On the surface, the question seems premature. However, these are exciting times in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Right now, anything seems possible.
Two days removed from a 105-75 win at LSU, No. 18 Alabama basketball finds itself in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, including three straight victories of 20 points or more in SEC play. Meanwhile, the football team is still basking in the glow of its 18th national title after blowing out Ohio State, 52-24, in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 11.
Alabama’s already-spoiled fan base is experiencing an even deeper level of indulgence. However, the current state of affairs brings about a creeping possibility.
Could Alabama win a national title in both football and basketball in the same school year?
The feat has only been accomplished once at the Division I level as Florida won the 2007 BCS National Championship Game and the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Interestingly enough, the Gators took down Ohio State in both championship games.
Nick Saban and company got Alabama halfway there earlier this month. And hey, the Tide even beat Ohio State to claim its title on the gridiron. For those counting on lightning to strike twice, Ohio State basketball ranks No. 15 in the nation with a solid 11-4 record.
March is still roughly a month and a half away, and there’s plenty of basketball to be played. But for the first time in nearly two decades, the Tide is earning some serious hype on the hardwood.
Following its blowout win in Baton Rouge, La. Tuesday night, Alabama sits at No. 11 in the NET rankings used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. The Tide sits at No. 10 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and No. 8 in Andy Katz’s rankings. Wednesday, ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi tweeted that Alabama will be a No. 2 seed in his next projected NCAA bracket set to be released on Friday.
With more than half a season in the books, the praise surrounding Alabama basketball has been justified. The Tide’s 7-0 start in league play is its best since winning eight straight SEC games during the 1987 season. The average margin of wins in those games is 18 points, while six of the victories came against teams projected to finish in the top half of the conference.
Alabama’s last loss came over a month ago as suffered an uninspired 73-71 defeat to Western Kentucky inside of Coleman Coliseum on Dec. 19. It’s safe to say a lot has changed since then.
“It’s been real fun,” said senior guard John Petty Jr., who hit eight 3s during Alabama’s win over LSU on Tuesday. “It’s like Coach Oats always tells us, ‘Once the Tide rises, all the boats rise.’ Our guys have been real locked in to make sure we go into every game with the right mindset. It’s always fun winning.”
Nate Oats also sees a difference in his squad, stating players are beginning to buy more into the team’s success rather than just their individual performances. Following Tuesday night’s win, the head coach said there were times when he thought about making substitutions only to be met with cries from the bench to let the hot-handed players on the court continue to play.
“When guys are pulling for their teammates as hard as our guys are, good things happen,” Oats said. “The ball moves. We ended up with 20 assists tonight. We didn’t have very many turnovers until that last eight minutes when we didn’t really take care of the ball. But I thought the assist-to-turnover, the connection on defense when a teammate gets beat, there’s always help-defense, they’re talking. That only comes if you have a tight-knit group with really good leadership.”
Alabama players are also beginning to buy more and more into Oats’ blue-collar approach. Along with leading the team with a game-high 24 points against LSU, Petty also took home the team’s Hard Hat Award, pulling in four rebounds while tallying a team-high three steals. That’s the type of senior leadership that has rubbed off on the rest of the Tide’s roster.
“Our team chemistry is out the roof right now,” Petty said. “I think it starts with our senior leaders, keeping our guys locked in. On the offensive end, our guys are moving the ball. On the defensive end, our guys are helping each other, we’re talking. And I think that helps a lot with the flow of the game. With the momentum, we try not to really think about it, but we know we have it, so we just try to keep level heads and just keep playing the same way we’ve been playing — going out and dominating.”
Still, if Alabama wants to develop into a true contender, improvements are still needed. While Oats admits it’s hard to find many faults in a 30-point road win at LSU, the head coach pointed out the Tide’s 16 turnovers and lack of rebounding over the game’s final eight minutes as areas that needed to be cleaned up moving forward.
“We just got to keep getting better,” Oats said. “As soon as we think there’s nothing to improve, we’re going backward. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, and we’re trying to get better every time out.”
Just how much better Alabama can get is yet to be seen. However, given the recent results in Tuscaloosa, the Tide certainly has the rest of college basketball asking some serious questions.