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2021 Alabama Basketball Review: The Bottom Line? Better than you think.

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“Mixed bag” is as good a description as any.

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

2021-2022 Alabama Crimson Tide:

  • 19-14 (9-9 SEC, T-5th)
  • NCAA Tournament bid (No. 6 West)

Season Highlights:

  • Road and Neutral wins vs No. 2 Gonzaga (n), at Florida, No. 16 Miami (n).
  • Home wins vs. No. 7 Houston, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 9 Baylor, and No. 15 Tennessee.
  • Consecutive NCAA Tournament bids for the first time since 2005-2006.
  • Finished back-to-back in Top 5 of SEC for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
  • Emergence of stronger interior game; got to the line more often and shot FTA better; improved offensive rebounding.
  • Offense scored 80.5 PPG, and was an elite unit despite its weaknesses.
  • 8 Q1 NET wins — T-most in the regular season.

Seasons Misses:

  • Five home losses, the worst since 2018-2019
  • Swept vs. Auburn and Kentucky; 8-8 in single-score games
  • Just 10-5 vs. Q2 and Q3 opponents; 3-7 in true road games
  • Despicable loss at Georgia; bad loss at Mizzou; no-show on Sr. Night vs. Texas A&M; no-show and blowout loss at Memphis;
  • Loss to Vandy in R1 of SEC tournament; DD loss to play-in Notre Dame in R1 of the NCAA Tournament;
  • Four blown second-half leads resulting in losses.
  • Year-over-year worse defensive rebounding and turnovers; far worse perimeter shooting; among the nation’s worst perimeter defenses.

Final Offensive Stats:

  • SOS: 3rd, OOC 1st
  • PPG 80.5 (13th nationally, 16th KenPom)
  • TOs PG 14.5, TO %: 19.8 (274th)
  • 3PT: 30.9% (309th), 2PT: 55.9% (11th), FT: 72.9% (148th)
  • % of Plays with 3PTA: 47.6% (6th)
  • % of Plays with Assist: 53.1% (118th)
  • Offensive Rebound Rate: 11th
  • Adjusted Tempo: 13th
  • % shots blocked: 11.2% (322nd)

Final Defensive Stats

  • PPG: 76.5 (328th nationally, 92nd KenPom)
  • Force TO% 17.9 (209th)
  • Assist % allowed: 46.1% (63rd)
  • Block %: 11.9% (49th)
  • D Reb Efficiency: 272nd
  • FTs Allowed: 289th
  • 3PT %: 33.8 (196th); 2PT %: 49.3 (160th)
  • Effective Shooting Rate Allowed: 189th

Let’s put it all together, now that we’ve touched on some of the highlights of what was possibly the most accomplished regular season in Alabama basketball history, the disappointing and often shambolic defense, and an elite offense that was far better than you may recall.

On offense, it was a team that worked fast, that shot from the perimeter more than almost anyone in the country. They were a less accurate team from the perimeter, and more of the offense went through the post this season than in 2020. But Alabama added a highly effective interior team, that was particularly good snagging offensive rebounds and getting to the line.

Those positives were offset by a turnover-prone offense that never allowed the defense room to breathe, which in turn forced a struggling defense even further back on their heels. And, yes, the defense was as bad as you remember: in many ways worse. It fouled more often, gave up a lot of FTA and threes the old-fashioned way, forced too few turnovers, and were bad at perimeter rotation — where teams torched the Tide this season the most. The loss of three veteran perimeter players contributed as much to the Tide’s defensive woes as offensive ones, though Jahvon Quinerly in particular had a bad year: defensively, with his ball-handling, and in particular in his shooting. Though, it should be noted Q was one of the few returning ‘Bama defenders whose defensive rebounding and steals and blocks improved, so he was getting trying to get after it. Like too many on this roster though, his effort was simply too unsteady.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Still, it was a long, athletically gifted team that was able to rise up in most of its biggest nonconference games and notch elite, program-changing wins. However, consistency. leadership, and effort were issues all season. Alabama could not string together a few solid games in a row, and far too often played down to their competition.

Was it a disappointment? In retrospect, I come down on “underperformance, but not a disappointment”.

I think many of us really overlooked what Alabama lost outside of Herbert Jones, who was going to be impossible to replace. We all counted on young and inexperienced player to step right into the roles of other 3- and 4-year players, and miss little on the floor. That’s not the easiest ask in the world.

Already going into the 2021-2022 season, Alabama was facing a serious experience and leadership deficit. It was as young a team as anyone in the country, with the average playing experience being just 1.3 years. That was 301st in returning experience, in fact.

