Alabama couldn’t have asked for any better than it got from Nate Oats last season. Continuing that success is his new challenge.

Before we get to that, let’s look back at last season. Oats won SEC Coach of the Year for his team’s performance, which included winning the SEC regular season, the SEC Tournament and taking Alabama to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. He wasn’t done there. Oats led Bama to the Sweet 16 before the tournament run ended. However, the roster has changed in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama will have to replace some key players, most notabl swingman Herb Jones and guards Josh Primo and John Petty. Those three players accounted for almost 32 points per game and just over 13 rebounds. That’s a lot of production to replace. Fortunately, Bama seems to have depth at guard and enough talent to be successful. However, it’s hard to imagine them repeating what they did last season.

Alabama fans don’t want to hear that. Crimson Tide fans are close to setting a school record in season ticket sales. That’s a sure sign that expectations are as high as any time in recent memory.

Here is a breakdown of Alabama’s 2021-22 basketball team, which happens to be ranked No. 14 in the country:

Best player

Guard Jaden Shackelford was Alabama’s leading scorer with 14 points per game last season. That’s pretty impressive considering how deep Alabama’s team was. Shackelford should get even more opportunities this season and should continue to get better. Shackelford also led Alabama in free throw percentage (.756), field goals made (154) and field goals attempted (376). That means Shackelford isn’t afraid to shoot. With his 41% shooting percentage, that’s fine.

Biggest strength

Potential is Alabama’s greatest strength. Despite losing 3 key contributors, the Crimson Tide have the players that can replace them on the stat sheet. Freshman point guard JD Davison (pictured above with Oats) embodies the excitement over the potential. The in-state 5-star was the No. 3 point guard recruit in the country. That’s why an Alabama basketball ticket is suddenly much tougher to get. Davison chose Alabama over several schools, including big-name programs like Kansas and Michigan.

Biggest weakness

So far, staying healthy is Alabama’s biggest weakness. Guard Nimari Burnett was expected to play a big role this season. However, Burnett suffered a season-ending knee injury, so the transfer from Texas Tech won’t be available. That’s a shame. Oats had said publicly that Burnett was shooting the ball extremely well. If you’re looking for a silver lining, Oats and his staff have the time to alter their approach to this season since they know Burnett won’t be a part of the team until next year.

Key to the season

To be a Final Four contender, Bama has to have its newcomers and underclassmen have an impact. Davison certainly leads that pack, but he’s not the only one. Alabama is expecting Noah Gurley to be one of their better players in the frontcourt after transferring from Furman.

Scouting the backcourt

Alabama’s backcourt should be good. They may even be great. Shackelford was the team’s leading scorer last season and he returns. Jahvon Quinerly is the team’s best 3-point shooter, at 43%, and he’s back. Keon Ellis is a solid player who can provide depth. Davison could take this group to another level if he’s as good as his recruiting rankings would indicate.

Scouting the frontcourt

There will be an ongoing battle for playing time between incoming freshman Charles Bediako and redshirt freshman Alex Tchikou, who missed last season with knee injury. Of course, Oats could play both big men in certain situations, but that hasn’t been his style. Shooting 3s — a lot of them — is far too important to Oats. Gurley is expected to start at forward. However, he has the ability to sneak out and shoot the 3 as well. He shot 33.9% from beyond the 3-point line last season.

Predicting how far they’ll go in March

Until starting this season at No. 14, Alabama hadn’t been ranked in a preseason poll since 2011-12. It seems very likely they’ll still be ranked at the end of the regular season. If they accomplish that, it will be the first time since 1991-1992 that the Tide finished back-to-back seasons in the Top 25. Last year, they were ranked No. 5 in the final AP poll.

What is a fair expectation for their postseason success? They’ll make the NCAA Tournament and have the talent to reach the second weekend, but don’t be surprised if they fall just short of the Sweet 16.