Nate Oats Talks NCAA Tournament Chances after First Signature Win

Joey Blackwell

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama head basketball coach Nate Oats talked in-depth about his team's NCAA Tournament aspirations coming off of the first-year head coach's 83-64 signature win over No. 4 Auburn Wednesday night.

"So now we've got a signature win," Oats said. "I mean, you look at our NET [Rankings], KenPom—all the analytics—we're there. There's teams that have been at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament with a lot worse metrics than we have right now. We've just played a tough schedule and we lost."

So far in SEC play, Alabama has a 2-2 record, being perfect in Coleman Coliseum at 2-0 against Mississippi State and Auburn, but falling short in two tough road games at Florida and Kentucky.

The Crimson Tide hosts Missouri Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network), then goes on the road to face a struggling Vanderbilt in Nashville Wednesday.

Oats stressed the importance of SEC play and how crucial the team's upcoming matchups—despite being against a pair of the lesser conference teams this season—are to the team's chances.

"We discussed it earlier in the year," Oats said. "If we want to play in [the NCAA Tournament], what we have to do. I thought last year at Buffalo once we won games early we knew we were in the tournament. It was more talking about seeding. I think here right now you gotta give 'em something to play for. We may have been counted out early but the SEC's good enough. If you come in and play well enough during conference play you can play your way into the NCAA Tournament."

If the season were to end right now, Alabama would have a strong case to have a ticket to the Big Dance. However, there's still a lot of basketball left to be played.

Currently, the Crimson Tide have an overall record of 9-7 after facing a tough non conference schedule. Close losses to the likes of Penn and Penn State still appear as black marks on Alabama's record. The Crimson Tide was bitten by the injury bug early, which contributed slightly to the team's early misfortunes. Turnovers, lack of consistency from the free-throw line and poor shooting were also key factors, but Alabama has been able to correct most of those glaring errors as of late.

While a victory over Auburn on Wednesday helped clean up a lot of the team's early mistakes, the Crimson Tide will need to keep up its momentum if it wants a shot at the tournament.

"We were injured early and I think we talked about it—not often," Oats said. "I mean, if you talk about it all the time then it's going to distract you from the job at hand that day but you got to give 'em hope too that there's—I mean they played in the NIT last year and they're not trying to play in the NIT. This year those guys want to play in the NCAA Tournament."

Alabama exited the NIT early last season, falling in the first round to eighth-seeded Norfolk State.

Regarding Alabama's next matchup against Missouri, the Tigers currently share the same overall record as the Crimson Tide: 9-7. Missouri is 1-3 in the SEC, but its one victory was a 91-75 win over Florida, a team that Alabama lost to in double overtime in Gainesville.

While Missouri is having its own troubles, it should not be taken lightly. The Crimson Tide has a history of poor performances following major wins, although that has yet to be seen under Oats. A loss to Missouri would be a huge letdown to both the team and its fans, and could potentially be a big momentum-killer heading into Vanderbilt, Kansas State and with another big road game against LSU on the horizon.

If there's one takeaway from Oats' talk, it's this: the head coach wants to see him and his team dancing in March. Despite the team's flaws, Oats is adamant that his team can make it if they continue to improve as they have been over the past couple of months.

"I've coached—three out of four years I've been a head coach—in the NCAA Tournament," Oats said. "There's nothing like it. I want to be coaching in the NCAA Tournament in March, these guys'll be playing, so we talk about it here and there. We've got a shot to get ourselves in, we've just got to keep playing well here."