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Mike Lopresti | | December 11, 2022

15 unusual reasons behind Alabama men's basketball's surge this season

Purdue, Texas, Houston lead the Power 36 college basketball rankings

And now about that noted basketball school in the SEC...

Alabama? Right.

Just because the football team went 0-2 this season against top-10 opponents doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide are out of the big-victory business. Not with the basketballers accomplishing something the sport hasn’t seen in 57 years, taking down a No. 1 ranked opponent every fortnight. First, the 103-101 four-overtimer against North Carolina. And then 14 days later, knocking off Houston in its own arena Saturday 71-65.

“I think that shows that we’ve gotten this program to where we can play with anyone in the country,” coach Nate Oats was saying.

RANKINGS: View the latest men's basketball AP poll 

It’d be hard to question that claim at the moment.

There are a lot of unusual angles to this team and its recent handiwork. Here are 15 of them:

  • In beating the Tar Heels and Cougars, the Tide became the first team since Duke in 1965 to dispose of two No. 1 opponents before Jan 1. That’s so long ago, Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t even coaching the Blue Devils yet.
  • This victory at Houston’s Fertitta Center was Alabama’s first true road upset of a top-ranked team in nearly 40 years. It wasn’t the easiest place to do it, either. Houston’s all-time record in the Fertitta Center before Saturday was 66-4.
  • Down 15 points, the Tide blew past the Cougars with a 42-21 burst the final 16:17. To put that offensive surge in context, Houston had been allowing only 47.3 points a game.
  • With the score tied and two minutes to go, Alabama proceeded to go 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Houston went 0-for-4. The Cougars finished 12-for-22 for the game.
  • Remember the famous Lorenzo Charles dunk that won the 1983 national championship for North Carolina State and sent Jim Valvano racing around the court in a celebration that will never die? That was the last time Houston lost as the Associated Press No. 1 team before Saturday.
  • Alabama came into the weekend No. 8, so this was its first game with both teams in the AP top 10 since 2002. The Tide won that matchup against Oklahoma, who was coached at the time by Kelvin Sampson. The same Kelvin Sampson coaching Houston Saturday.
  • The Cougars have now lost to every AP No. 8 team they have played — five of them — since 1984.
  • The last time Alabama was a top-10 team going against No. 1 was 1976. That was the NCAA Tournament and the opponent was Indiana, who eventually became the most recent unbeaten national champion. The Hoosiers defeated the Tide by five points, their closest call of the tournament.
  • Alabama leads the nation in rebound margin, at 12.9 a game. The Tide have not been unduly hampered by being 273rd in the nation in shooting, or 248th in assist-turnover ratio, or 340th in turnover margin.
  • The top six scorers for Alabama this season are all newcomers, including four freshmen and two transfers. That includes Brandon Miller, whose current 17.9 average is the highest in the nation for a freshman. Next is Ohio transfer Mark Sears at 14.4.
  • Miller went 0-for-8 against Houston. The Tide also had 10 turnovers on their first 23 possessions. Alabama won anyway. Another freshman, Noah Clowney, had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Returnee Jahvon Quinerly was a preseason first-team all-SEC pick for Alabama. He is now seventh on the team in scoring. That’s one suggestion of the Tide’s depth. In the North Carolina and Houston games, they had a 74-24 gap in bench points.
  • The 8-1 Tide’s only loss this season was 82-67 to Connecticut when the Huskies forced 21 turnovers. There’s a reason UConn has been sprinting up the rankings.
  • In seven previous years at Buffalo and Alabama, Oats has taken five teams to the NCAA Tournament and been coach of the year in both the MAC and the SEC. Before that, he was a high school coach in Michigan for 11 years. Before that, he was a player at Maranatha Baptist, a Division III school in Wisconsin. Another Maranatha product is Indiana football coach Tom Allen.
  • Oats knows exactly where he’d love to take the Crimson Tide. There have been 83 NCAA Tournaments and 95 different schools have played in the Final Four. But never Alabama. Just one Elite Eight. But here is a young and talented and deep and confident team that might change that. “We have a high ceiling,” he said Saturday.

And clearly no fear of the opponent's ranking.

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