Competitiveness helps Alabama Hoops fight complacency

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Alabama men’s basketball team is red hot as January nears its end.

The Crimson Tide has won eight straight games, including all seven of its SEC contests, and ranked second in the AP Top 25 and USA TODAY Sports Coaches polls for the first time in over 20 years. During its current streak, Alabama has won every game by double-digit points. The Tide became the third SEC team in the past 50 years, after Kentucky (1994-95) and Florida (2012-13), to start conference play and win their first seven games by double figures.

These Wildcat and Gator teams both won SEC regular-season titles (Florida also won the league tournament) and made the Elite Eight. Alabama’s 2022-23 roster has similar ambitions, but given their success in December and January, will look to maintain their current pace over the next two months before both the SEC and NCAA tournaments begin.

A potential obstacle to achieving these goals is complacency, but that wasn’t a problem.

“As long as I’m training, it’s natural that when you’re as successful as we are, you have to fight it,” Nate Oats said Tuesday. “But I think this group did a really good job fighting it alone. We talk about not getting complacent and how last year’s team might have fared after we had some early good wins outside of the conference. But I think this group is quite mature and I think the maturity, the professionalism, the depth of the team, all of that helps.

“Boys are mature and understand what we are about. We’re playing for the number 1 in the NCAA tournament. We’re playing for an SEC championship. We cannot afford disappointment. If you want to play your best basketball in March, you have to get better at every game. So I think they have maturity. I think we have a lot of guys who are very professional. The rookies and how they’re behaving, I think they’re getting better at basketball, they’re here to improve themselves and they understand that they need to get better themselves individually.

The Tide (17-2, 7-0 SEC) will be looking to win its ninth straight game and sweep the regular-season series with Mississippi State when it hosts the Bulldogs on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Alabama hinted at the SEC game with a 78-67 win over State in Starkville, Miss., on December 28th. The Bulldogs had a miserable night at the free throw line in the last meeting, missing 18 attempts (18 to 36).

Oats emphasized rebounds and turnovers in the second matchup, which is expected to be played in a packed Coleman Coliseum. Fans should expect to see a Tide team who are close to healthy and Nimari Burnett is expected to add to his minutes after returning to the ground from a wrist injury last time out. The now healthy depth has been a strength for Alabama this year.

According to Oats, it helped fight any complacency that might be creeping in.

“Guys challenge each other in training every day,” Oats said. “We have 11 guys who can all really play. Difficult to split the minutes among 11 guys, so there’s competition and it’s probably the best I’ve seen – competition while you’re still really working towards your teammates doing well too.

“Like today in training, I thought Nimari was really good on defense. Rylan and Nimari play similar positions. Rylan chimes in and says, “I’m trying to be like you, Nimari. I’m trying to be as good as you on defense.’ They genuinely want each other to do well, but they also push each other to do better.

“It’s a special group, but complacency is one thing we need to address and we’ll address them head-on when we see them.”

Before Alabama’s 20th game of the 2022-23 season, that wasn’t necessary.

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