For the first time in program history, Alabama basketball is in the Final Four of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. Crimson Tide fans knew Nate Oats would be the coach to take Alabama to their first Final Four, but not many thought it would be the 2023-2024 team.

105.1 The Block logo
Get our free mobile app

The team that Alabama fans thought was good enough for a Final Four run, 2022-2023, exited the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 after a physical game against San Diego State, who went on to play in the national championship. What was the difference between last year's incredibly talented team and this year's team that made a run in the tournament?

As the final seconds ticked down in the Sweet 16 in 2023, Alabama fans couldn't believe that the team that won both the regular season and SEC tournament, the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament, lost in the Sweet 16. It was the tenth time Alabama had made it that far, yet the Crimson Tide had only one win to advance to the Elite Eight. The Sweet 16 appeared to be a curse on Alabama Basketball.

To make matters worse, Alabama lost seven players from their 2023 rotation, Brandon Miller, Charles Bediako, Noah Gurley, Noah Clowney, Jaden Bradley, Jahvon Quinerly, and Nimari Burnett. The icing on the cake? All three assistants from the 2023 team accepted head coaching jobs elsewhere. Nate Oats would almost start from scratch with the 2024 team.

Alabama returned just one starter from 2023 to 2024: Mark Sears. Three of Alabama's starters in 2024 weren't on the team last season, as the Crimson Tide looked to the transfer portal for some major additions to their team. Grant Nelson from NDSU, Aaron Estrada from Hofstra, Latrell Wrightsell Jr. from Cal State Fullerton, and Mohamed Wague from West Virginia.

Alabama had its struggles this season and appeared to have a full defensive meltdown late in the season after losing four of their final six games before the tournament: A loss to Tennessee at home to lose the SEC, two blowout losses to Florida, and losing to Kentucky by 22 despite scoring 95.

Alabama had a historic offense all season, ranking third according to Kenpom with the No. 1 ranked strength of schedule. Alabama's defense had been their downfall, ranking 103rd in the country, albeit, facing the toughest offensive schedule in the country.

Oats has talked about Alabama's offense all season long, but especially in the postseason. After Alabama's win over Charleston, Oats said, "If we can have the No. 1 offense in the country & a top 30 or 40 defense we have a chance to make a deep run."

Even in the first round, Alabama's defense wasn't stellar. They allowed 96 points to the No. 54 offense in the nation. The Crimson Tide's defense has stepped up the rest of the tournament. While the Crimson Tide hasn't quite had a top-40 defense, they've drastically improved their defensive efficiency to 53rd according to Bart Torvik.

It was Alabama's game against Grand Canyon that flipped the switch, and Mouhamed Dioubate was a part of the catalyst.

Alabama has had a different player step up in every game of the NCAA tournament. In the game against Charleston, Mohamed Wague and Mouhamed Dioubate came in and provided valuable minutes for Alabama. While they both only scored six points apiece, it was their effort on the defensive side of the ball that helped Alabama jump out to a 30-point lead that ended the game with 10 minutes left in the second half en route to the 109-96 win.

Against Grand Canyon, it was Dioubate again. He only scored nine points, but his 13 minutes, five offensive rebounds, and two blocks helped set the tone for Alabama defensively in the 72-61 win over the 'Lopes.

105.1 The Block logo
Get our free mobile app

Alabama's matchup with North Carolina was the first time this tournament Alabama was an underdog. Someone did not tell Nate Oats, Mark Sears, and Grant Nelson that Alabama was supposed to lose that game. Grant Nelson led the Crimson Tide in scoring with 24 points that night. Nelson had a double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Sears had 18 points for the Tide in the win, but Rylan Griffen was the driving factor from beyond the arc, shooting 5-for-8 from three to help the Crimson Tide to an 89-87 win over the Tar Heels. Alabama was in the Elite Eight for the second time in program history.

The only thing that stood between Alabama and their first-ever Final Four was the Clemson Tigers. It wasn't easy, but Jarin Stevenson helped Alabama remain in the game and take a lead in the first half. He continued his hot hand in the second half, shooting 5-for-8 from three which led to a career-high 19 points from him. Stevenson kept Alabama consistently in the game, and Mark Sears helped Alabama pull away from the Tigers. After starting the game 0-for-6 from three-point range, Sears finished the game 7-for-14, including six straight to help send Alabama to their first-ever Final Four thanks to an 89-82 win over the Tigers.

The difference between last year's team and this year's team? It's veteran-led. Mark Sears is a senior, and Aaron Estrada is a graduate student. Grant Nelson is a senior. Latrell Wrightsell Jr. is a senior. Nick Pringle is a senior. The youngest player in Alabama's starting lineup is Rylan Griffen, who is a sophomore. When you sprinkle in veteran players and leadership with freshmen who are talented and willing to learn, you get a team like this year's Crimson Tide. While they've had their ups and downs, Alabama doesn't shy away when they get down early or face a double-digit deficit.

For the Crimson Tide, the Final Four is expected to be just the beginning. After signing a contract extension that increased his buyout to $18 million, Nate Oats is expected to stay in Tuscalosoa for a long time. He's already produced multiple first-round picks, including Herb Jones, Brandon Miller, and Noah Clowney. Alabama is expected to send another two players to the NBA draft. Oats has had eight players drafted since taking over as the head coach of the Tide, and after a Final Four appearance in 2024, hopes to have many more during his tenure at Alabama.

Wyatt Fulton is on-site in Phoenix for coverage of the NCAA Men's Tournament Final Four for Tide 100.9. Coverage is sponsored by the Sportsbook at Pearl River Resort. Located at Golden Moon Hotel & Casino, they offer traditional sports betting in which guests can bet on all professional league sports and major collegiate sporting events.

The Sportsbook at Pearl River Resort
The Sportsbook at Pearl River Resort

Sights from the Airport as the Tide Head to Phoenix

Gallery Credit: Wyatt Fulton

Alabama Advances to Their First Final Four

Gallery Credit: Wyatt Fulton

Alabama's Elite Win over North Carolina in the Sweet 16

Gallery Credit: Wyatt Fulton

Alabama's Hard-Fought Win Over GCU

Gallery Credit: Wyatt Fulton

Alabama Men's Basketball vs Charleston

Gallery Credit: Wyatt Fulton

Sport Your Favorite Sports Station with Exclusive Tide 100.9 Gear

You already take us everywhere you go. Now you can show us off! Check out our Tide 100.9 collection on Threadless today.

Gallery Credit: Threadless, TSM

More From 105.1 The Block