TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With one final regular season game to go on Saturday in Athens against Georgia (1 p.m, CBS), University of Alabama men's basketball coach Nate Oats has the program in unfamiliar territory, given recent history.
The No. 8 Crimson Tide just reached the 20-win mark after beating Auburn on Tuesday, clinched the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and most bracketologists have Alabama pegged as a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, which would tie the highest-ever for the school.
Its No. 8 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 is the program's highest this late in the season in 19 years.
All of this, mainly in part because of the culture change directed by Oats when he arrived in Tuscaloosa back in March of 2019. Not even two full years into the job, he was named a semifinalist for the 2021 Werner Ladder Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Friday.
“I feel like he deserves everything that’s coming his way,” Alabama senior wing Herbert Jones told the media via Zoom on Friday. “He loves the game. He loves getting guys better, helping guys reach their dreams, and I feel like he does a great job of that. And I feel like he really knows how to expose your strengths on the court. I feel like that’s what makes him a great coach. He puts certain guys in great situations to do what they do best, and I feel like he’s one of the best to do it in the business.”
Alabama's 15 wins in the SEC is the most since the 1986-1987 team that finished 16-2.
“He puts the work in, so he deserves everything that’s coming his way," Crimson Tide sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly said. "He puts guys in the right positions. He’s just an overall great coach. The minute he walked in, he helped change the culture around here. He just deserves everything coming his way.”
2021 Naismith Coach of the Year semifinalists
Darian DeVries, Drake
Scott Drew, Baylor
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State
Juwan Howard, Michigan
Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago
Eric Musselman, Arkansas
Nate Oats, Alabama