Yesterday, Nate Oats had his final presser on eve of Alabama’s First Round meeting with the better-than-you-think play-in Fighting Irish. One thing in particular caught my eye — this tibit on maintaining discipline while still pressuring the Irish, who as we noted yesterday, are smart, tough, scrappy and don’t beat themselves.
“They’re a really good team,” Oats said. “Shoot, to beat Rutgers, Rutgers is tough. If you look at all the wins Rutgers had in the middle of the season, end of the season, for them to beat Rutgers in a game like that showed you how tough they are. They don’t turn the ball over. They had five turnovers last night. We haven’t been a team that turns people over much anyways. Some teams handed us a few more. Most teams turn it over more than five times.
“But we do have to try to make them a little uncomfortable. The issue with that is they’re smart enough and they handle it well enough, if you try to get overly aggressive against them, they’re gonna make you pay, go backdoor, whatever. We don’t wanna give them open shots. They don’t miss too many open shots, either. They’re a high-IQ, really talented offensive group.
Smart teams have been the bane of ‘Bama’s existence this year. In many ways, the defensively-challenged, athletically-gifted and more laissez faire Scarlet Knights would have been a better draw for the Tide today. But, it is what it is, and ‘Bama can give away absolutely no freebies.
The Irish love freebies too: they shoot at an effective 55% clip from the field, primarily by exploiting defenders’ impatience or overpursuit.
It would help if ‘Bama can force the issue; get Notre Dame out of their nigh four-corner comfort zone that relies on backdoor cuts, set jumpers, and milking the clock. It’s not a deep team — just seven men usually see action. But they make the most of it, averaging 19.2 opponent-adjusted points off the bench. Getting some of that scant depth in foul trouble and sucking wind would go a long way today towards the Tide advancing.
Alabama coach Nate Oats, though, pointed out Thursday that the Irish prefer to play only a seven-player rotation.
“They’re not quite as deep as we are, and they’re coming off having to play Wednesday and then Friday,” Oats said. “Hopefully we can get into their depth a little bit. But they control tempo pretty well, too, and don’t play particularly fast. I’m sure they’ll try to do that again tomorrow.”
And this game really is a study in contrasts: the often-sloppy, gifted Tide run at the Nation’s No. 11 pace-of-play — the fastest of any Power 5 team. The disciplined-but-limited Irish? No. 289. Notre Dame isn’t particularly good on defensive rebounds either. There’s a lot of hay that can be made today if Alabama fights for those ORB and second-chance points.
And, Travis Reier, also over at 247, did a piece setting forth three predictions for today, including one that has to be scaring everyone: The Irish won’t wilt if they get down...it’s not in their DNA, and Alabama simply has not shown anything resembling a killer instinct this year.
In terms of immediate concerns, Alabama’s inability to close out Texas A&M, LSU and Vanderbilt — UA led all three games at the half — wouldn’t seem to bode well where the likelihood of making an elongated run goes. After all, it wasn’t just that the Crimson Tide couldn’t get home in those contests; it gave up 50 and 54 second-half points to A&M and Vandy, respectively.
Considering the quality wins this team has to its credit, we shouldn’t be having a conversation about which UA team will show up in San Diego. Even if it shines in the first 20 minutes on Friday, there is no guarantee it will close out the travel-weary Irish with emphasis.
I would be showing this team wall-to-wall Discovery Channel videos on great white sharks and what they do when they sense blood in the water. We could use a feeding frenzy today.
If the Tide’s hoops season ended today, how would you describe its legacy?
Rodak at AL.com said much the same that I did yesterday, only far more diplomatically, labeling Alabama “capable but beatable.” (But unlike Mike, I didn’t apply for press credentials this year to yank, and wouldn’t pull punches anyway).
His interview with Tide players did leave me wondering about this team’s mental state, given how these quotes can be taken a couple of different ways:
“I don’t think we have too much to prove,” guard Jaden Shackelford said. “I think it comes with how your season went. And we’re going out there with a fresh mindset to go play our hardest. I don’t feel we necessarily have anything to prove, but we’ve got to go out there and prove to ourselves that we can go out play for 40 minutes, play hard and give our best effort.”
