We now know that Alabama Basketball landed the top overall seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament field, the first time in program history that they’ve even made the top seed line. What Nate Oats has done this season, and with this program in such a short time, is nothing short of remarkable.
While all NCAA Tournament draws are difficult, Alabama got a relatively favorable bracket as the top seed should. After what should be a lay-up in round one, Alabama will get the winner of Maryland, who finished 5th in the Big 10, and West Virginia, who finished 8th in the tough Big 12. Should they make the round of 16 as expected, 4-seed Virginia will likely emerge from a pool that includes Charleston, San Diego State and Furman. The Cavaliers are overseeded relative to their NET ranking and are only 5-5 in Quadrant 1 games on the season. Baylor and Arizona are the top two seeds in the other side of the region, one of which will likely await in the Elite Eight.
When you come in as the top seed, however, “how” you play is far more important than “who” you play. Alabama will largely be playing against themselves in this tournament, so let’s dig into three keys to the Tide winning it all, and three potential pitfalls that could keep them from it.
Why Alabama will cut down the nets:
- Brandon Miller
What else is there to say about Brandon at this point? He won the SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, and was named the MVP of the SEC Tournament. He is a Wooden Award finalist after someone wised up and added him to the list, and a Naismith finalist. Quite simply, Miller is the most complete player in the country and has the ability to take over the NCAA Tournament. If Alabama wins it all, Miller will likely lead the way as he has all season.
Alabama has one of the greatest offenses in the country, but it’s their play on the defensive end that has kept them consistent. With a couple of notable exceptions that we will discuss below, Alabama has been able to use its length and tenacity to frustrate opponents. Charles Bediako and Noah Clowney have been outstanding rim protectors and rebounders, and the perimeter defense has been outstanding for most of the season. The Tide rank third in defensive efficiency according to KenPom and will need to continue that level of effort as they go deeper into the tournament.
The SEC Tournament Championship game underscored the difficulty in facing this Alabama squad. Clowney and Miller each had to exit the game with foul trouble in the first half. In came Rylan Griffen and Noah Gurley, and each made significant contributions as the Tide maintained separation on the scoreboard. Oats has shown a willingness to go ten deep when needed, and the bench is loaded. While Miller is the catalyst, the supporting cast is awfully strong as well.
Why Alabama will fall short:
- Three-point shooting
As we saw in Alabama’s first and last games in Nashville, this team is nearly unbeatable when the threes are falling thanks to the volume of shots. As we saw against Missouri, however, and late in regular season play, volume threes can bite them when the team has a collective slump. Every game is effectively a Quadrant 1 game after the first round, which means that any team that Alabama faces is capable of beating them on an off night. It’s highly unlikely that the Tide will be hot for five straight games, so at some point they will have to rely on the defense to move on. Alabama has lost three games since the calendar changed to 2023, and in those games they averaged under 27% from behind the arc.
If there is one area that this Alabama team has legitimately struggled, it has been turning the ball over too much. Nate Oats prefers a breakneck pace and the team has developed masterfully, but occasionally they still tend to get a bit careless with the basketball. You can’t afford to do that against the teams that the Tide will face later in the tournament and expect to win. After a rough start in this area the TIde improved to an average of 11.7 per game since January 1, but in those aforementioned three losses they gave it away 49 times, for an average of 16.3 per contest. Please take care of the ball, gentlemen.
- Great interior passing from an opponent
Two games this season, against Gonzaga in Birmingham and at Oklahoma, exposed a concerning weakness in the interior of the Alabama defense, particularly defending the high ball screen and roll. Teams that are adept at passing the ball, particularly with the bounce pass, from the elbows to the blocks may give the Tide trouble. At the very least, we will see if they have been able to correct the deficiency in practice.
As is the nature of single elimination tournaments, Alabama has had plenty to celebrate this season but it’s now all in the past. When the ball tips off on Thursday, nobody will care that they won the SEC regular season and tournament titles or are in the midst of the program’s greatest season ever. The opponents will be strong, and the Tide will have a massive target on its back as the overall number one seed. The top seed has won the national title only three times since 1979, with Louisville in 2013 the most recent example.
Notice that I didn’t mention anything above about the off-court nonsense surrounding the team. I don’t see it as a factor at all, as this team has proven itself capable of shutting out the noise and getting the job done. If anything, it has brought them closer together. The Tide may or may not win the championship, but outside noise won’t be the reason either way.
So, what say you? Will this Alabama team continue its magical run all the way to Houston and bring home the first national title in program history?
Give us your thoughts in the comments.