hype and energy surrounding No. 6 Alabama basketball's game at No. 20 Arkansas.
It might have been a little too much for the Crimson Tide, which is still experiencing growing pains and having to adjust to being in the spotlight. While Alabama has done quite well this season it is, after all, still a team that rose to national relevance quite quickly.
Nate Oats doesn't want his team to get distracted like that again.
"No, none," Oats said in a press conference on Friday. "All we're doing is worrying about winning the Mississippi State game. And then they can let us know when we win the title. And after we win the title, I'll congratulate them and then we've gotta figure out how to beat the next opponent."
Alabama is coming off of its worst loss of the season: an 81-66 drubbing at the hands of the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. If the Crimson Tide had been able to win, it would have been crowned as the regular-season SEC champions.
That is, it would have before the SEC announced on Thursday that the Crimson Tide will be traveling to Athens to play the Georgia Bulldogs next Saturday.
Still, Alabama is still just one game away from clinching the regular-season title. As such, there's still a lot of hype surrounding the program, the kind that Oats wants to keep as far away from his players and his program as possible.
"Rat poison" is a term that Alabama athletics fans are quite familiar with. Head football coach Nick Saban used the term to describe media attention and promotion that potentially creates a false sense of security confidence among athletes. It's something that is publicly known that Saban despises and actively keeps his players away from to maintain their focus on the task at hand.
What Oats said during his Friday press conference was no different. Like many successful teams of the past, Oats wants his team to shut out the outside noise and focus on winning each game one at a time for the remainder of the season.
"Let's not think about any NCAA seeding," Oats said. "I thought there was a lot of talk about winning the SEC Championship at Arkansas which honestly took away from what do we have to do to win the game. If you win the game all that other stuff takes care of itself. We talked way too much about stuff that had nothing to do with going 1-0 and winning the game.
"For the rest of the year we're going 1-0 and after that one's done we'll go 1-0 again and after that one's done we'll just repeat."
For a little perspective, fans only have to remind themselves that just two seasons ago the program lost in the first round of the 2019 NIT tournament as a 1-seed to 8-seed Norfolk State — a game that ultimately resulted in Oats' coming to Alabama from Buffalo.
Alabama sits at No. 6 in the AP Top 25 and is projected as a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. While a spotlight on the program for the first time in quite a while is a huge sign of progress, it ultimately does have some drawbacks. After what happened at Arkansas, Oats understandably wants to narrow the players' focus to the task at hand, winning the next game.
He made that clear during a morning meeting between Oats and his seniors.
"We kinda just talked about not looking at anything outside of one game in front of us," the coach said. "Literally we're going to try to go 1-0 for however many times we have left to go 1-0 at the rest of the year.
"It could be anywhere from five — you know we got three regular-season games left, we got one SEC Tournament game guaranteed, we got one NCAA Tournament game guaranteed — we've got five games guaranteed up to possibly 12. So anywhere from five to 12 times let's just go 1-0. Let's not even think about who the next opponent is."
Next up, a trip to Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon. If Alabama wins or if Arkansas loses to LSU, then the Crimson Tide will be crowned the regular-season SEC champions and the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament.
Otherwise, it's one game at a time, 1-0 after every game day. With each victory, rinse and repeat.
Oats unintentionally emphasized it by forgetting for a brief moment who Alabama plays next Tuesday.
"That's kind of the thought process moving forward so we won't think about the Georgia one until after — who do we have?" Oats said. "That's right. Auburn. We've got a road game — Mississippi State — home game Auburn. We won't think about Georgia until after we're done with that home game against Auburn."