Speaking to a press group about the upcoming schedule for the 2021-22 basketball season, Nate Oats was recently quoted as saying, “I don’t know, that might have been a little too much to bite off, to be honest with you.”
He wasn’t kidding.
The Tide is, once again, going to play a brutal non-conference slate - arguably the toughest in the country - which will then roll straight into SEC play, which should be among the top 3-4 conferences in college basketball in 2022. There really isn’t much rest for the weary at any point in this schedule, so this year’s group will have to pace itself and remain focused all the way from November through March. There is very little margin for error in any particular game this season.
That being said, playing a top-level schedule shows that Alabama isn’t planning on going anywhere. Nate Oats and his staff are recruiting like gangbusters in part because they are willing to play anybody, anywhere. That kind of mentality will pay off in the end. Additionally, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will light-up when they see the Strength of Schedule and NET numbers the Crimson Tide will have on its tournament sheet come March.
Still though, this is going to be a brutal schedule to navigate. Let’s take a look at it and break it down into groups.
The Season Starts
The opening month of the season will be the easiest for the Tide, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it will be easy. Many might not realize it, but the Alabama - Louisiana Tech opener on November 9th will be one of the best games in the country on opening night. The Bulldogs went 24-8 last season and made a run to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the NIT in March. They have a big man in Kenny Lofton that could play just about anywhere, and he will certainly put true freshman Charles Bediako to the test immediately. South Dakota State has also had a lot of recent success on the hardwood - they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament five times in the past decade and won the Summit League regular season title a year ago. The Tide can’t take either team lightly.
The following week, Alabama has probably the only leisurely week of the season - South Alabama and Oakland. The Tide should be about 20-point favorites in each. These will be important games to figure out the rotation, run different sets, work on chemistry, etc. because November closes with a loaded field at the ESPN Events Invitational (they aren’t even trying to hide Disney’s takeover of college athletics anymore). The Tide will open up the event with the same team that Nate Oats’ squad opened up the 2021 NCAA Tournament with - Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels. We all know how competitive that game ended up being. Turns out that Rick Pitino guy can coach. The rest of the field includes preseason #3 Kansas, Anthony Grant’s Dayton Flyers, perennial mid-major stalwart, Belmont, a Drake team that won 26 games and made the NCAA Tournament last year, Miami, and a North Texas team that not only made the Big Dance, but won a game when they got there.
A Long December
There’s reason to believe that this year will be better than the last, but only if Alabama is ready to play elite competition a month into the year. The Tide begins the month by traveling to Seattle to play a team called the Gonzaga Bulldogs, perhaps you’ve heard of them? After that cross-country affair, Alabama will return home to play another 2021 Final Four participant, Houston, in a make-up game from last year. Then, Nate Oats’ group will have to travel to Memphis to play a Tiger team that is absolutely loaded with talent, including one of the best draft prospects of the past few years in freshman phenom, Emoni Bates.
If there is a tougher three game stretch in college basketball - please point it out to me. If the Tide can win even one of these games, it will be a rousing success.
By this point in the season, Alabama will have already played potentially four preseason top-15 teams (#1 Gonzaga, #3 Kansas, #12 Memphis, #15 Houston), a pair of 2021 Final Four teams (Gonzaga and Houston), at least four NCAA Tournament teams from last year (Iona, Gonzaga, Houston, one of Kansas/Drake/North Texas), two of the top four finishers in the 2021 NIT (Louisiana Tech and NIT Champs, Memphis), and a plethora of NBA-level players. If the Tide is barely above .500, it will still be a good start to the year, especially with only four guys returning who played in the rotation last season.
But, we aren’t done yet. The non-conference portion of the year will close out with a solid, senior-laden Jacksonville State team in Tuscaloosa and a “neutral-site” match-up in Birmingham with a very good Colorado State team that has won 20+ games each of the last two years and returns a healthy chunk of their production.
Big 12 - SEC Challenge
Oh yeah, and just for good measure, let’s go ahead and throw the defending National Champions onto the non-conference slate as well. Alabama drew the Baylor Bears in this year’s edition of the annual showdown between the two conferences, for a massive showdown in T-town. The Bears will have lost their main contributors from last season, but this is still going to be a great basketball team in 2022.
If the Crimson Tide can somehow navigate this non-conference schedule and win 9-10 games, we’ve got something special brewing in Tuscaloosa this year. Gun to my head, my prediction would be a 9-4 finish against this slate, which would put Alabama clearly in contention for a Protected (Top-4) Seed in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Of course, that will mostly be decided by how the Tide plays against SEC competition, which itself will be a tall task this year. I’ll touch more on conference play in Part Two of this preview, so stay tuned.
What is your prediction/expectation for Alabama’s non-conference performance this season?
This poll is closed
13-0 BABY WOOOOOOT
11-12 wins - letting the College Basketball world know we mean business
9-10 wins - a great showing for a team with a lot of new faces
6-8 wins - tough sledding against this mammoth schedule
5 wins or less - I’m an Auburn fan