It couldn’t have been set up better.

Up 9 points after overcoming its second-worst first half output of the season, Alabama was set to roll. The top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament just had to close the door on a veteran, physical, but seemingly overmatched San Diego State team and it would clinch its second Elite 8 berth in school history. Oh, and the Tide would have the benefit of facing the winner of 6-seed Creighton and 15-seed (!) Princeton to clinch the program’s first ever Final Four berth.

Opportunities like this don’t come around often. Well, I suppose they came around 2 years ago when Alabama went into the Sweet 16 as a 2-seed and it faced an 11-seed UCLA team that only reached the field of 64 thanks to a First Four victory. That opportunity was squandered in a thrilling game against a Bruins squad who went on to the Final Four.

But this was supposed to be different.

This was supposed to be the best team in school history, led by SEC Player of the Year and freshman sensation Brandon Miller. This team, which rolled through an 8-bid SEC by going 19-2 against the conference including an SEC Tournament win, had all pistons firing after blowout wins on opening weekend.

It couldn’t have been set up better, and Alabama couldn’t have finished worse.

Take your pick. Alabama did it. Poor shot selection? No timely shooting? A lack of urgency on the defensive glass? An inability to call timeouts amidst a 23-5 San Diego State blitzkrieg?

Alabama did it all to blow a golden opportunity in a Sweet 16 collapse. And as a result, the Tide left the NCAA Tournament that it was set up to win.

OK, maybe “set up to win” is a little much. After all, it’s March. But Alabama wouldn’t have had to play a top-4 seed en route to the Final Four, and by virtue of top-2 seeds Purdue and Marquette falling opening weekend in the bottom of the bracket, the Tide could’ve reached a title game without playing a top-2 seed.

Getting ahead of ourselves? Welcome to the club. It’s what Alabama did.

The Tide has nobody but itself to blame for the way Friday night’s stunner in Louisville played out. And this wasn’t simply a matter of not hitting 3-pointers. San Diego State was 6th in the country in 3-point defense, which clearly played a part in Alabama shooting 3-for-27 from deep.

Think about that.

Yes, we know that Alabama shot more 3-pointers per game than all but 3 teams, and it ranked No. 9 in America with 10.1 made 3-pointers per game. Shooters shoot.

Did Brandon Miller’s 1-for-10 shooting from deep and 3-for-19 overall prove costly? Absolutely. The Tide got to that 9-point lead thanks in large part to the passing of the freshman sensation. On a night where he clearly didn’t have it, where were the adjustments down the stretch to let the offense run through him instead of the hot-and-cold Jahvon Quinerly? How many times did Quinerly have to get swatted at the rim by Nathan Mensah to realize that wasn’t the ideal offensive game plan?

Alabama splintered. There’s no debate about that. That defense was the only reason it overcame such a slow start.

Noah Clowney’s 2 fouls in 4 seconds served as a microcosm for the night. Oats made the decision to leave the freshman in with 3 fouls instead of subbing him out at the free throw with 13:52 to play. On the missed free throw, Clowney picked up a loose-ball foul.

Oats was aggressive all night with that. When Miller picked up 2 fouls in the first 5 minutes, he put him back into the game at the under-12 timeout. Oats said in the TV interview that it was a win-or-go-home scenario and they couldn’t afford to keep the freshman out of the game.

You applaud the aggressiveness. You question the recklessness.

For a team with the No. 5 scoring offense in America, those high-percentage looks weren’t there for the Tide. San Diego State closed the game on a 32-16 run in the final 11:23. The upset wasn’t the byproduct of some San Diego State player having an out-of-body experience, either (I wouldn’t consider Darrion Trammel’s game-high 21 points an out-of-body experience because it matched what he had earlier in the year against Arizona). In fact, Aztecs leading scorer Matt Bradley didn’t get into the scoring column until there was 3 minutes left in the game.

By that point, though, San Diego State’s damage was done. A 9-point lead in favor of the Aztecs put an already rushed Alabama offense into frenetic mode.

Don’t blame inexperience. San Diego State became the first ever Mountain West team to reach an Elite 8.

Don’t blame the unique matchup. San Diego State was West Coast Tennessee with the physicality on the interior and ability to guard the perimeter.

Don’t blame the officiating. A 22-19 foul disparity wasn’t the byproduct of some massive conspiracy to send the Tide packing.

Alabama didn’t handle the pressure. It’s as simple as that.

Oats didn’t help himself in the public eye for his handling of Brandon Miller after his alleged involvement in the murder of Jamea Jonae Harris was made public. Manufacturing some sort of “us against the world” mindset was never going to be the thing that lifted Alabama to an unprecedented feat. If there was ever any sort of notion that the Tide had to embrace some sort of weird “villain” role in March, that should’ve been squashed before it ever took the floor.

The Tide went down because it didn’t fall back on the principles we saw it utilize all year. That ball movement that was a staple of the offense was nowhere to be found in a first half that ended with just 3 Alabama assists. The top rebounding team in America was just +4 in that category, and San Diego State had 17 offensive rebounds. Above all else, the defensive effort that was a hallmark of 31-win season fell apart after the under-12 timeout of the second half.

Alabama picked a bad night to not look like Alabama.

In a tournament that saw all 4 No. 1 seeds miss the Elite 8 for the first time, the Tide saw that parity first hand. Maybe the history books will chalk it up to that, and we’ll forget just how favorable things appeared to be aligning for Alabama.

San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said afterward that “there’s not a lot of difference between the best team in the country and the worst team. … I guess the difference in being on top or on the bottom is being able to win a close game.”

The difference was small. Alabama wasn’t good enough to take its foot off the gas. Perhaps that’s an unfair way to phrase it. The Aztecs fought when plenty of teams would’ve collapsed after Alabama’s 14-point swing to get that 9-point lead. San Diego State was mentally and physically tougher.

But in terms of tournament exits, they don’t make them a whole lot tougher than that.