Sky’s the Limit: Men’s basketball off to an undefeated start in SEC play

In coach Nate Oats’ second year, the Tide is finally poised for the season fans have been waiting for.

For more than 14 years, Alabama men’s basketball was winless in Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. That streak came to an end on Tuesday, when Nate Oats’ squad kicked off the night with five unanswered points and walked off the court victorious, beating the Wildcats 85 – 65.

The victory propelled the Crimson Tide to the No. 1 spot in Southeastern Conference (SEC) standings.

The team’s ongoing streak makes it obvious: Alabama men’s basketball is finally living up to its potential. For years, the program has recruited top tier talents, like senior guard John Petty Jr. and current NBA guard Kira Lewis Jr. Despite boasting immense individual talents, the Crimson Tide has historically failed to engineer consistent success.

Last season, the team’s uneven play led to an incomprehensible record that saw  Alabama pull off victories against ranked teams, like Auburn and LSU, but fail to beat teams with below .500 records, such as Vanderbilt and Missouri.

But this season is already proving to be much different than years past. After a slow start, the team is on a six-game winning streak and is undefeated in SEC play. The Crimson Tide pulled off a huge victory against No. 7 ranked Tennessee and proved they are worth a top 25 ranking by beating teams that they’ve struggled with in the past, particularly Auburn and Kentucky. 

“[This is a] big win for our program—apparently we haven’t won here since 2006—so [I’m] really happy for our seniors who have been here,” coach Oats said after an 85-65 victory over Kentucky. “I can’t say enough about Petty and his overall play.”

Seasoned players like Petty have been the key to the team’s success so far this year. Four players are currently averaging more than 10 points per game and three average more than 5 rebounds per game. The key to the program’s newfound success seems to be the players’ willingness to buy into Oats’ vision for the team, even going so far as to trade in their leading roles for spots on the bench.

Senior forward Alex Reese has been in the starting lineup for the vast majority of his career at the University. As of this year, as a solution to the team’s need for depth off the bench, Reese has volunteered to sit out the first minutes of play. Though his stats have shrunk due to his lesser role, the impact he has on and off the court is greater. Oats praised his selfless attitude after a win against Tennessee State this year.

“We had a big run that increased our lead from five to 15, and Alex Reese set the tone with that,” Oats said. “It’s a big credit to him. His attitude has been great really all year. I think he’s been huge for us and he’s been what we are looking for out of our seniors.”

With SEC play just now getting started, Alabama has a lot more work to do. Though the team is currently slated to play just one more ranked team, the Crimson Tide will face challenges against the rest of the SEC competition. Oats said that this start will play a huge role in how the team is able to finish out the rest of the season.

“[Beating Kentucky is a] big win for our program,” Oats said. “Looking at our schedule to start the year, our first six games were probably the toughest six games in the league, if we can go 5-0 heading into a home game against Arkansas, we certainly would take it.”

Alabama will look to continue the streak on Saturday, when the Arkansas Razorbacks travel to Coleman Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.