Added guard Keon Ellis: “Everyone knows what we have done this year. But all that’s in the past and we’ve got to come out and prove it again in the March Madness tournament.”
Whether you want to take that as being self-satisfied with all the great wins, there’s some evidence in there for you. If you want to take it as “put the season behind us, move along,” there’s some evidence in there for it, as well.
I devoutly hope it’s the latter.
As usual, here’s the entire presser from 247.
Cheer up, though! No matter what happens today — and over the next two weeks — it really could be worse. No. 2-seed Kentucky suffered probably their worst defeat in the modern era yesterday: not NCAA tourney history. Ever. They were simply outplayed by the St. Peters Peacocks, and many older fans are calling it the single worst loss in UK Hoops history:
Check out some of these tidbits. Mind. Blown.
The Wildcats had not lost in the first round since 2008, when they fell to No. 6 Marquette as a No. 11 seed, 74–66. Their last first-round loss as a higher seed was back in 1987, when they lost a No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed game to Ohio State. Coach John Calipari’s last first-round loss was in 2003, while at Memphis.
The meltdown was glorious too. And, you know us: we love to kick a man when he’s down...
“Mom, can we have a Kentucky Wildcat basketball team?”— Roll ‘Bama Roll (@rollbamaroll) March 18, 2022
“No, honey. We have a Kentucky Wildcat at home.”
KENTUCKY WILDCAT AT HOME: pic.twitter.com/olgcQoo3ne
Ben Howland, a man from another time and place in basketball terms was released yesterday from the Mississippi State Bulldogs. It’s been a steady, if not exactly great, seven seasons for the once-red hot commodity from Pitt and UCLA. At State, he finished in the top half of the SEC three of seven seasons; he led the Bulldogs to one NCAA bid in six years (2020 was cancelled). MSU went to three NITs, including making a semifinal and final appearance. He was about .500 in SEC play, was about .600 overall, and made the post season 2/3rds of the time.
Solid team, solid program, usually a tough team to play against, but...
The bottom line is that MSU simply never brought in enough elite talent, failed to leverage the portal in ways that other SEC squads did, and at the end of the day just didn’t win enough. He’ll definitely land on his feet, but when a school like Mississippi State can fire a coach as well-respected as Howland for merely having just been decent, then it tells you where the conference is going as a whole — it’s going to get a lot more cut-throat, and likely a lot younger.
Mississippi State is open. Frank Martin is out at USCe. So too is Cuonzo Martin at Mizzou. LSU is vacant, the underachieving Florida Gators have another vacancy.
That doesn’t even address a few other questions that should make other schools uncomfortable in their coaching situation: Might Coach Cal actually be on the hot seat? Is Kermit done after two years at Ole Miss? Can someone back a Brinks’ truck up to the Plains and pry Bruce Pearl loose? Is Arkansas really a destination job for Eric Musselman? Will the Louisville Cardinals come calling for Nate Oats?
Next season, the SEC is going to look nothing like the conference as we’ve known it the last three years.
Real quick football notes:
After a very capable few seasons with the Buffalo Bills, where he worked his way from UFA to starting slot-corner, Levi Wallace has earned a fat paycheck. He’s heading to Pittsburgh to be interred with Minkah Fitzpatrick and a Steelers’ secondary that could use all the help it can get.
Also moving on was Tampa Bay’s OJ Howard, who has spent half-a-decade AWOL in the Bucs’ passing game. As a result, he was cut this week. Sure, Howard wasn’t used nearly enough by the Bucs, but he also shoulders the blame for the beginnings of his own disappointing career to-date.
Never waste a failure, OJ.
We’ll be back later with the BBB, and your open thread, and expect hoops to occupy a great deal of our digital ink for as long as ‘Bama is making a run (and the football team is away on break).
Want a recap of yesterday’s action, one with a ton of upsets (on paper, at least)? Check here.
Looking ahead to today’s slate? Right here.
Alabama Basketball NCAA will...
This poll is closed
Bow out in the first round
Have a tough loss to a red-hot Texas Tech team this weekend
Have a respectable Sweet 16 showing.
Make the Tide Elite 8? Duke is vulnerable and it’s a good draw for ‘Bama
Rack up the school’s first Final Four — they can do it!
CUT DOWN THE NETS! ONE SHINING MOMENT!