In Alabama, football rules the universe, and it often seems like basketball is just something you watch in between the school’s annual bowl game and spring practice a few months later.
It’s one of the pigskin capitals of the world, and The Crimson Tide program is a dynasty on the gridiron. So it’s easy to understand why folks in The Heart of Dixie sometimes only give the hardwood half a glance.
But that hasn’t been the case during the 2022-23 season, as Alabama and Coach Nate Oats as the whole state hot for hoops, as they head into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as its top overall seed.
The Tide (29-5) comes off an impressive win in the SEC Tournament, and there’s no one playing better right now. While they certainly aren’t unbeatable, they have an excellent shot at bringing a title to Tuscaloosa.
Here are three reasons why The Alabama Crimson Tide could be crowned the 2023 NCAA Champions
#1 – They have a mercurial star who can take over a game
Forward Brandon Miller is an electric athlete who can do a little bit of everything, averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He gets a lot of help from guard Marcus Spears (12.5 ppg) and forward Noah Clowney (10.1), but the team has a talented bench that goes about eight deep.
Miller has been criticized for his involvement with former teammate Darius Miles’ shooting incident last year. He was in possession of Miles’ firearm and delivered it to him just prior to the killing of 23-year-old Jamea Harris.
Miles is currently standing trial on capital murder charges. Meanwhile, Miller was not charged and cooperated with authorities during the investigation of the incident. That hasn’t stopped the freshman sensation from leading his team this far. However, he’s going to hear it from every single crowd throughout the tournament.
If Miller can hold up to the mental pressure, he could guide his group to greatness.
#2 – They are battle-tested after a brutal SEC schedule
Alabama may be the kingpin of the conference, but their Southeast schedule was a seemingly never-ending battle. All the way up to the final game of the conference tournament, The Tide took everyone’s best shot.
But like Rocky Balboa, they refused to stay down. Alabama has the right mentality for the type of close games and brutal battles that are the norm when March Madness rolls around. They aren’t going to have ‘deer-in-headlights’ syndrome when the pressure is on.
Any team can run into a case of nerves, but ‘Bama doesn’t seem like a team that will fold under pressure. That means you have to simply outplay them. And that’s not the easiest of tasks.
#3 – They will be playing with a huge chip on their shoulder
Coach Oats and his team have been under fire for the way they have handled the situation with Brandon Miller, essentially trying to brush his association with Jamea Harris’ murder to the side. Unfortunately for them, opposing fans and the media aren’t letting them forget about it.
Perhaps it was out of spite or smugness then, that they allowed Miller to do a routine before games this year, where a teammate would pretend to ‘pat him down’ before he stepped on the floor. It was similar to the way police or security might search someone for a weapon, and it was seen as absolutely tone-deaf and disrespectful to the victim’s family.
Oats stated that he didn’t know about the ritual, and he said he would put a stop to it. And that was also met with jeers, as most observers felt there was no way he couldn’t have been aware of Miller’s asinine antics.
At the same? All that shrapnel that they’ve been forced to dodge has drawn them closer together. You can see a look in their eyes like it’s Alabama against the world. And as silly as that may sound, there have been a lot of teams who have fought from a foxhole to forge a place in history. Teams should be wary of testing Oats and Alabama because they will enter March Madness with ample attitude.
OUTLOOK: The Crimson Tide may be the number-one seed, but they also have no shortage of doubters. While Miller is a great player, he doesn’t display a lot of maturity, and some of his hijinx this season has shown that. If he can’t step up and carry this team when the chips are down (and at some point in the tourney… they will be), then Alabama could feel the sting of an upset.
Still, there isn’t a deeper more talented team in the country, and that wave after wave of athleticism can wear any team in the nation down, Alabama also has a decent half-court game, even if their young coach hasn’t quite proven himself as a savvy strategist yet. Despite any weaknesses you can point out about The Crimson Tide, you can point to two or more strengths. That’s why they are the number one seed and it’s also why the team SHOULD reach the Final Four.
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