How Alabama basketball's championship season changed after a game almost nobody saw
NASHVILLE ― Alabama basketball's path to winning the SEC regular-season championship and the SEC Tournament has featured a variety of defining moments.
The game on Oct. 16, 2022, has to be included at the top of the list. It's the day when TCU pummeled Alabama 99-69.
Only a select few saw it. The scrimmage was closed. So, the Crimson Tide didn't get embarrassed in front of a bunch of fans. Still, the players got to experience a throttling.
"Some guys needed a welcome-to-college-basketball wakeup call," Alabama coach Nate Oats told The Tuscaloosa News after winning the league tournament, 21 Sundays later. "We got it."
From there grew one of the best teams in college basketball. That much was clear as the No. 1 seed Crimson Tide smacked No. 2 seed Texas A&M 82-63 on Sunday in the SEC Tournament championship game.
It became the final piece in Alabama securing the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
No matter what this Crimson Tide team goes on to do in March Madness, the journey can be traced back to being dismantled by TCU.
"We got drilled," Oats said. "The TCU scrimmage was the best thing to ever happen to us, to be honest with you."
It's important to note the Crimson Tide didn't have a fully-healthy lineup against the Horned Frogs with players such as Charles Bediako and Nimari Burnett out. Still, the game provided a reality check that changed the trajectory of the season.
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"Even just from then to now, when you figure out how to play with each other and you try to rely on each other and not just try to play hero ball," Bediako said on Sunday, "I think that was the biggest thing."
Alabama certainly had heroes against Texas A&M − a team of heroes, in fact. Brandon Miller scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but he also had four assists to set up other teammates. Jahvon Quinerly scored 22 to go with three assists. Bediako tallied 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Rylan Griffen and Noah Clowney both came close to double figures as they scored nine apiece.
"These guys are playing like men," Bediako said. "I don’t see them as freshman. I see them as pros. I’m so excited for all of them."
Griffen and Clowney round out the elite freshman class that includes Miller and Jaden Bradley. They were the main recipients of that welcome-to-college-basketball game. They were facing a veteran TCU team.
"It's a little bit of a strategic play in doing that," Oats said. "I wouldn’t want to say I want to get drilled, as I’m super competitive. We’re trying to win the scrimmage. It wasn’t the worst thing, you lose the scrimmage."
From there, Alabama went to work. Oats told his staff they had a lot of work to do. The Crimson Tide had 22 turnovers.
"This is great," Oats told them. "Now we know what we've got to do as far as work goes."
Meanwhile, the players held a player-only meeting the next morning.
Quinerly had the idea for it. He required everyone be there on time, and everyone was. Returners such as Noah Gurley, Nimari Burnett helped lead the meeting.
It lasted about 15-20 minutes. Gurley broke the whiteboard out. No one yelled or screamed. They just talked.
"Definitely being real," Bediako said in October. "No sugar coat."
During the 2021-22 season, Alabama didn't have these types of player-only meetings until midseason. The players wanted to be proactive.
“Starting (meetings) early, I think we’re fixing our stuff we need to fix now,” Bediako said in October.
Ever since, Alabama has won 29 games and lost only five. And the Crimson Tide is heading to the NCAA Tournament as the top team to beat.
“I will try to schedule a scrimmage," Oats said, "where we get beat again next year.”
Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News/USA TODAY Network. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.