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Alabama football taking a backseat to Alabama basketball — sort of

Alabama football logo at Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel prior to 2018 CFP title game versus Georgia
Adam Hagy - USA Today Sports

He told Louisiana State University to get off the court as crimson confetti fell inside Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tenn.) during the 2020-21 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Nate Oats saw the joy in his players’ eyes as the Crimson Tide captured its first SEC Regular Season Championship and SEC Tournament Championship under him. During a time of the pandemic – Coronavirus – Oats looked at the crowd and declared the University of Alabama as a ‘championship school.’ Alabama fans leaped for joy, but Oats meant what he said.

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Football served as king for Alabama Athletics since Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, and Eugene “Gene” Stallings were coaches. Winfrey “Wimp” Sanderson carried the torch for men’s basketball from 1980-92, winning five SEC Tournament titles and six Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Mark Gottfried, Anthony Grant, and Avery Johnson had success coaching the Tide, but Oats has brought it to a new level this season. In a year where Nick Saban and the football program do not capture an SEC Championship, make the College Football Playoff, or win a national championship, the basketball program becomes the story. Oats elevated the basketball program to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in his fourth season.

Alabama men’s basketball has been exciting to watch all year, earning a 29-5 record, an SEC Regular Season Championship, and an SEC Tournament Championship. The Tide went undefeated at home inside Coleman Coliseum. People grew accustomed to seeing the football program as the dominant pillar, but men’s basketball is six games away from winning its first NCAA Tournament Championship in school history. Football had a good year in 2022 – going 11-2 – but did not accomplish its goal. 

Bryce Young did everything he could on offense; however, a lackluster defense, inconsistent play-calling, and several undisciplined plays had the Tide, not at its best.  

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Alabama underperformed in a season with the reigning Heisman winner and best defensive player (Will Anderson Jr.) in college football. Coach Oats is making a statement that men’s basketball plays second fiddle to no one, including Alabama football.

He is putting Saban and the football team on notice, but people still consider football superior in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

If the basketball team wins an NCAA title, it will be a temporary talking point. When football season returns, the attention will go to can Saban win his eighth national championship and seventh with the Crimson Tide? Football will remain the talking point as Saban has proven with more consistency to have the program winning national titles. Spring practice starts next week for football, and it will be interesting. Football moves the needle, but it’s great to see Oats increase the intensity in basketball.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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