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Alabama may be more prepared than any team in the NCAA Tournament for a classic, major upset – either way, that is.
The Crimson Tide has beaten No. 1 seeds and lost to No. 16-type seeds or much worse throughout this season.
So, do not think that the No. 6 seed Crimson Tide (19-13) has been looking past anyone before its first round game on Friday in San Diego in the West Region (TNT, 4:15 p.m. eastern) against the winner of the play-in game between Rutgers (18-13) and Notre Dame (22-10) on Wednesday (TruTV, 9:10 p.m.)
“We’ve proven we can play with anybody in the country,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We’ve also proven we can lose to anybody on our schedule.”
Oh my, yes.
On Jan. 25, Alabama lost 82-76 at Georgia, which finished the season 6-26 overall and 1-17 and in last place in the SEC. Four days later, Alabama beat then-No. 4 ranked Baylor, 87-78.
On Jan. 15, Alabama lost 78-76 at Mississippi State, which finished 10th in the SEC at 8-10 before reaching the NIT at 18-15. Four days later, Alabama beat then-No. 13 LSU, 70-67.
On Jan. 5, Alabama won 83-70 at Florida, which finished 19-13 and 9-9 in the SEC and reached the National Invitation Tournament. Three days later, Alabama lost 92-86 at Missouri, which finished 12-21 and 5-13 in the SEC for 12th.
Alabama limps into the NCAA Tournament after three straight losses – the last of which was at the SEC Tournament, 82-76, to Vanderbilt, which was 7-11 in the SEC for 11th before finishing 18-16 and reaching the NIT.
Yet, Alabama also has wins over two of the top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament: 91-82 over the overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Dec. 4 in Seattle when Gonzaga was No. 4 in the nation, and 87-78 over No. 1 seed Baylor on Jan. 29 when Baylor was ranked No. 4. Gonzaga is No. 1 in the latest Associated Press poll, while Baylor is No. 4.
The Tide also has wins over No. 3 seed Tennessee, 73-68 on Dec. 29, No. 4 seed Arkansas, 68-67 on Feb. 12, and No. 5 seed Houston, on Dec. 11.
Alabama may be the most tested team entering the NCAA Tournament because of its strength of schedule, which has included 15 games against the NCAA Tournament field. Alabama is 8-7 against those teams, including a 5-4 mark against top five seeds:
1-0 vs. No. 1 seed Gonzaga
1-0 vs. No. 1 seed Baylor
0-2 vs. No. 2 seed Auburn
0-2 vs. No. 2 seed Kentucky
1-0 vs. No. 3 seed Tennessee
1-0 vs. No. 4 seed Arkansas
1-0 vs. No. 5 seed Houston
1-1 vs. No. 6 seed LSU
0-1 vs. No. 9 seed Memphis
1-0 vs. No. 10 seed Miami
0-1 vs. No. 10 seed Davidson
1-0 vs. No. 15 seed Jacksonville State
“We’ve shown we’re more than capable of beating good teams,” Oats said.
Plus, two of Alabama’s top players this season, Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly, were key parts of an Alabama team last season that won the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament before reaching the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 and finishing 26-7. The Tide beat Iona and Maryland before losing to UCLA in overtime.
“We got another shot at this,” said Shackelford, who leads the Tide with 16.7 points a game. “There’s more out there for us, and we’re capable of doing a lot of good things in March.”
The best thing for Alabama may be a new freedom from SEC foes. It will not have to play another SEC team until the West Region title game, should the Tide and Arkansas each advance. The Razorbacks (25-8) play No. 12 seed Vermont (28-5) on Thursday (TNT, 9:20 p.m.) in Buffalo, NY.
If Alabama beats the Rutgers/Notre Dame winner, it plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 3 seed Texas Tech (25-9) and No. 14 seed Montana State (27-7).
“That’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament,” Oats said. “You get to play teams you haven’t seen all year and somebody different that’s not within your own league, where everybody knows each other inside out. It’ll be good for us to get out of our league. This will be the first time we’ve played a non-SEC team snce we beat Baylor. So, hopefully, we can get back to some of the non-conference confidence we had, if you will.”
SEC SCHEDULE IN NCAA TOURNAMENT (All times eastern):
No. 3 seed Tennessee (26-7) vs. No. 14 Longwood (26-6), Indianapolis, Indiana, 2:45 p.m., CBS
No. 2 Kentucky (26-7) vs. No. 15 Saint Peter’s (19-11), Indianapolis, 7:10 p.m., CBS
No. 4 Arkansas (25-8) vs. No. 13 Vermont (28-5), Buffalo, N.Y., 9:20 p.m., TNT
No. 2 Auburn (27-5) vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State (21-10), Greenville, S.C., 12:40 p.m., TruTV
No. 6 Alabama (19-13) vs. Rutgers/Notre Dame winner*, San Diego, California, 4:15 p.m., TNT
*(Rutgers, 18-13, vs. Notre Dame, 22-10, Dayton, Ohio, 9:10 p.m. Wednesday, TruTV)
No. 6 LSU (22-11) vs. No. 11 Iowa State (20-12), Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 7:20 p.m., TBS
SEC SCHEDULE IN NIT
No. 4 seed Vanderbilt 82, Belmont 71
No. 1 seed Texas A&M 74, Alcorn State 62
No. 3 Mississippi State (18-15) at Virginia (19-13), 7 p.m., ESPN2
Iona (25-7) at No. 3 Florida (19-13), 9 p.m., ESPN2