Just two years ago today, the Alabama Crimson Tide (28-5, 16-2 SEC; Kenpom: 3; T-Rank: 2; NET: 2) hadn’t won an SEC Tournament title in 30 years, Now, Nate Oats has the Tide a win away from its second title in just three seasons. A victory today would give Alabama its 8th SEC Tournament title all-time, extending its lead as the second-most successful team in conference history in that regard - trailing only Kentucky. Additionally, it would make Alabama only the second program in SEC history to sweep both conference titles - regular season and tournament - in two out of three seasons. Again, only Kentucky has done that before. On top of that, a win would further solidify Alabama’s first-ever one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
So, there’s quite a bit of history on the line for Tide Hoops. To further add to the motivation, Alabama will have an opportunity to avenge one of its only losses of the season in the process, as the Tide meets the Texas A&M Aggies (25-8. 15-3 SEC; Kenpom: 19; T-Rank: 16; NET: 20) in the SEC Championship Game today. The Tide met the Ags just a week ago, as A&M handed the Tide its second conference loss of the season 67-61 in College Station. SEC Coach of the Year Buzz Williams has been a serious thorn in Alabama’s side over the years, as A&M is the one team in the conference that Oats has yet to defeat. The Aggies currently own a five-game winning streak against the Tide. In fact, you have to go back to the last meeting in the SEC Tournament between the two to find Alabama’s last win over A&M. It was quite the victory though:
Time for Some Revenge Then, Huh?
Alabama certainly owes A&M some come-uppance after years of heartbreaking losses to the Ags. It couldn’t come in a bigger environment, as A&M attempts to win its first ever SEC Tournament championship. In order to pull it off though, the Tide will have to shoot the ball a hell of a lot better than it did last week in College Station or yesterday in the semifinal win over Missouri. Mark Sears and Rylan Griffen continue to struggle significantly on the offensive end. Alabama will need those two to get right at some point in the coming weeks if they want to achieve their ultimate goals.
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
Focus and Physicality. After the dramatic come-from-behind win against rival Auburn that clinched an outright SEC regular season championship, it would be quite easy for Alabama to let its guard down and not get off the bus for an 11:00 AM tip-off in Texas. This would be a mistake. A&M is going to bring a dogfight to the Tide on Saturday morning. If Nate Oats’ squad is not ready to meet that physicality, they could very easily leave Texas with a loss in the final game of the season. That would not be ideal. Sure, Alabama is basically locked into a 1-seed at this point regardless, but with how spotty the Tide has looked recently, the last thing this team wants is to continue that somewhat downward trajectory going into postseason play.
Rebounding. Texas A&M wants to make this game as ugly as possible. They, quite frankly, don’t care if they are jacking up bricks themselves, because the Aggies are 8th in the country in OREB%. Alabama has had issues with giving up offensive boards recently, so this could be a critical aspect to this game. It doesn’t matter if Alabama shoots 10% better from the floor if A&M gets 15 more shots off. The Tide’s bigs need to be ready to utilize the height advantage that they will have on A&M and win positioning. However, this doesn’t just fall on them, as the Aggies have great rebounding guards as well. Everybody has to commit to closing out defensive possessions with a rebound.
Pace and Free Throw Rate. I’ve made several comparisons between Buzz Williams and Frank Martin, but this is the most glaring example. Like Martin, Buzz is always looking to slow the game down to a crawl and then bludgeon opponents on both ends of the court. It’s a great way to make up for a talent disadvantage on their end. A&M is 3rd in the country in Free Throw Rate (% of free throws to field goals) and 47th in FT% at 75.5%. And they are at home with college officiating. But they also foul a lot themselves (291st in the country in FTR allowed), and Alabama ain’t too shabby either at getting to the line (27th in the country). The Tide needs to answer A&M’s toughness as a team - it’s something Alabama has struggled with all season - but they can’t forget who they are either. The best way to beat a team like this is to speed the game up and dictate the tempo.
Since these two just met last week, the path to a win hasn’t really changed much. Texas A&M is the best team in the country in playing the exact opposite style of what Nate Oats deploys in Tuscaloosa. They love to slow the game down to a crawl, exert their physicality on both ends of the court, get to the free throw line, and hit the offensive glass like mad men. A&M is 2nd in the country in Free Throw Rate and 6th in OREB%. They are like a Ken Pomeroy love child in that regard.
In that meeting last week, the game script could not have played out better for the Aggies. A&M went a ridiculous 27/28 from the free throw line, turned the Tide over 18 times, and bothered Alabama’s shooters all day, as the fellas went a combined 7/36 from the perimeter. Despite that, the Tide was right there until the very end, and even had the lead with only a few minutes left in the game. A&M’s dynamic duo of guards - Wade Taylor and Tyrece Radford - combined for 49 of the Aggies’ 67 points, as they were able to beat Alabama’s perimeter defenders all day long and get into the paint at will.
Alabama’s guards will have to do a much better job at preventing dribble-penetration and get the ball out of their hands. A&M runs a lot of high-ball screens, which the Tide has had its issues with, so I’d love to see Oats switch up the approach on those situations, either by playing off or committing to a full hedge, as opposed to the Tide’s usually approach of drop-coverage with the bigs. That conflict seems to be one of Alabama’s biggest issues defensively this season, and A&M exploited that all day in their previous meeting.
Time to Be Champions
With all of that being said, Alabama opened as a four-point favorite in this match-up, and for good reason. As great as A&M has been since the calendar flipped to 2023 - Bart Torvik has them rated as the 4th best team since January 1st - Alabama is arguably the best team in college basketball. There is a very good chance that the Tide will be revealed as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament later today when the Selection Show starts up at 5:00 PM CDT, regardless of what happens in this game today.
Alabama can beat any team in college basketball, regardless of the environment or what is on the line. If Nate Oats’ guys can take care of their business and execute at the level that they are capable of, they will be cutting down nets for the second time in two weeks. It’s time to go out and be champions, boys.
The game will tip-off at noon on ESPN. Don’t forget that we lost an hour overnight.