To that, we can add the loss of the SEC’s Player of the Year, the loss of another guard to the NBA lottery, and a 5-year veteran guard who worked his tail off with each successive season to become a more well-rounded player. Herb gets the press, obviously, but Petty and Primo were not inconsequential losses either. Teams rarely are absent three ball-handlers and get better ball security, and this even ignores Alex Reese, a swing forward with a clutch shooting stroke.

In terms of win share, not having Petty (3.8), Primo (2.1), Jones (3.9), and Reese (1.6) accounted for the loss of 11.5 games before the season even started.

You cannot lose as much talent as Alabama did, lose as many veteran leaders as Alabama did, lose as many ball-handlers as Alabama did, turn the ball as often as Alabama did, force far fewer turnovers, defensively rebound much more poorly, play some of the nation’s worse defense, and expect to sustain success. In the end, the frustration was evident, and it seemed as too many people had one foot out the door before the season concluded.

Did some of these players quit? That’s a helluva’ indictment, but the effort, motivation and fundamentals sure did not seem like a team that wanted to be there. Fully admitting that I am no Nostradamus, in the end, I think even Nate Oats was glad to see the roster attrition Alabama has faced following the season’s conclusion.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Notre Dame vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While Alabama was able to paper over its weaknesses for big wins — some of the biggest wins in program season history, in fact — over the course of a 33-game season the real Alabama emerged: this was a very good basketball team that was high on potential, who had the talent to score 80 points on average nights, and that could stand toe-to-toe with almost anyone, but whose lack of leadership, overall inexperience, defensive laziness, poor road defense, perimeter slumps, sloppy offense and too few ball-handlers negated the opportunity for a special season.

We tend to think of Nate Oats as some long-stick veteran coach; a hard-bit, hard-ass with decades behind the whistle. But the 2021-2022 season was just his 7th overall as a head coach, and only his third in major college basketball. He is still learning his craft, building his program, and fully getting settled in to being the man — with all the attendant stress, opportunities and expectations that entails.

In Coach K’s 7th season, he had two NIT appearances to his credit, and his Duke Blue Devils had a losing record that season. Jim Boeheim’s 7th team lost 10 games, and he had as many major division NIT appearances as NCAA berths. After three seasons of major division basketball, Tom Izzo’s teams had made two NIT appearances, and then a Sweet 16. It was his fourth season at Sparty when the dynasty truly began. It took Rick Pitino six seasons before the surprise Providence Friars got hot enough down the stretch to shoot their way into a Final Four...and he did not get back there again for another 7 years.

The point being, while you can tell quality early, the truth is that very few coaches inherit a Golden Parachute, Final Four-ready program like Roy Williams did at Kansas. They have to grow into their program.

As much as 2021 may have been a mixed bag for Alabama fans, it was undoubtedly frustrating for Coach Oats, as well. But the underperformance from this group can represent a chance to learn from mistakes and grow into a better, wiser coach. The next season’s crop of players can and will learn from this one: both in how to handle big games and in how to play against the teams you should beat. Consistency is the single hardest thing to achieve in college athletics, just ask Nick Saban. And not even the all-time greats have been able to do so year-from-year, much less within each year. He’ll learn. He’ll get there. And so will we.

Because in just three short years, Oats has completely reset the expectations at the “football school” — the student section is a social event with as raucous a group as you could want. Attendance was fourth overall in the SEC, at nearly 11,000 per contest — only Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky were better. Because of his success — and likely only Nate Oats’ success and forceful personality could have done so — the basketball program has forced tightwad Greg Byrne’s hand into committing to a $120-million basketball arena: the House that Nate Built. And this “football school” is growing to become every bit as feared on the parquet as on the gridiron.

The phrase “why not us” has real meaning. This can be the slumbering giant that no one truly wants to awaken. John Wooden did not inherit a dynasty. Coach K was not gifted a national power. Tom Izzo didn’t take over a juggernaut. They all grew into what they became because they had the right man for the right job at the right time; they had access to talent, institutional support, an administration willing to spend money, rabid students, and a devoted fan base.

In other words, all the things that would allow Nate Oats the be that kind of difference-maker are here in Tuscaloosa. He can be that man, and this can be the place and time.

Why not us, you ask?
Why the hell not, I say.

Roll Tide. We’ll see you after National Signing Day when we take a closer look at what the 2022-2023 season has to offer...and after Alabama completely rebuilds its roster.

Final Grade: B-

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