Nate Oats, Alabama Basketball Remain Focused Amidst Shift From 'Hunter' to 'Hunted'

After the 13-3 start, the Crimson Tide is now ranked in the top 10 in both polls
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the first time since 2007, Alabama men’s basketball is back in the top 10.

On Monday morning, both the AP Top 25 and Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll put the Crimson Tide in the top 10, with Alabama reaching No. 9 in the AP and No. 8 in the coaches poll.

For the Crimson Tide, it’s been quite some time that the team has reached such heights. Alabama is currently 13-3, including an impressive 8-0 start to SEC play. The team’s tenacious play on defense and high success rate from beyond the three-point line has rocketed the Crimson Tide up the rankings — just two weeks ago, Alabama remained unranked in the AP and sat at No. 24 in the Ferris Mowers poll.

In such a short span, the Crimson Tide has quickly gone from the hunter of top teams to becoming one of the hunted.

During Monday’s media availability, Alabama coach Nate Oats said that transitioning from the hunter to the hunted is something that he and his team have already discussed.

“We have talked about being the hunter, being the hunted,” Oats said. “Whether teams are hunting you or not you gotta maintain the mindset that you’re still the hunter. Like, you gotta got after teams. You gotta come out with an intensity level that they have to match your intensity level. So hopefully we can maintain that mindset even though we’ve climbed up into the top 10 — which is great for our guys.”

When it comes to maintaining success, the game is just as much mental as it is physical. For Oats, keeping the players focused on the task at hand rather than letting them become distracted by success is yet another obstacle that he and his team will need to overcome if it wishes to have lasting success.

On Monday morning, his players echoed that sentiment.

Crimson Tide senior wing Herb Jones was the first to comment on Alabama’s recent surge in the rankings.

“We try to keep the guys hungry, so we don’t feel like we’re being hunted,” Jones said. “We’re still doing the hunting.”

Jones’ teammate, freshman forward Keon Ambrose-Hylton, echoed that same mentality.

“Every day coach is reminding us that there’s a target on our back and we gotta make sure that we have the one goal which is getting into the tournament and making a lot of name,” Ambrose-Hylton said.

Alabama now prepares to face Kentucky on Tuesday night (6 p.m. CT, ESPN) and could potentially still be without junior forward James Rojas, who also missed Saturday night’s game against Mississippi State due to an unknown medical condition. While the Crimson Tide was able to handily take down the Wildcats 85-65 on the road back on Jan. 12, Kentucky always presents a challenge as one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs.

For Oats, he and his team’s success hinges upon remaining focused amidst success.

“Our guys are playing well, they’re playing together, they’re showing great leadership, the chemistry’s good — everything’s good around the program to the point where these guys deserve to be ranked in the top 10,” Oats said. “Their play shows it but all the hard work you put to get there can — one bad outing and you’re probably out of it so we gotta bring it every night. We gotta stay focused and we’ve got to — the stuff that we can control we gotta be great at.

“We’re not gonna make 23 threes every game but we can play hard, we can be locked into the scouting report, we can give a great effort, we can rebound the ball — all that stuff that is controllable within each game? We gotta be great at it every night out.”