TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s not too often that Alabama basketball is a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, being a No. 1 seed come March Madness has never happened in the history of Crimson Tide basketball.
For Alabama, the highest it has ever been seeded in the Big Dance is No. 2, which has happened on two occasions. The first time it occurred in 1987 under former coach Wimp Sanderson. The team ultimately reached the Sweet 16 before it was ousted by No. 6-seed Providence, 103-82.
The second time it happened was in 2002 under former coach Mark Gottfried. Despite being a No. 2 seed and one of the best teams in the country, the Crimson Tide was upset in the second round 71-58 by No. 10-seed Kent State.
On Thursday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi moved Alabama up to a projected No. 1 seed for this year’s NCAA Tournament in his latest bracketology analysis. If the Crimson Tide were to fulfill that projection, it would be the highest seeding in program history.
While the projection in and of itself is quite monumental after looking at the recent problems the program has faced in recent years, second-year Alabama coach Nate Oats wasn’t even aware that his team had been projected that high.
When Oats was first posed with a question regarding the projected No. 1 seed, Oats exclaimed that he was unaware, and then asked what the highest Alabama had ever been seeded was.
When he was made aware of the Crimson Tide’s highest seeding being a No. 2 seed, Oats responded how you expect a coach of his caliber would.
“I’ll say this,” Oats said. “If we do what we’re supposed to and they’ve got us at a one-seed now and the tournament committee decides to give us a one-seed that’d be great. I mean, those teams tend to make deep runs.
“So I think looking at what seed we’re going to get in the middle of March in the beginning of February is probably not that wise but I do think that it shows our guys that what we’re doing — what they’re doing, the work that they put in — is paying off if they’re projecting it to be that now. We just got to take care of it.”
Alabama is currently 15-4 overall and is still undefeated in SEC play at 10-0. However, the Crimson Tide lost last Saturday on the road at Oklahoma and has also struggled on the offensive end of the court for the past couple of weeks. Alabama has found a way to win three of those four games thanks to solid defense and consistent points in the paint, but for a team that’s high-powered play revolves around scoring from beyond the three-point line, work still needs to be done to get this team back into shape before March Madness comes about.
Oats was quick to note on Friday afternoon that regardless of what seeding it is given in March, all of his team’s effort could be for nothing if it doesn’t improve from game to game.
“I mean this stuff can all go out the window in a hurry with a couple of losses so if we just take care of one game at a time and keep doing what we’ve been doing especially on the defensive end — and that was the big thing that I told our guys today: as poorly as our offense has been here lately — and it’s been bad — our defense is keeping us in every game,” Oats said. “We won three out of the last four games and have not played great on offense in any of the four, but we’ve won three out of the last four and had a chance to win the fourth one if we had made a couple of layups and it’s really because our defense has been where it needs to be. Now, we gotta get our offense back flowing.”
Oats’ attitude regarding projected seeding is also rubbing off on his players.
Just minutes after Oats’ press conference on Friday, senior guard John Petty Jr. and redshirt-freshman forward Juwan Gary took to the podium. Both players acknowledged Lunardi’s projection, but also dismissed it with the point that the season is still far from over.
For Petty, paying too much attention to projections can be a distraction.
“We really don’t pay attention too much on the outside noise,” Petty said. “We just try to take every game one by one and just keep getting better each time so when March comes around and the tournament time comes around we’re playing our best basketball.”
Gary echoed Petty’s sentiments towards projected seedings.
“I mean we’ve seen it,” Gary said. “It’s a great feeling to be a projected No. 1 seed but our job ain’t done yet. We still going to keep playing our game, still continue to play as a team. Just trying to get Ws. Just keep going and see what we’re going to do when the tournament come up.”
Alabama basketball has a chance to make history this season, regardless of whether or not it finishes as the national champion. With every SEC win that passes, the Crimson Tide’s chances of winning the regular-season conference title increases.
For now, the team simply needs to break down the season game by game. If it can successfully do that and improve with each and every outing, March Madness could be something special this year.
Oats took the time to say how important being a No. 1 seed would be for his team but noted that it should not serve as a distraction at this time of the season.
“Again, being a one-seed, that would be outstanding,” Oats said. “Like, unbelievable. Don’t think anybody would have predicted that. To dwell on that today is probably distracting. Today we need to work on what we need to do to beat Missouri. On Sunday, we’ll work on what we need to do to beat South Carolina. We’re just taking one at a time. Where we should be seeded is where we will be seeded come middle of March and hopefully we keep playing well.
“If every game we get a little bit better we’ll be where we need to be come the middle of March.”