An updated look at the landmark achievements in play for Alabama this weekend
In case you haven’t heard, Alabama is on the brink of some history.
Well, let’s back up a minute. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.
Alabama already became the first SEC team since 2006-07 Florida to sweep the following things:
- Football conference title
- Basketball regular season title
- Basketball conference tournament title
Of course, that Florida team won a national title in both sports. That’s still on the table for Alabama.
Even if Alabama gets upset by UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night, it’s already been a year for the ages in Tuscaloosa. The program won 2 NCAA Tournament games so far, which was more than Alabama had previously won during Nick Saban’s entire time in Tuscaloosa. This is only the third time that Alabama has won a national title in football and then reached the NCAA Tournament in basketball, though neither of the previous instances (2011-12 and 2017-18) resulted in a Sweet 16 trip.
Wild, I know. Speaking of some of that football-basketball combo success, you could make the case that Alabama has already clinched the No. 2 spot among the best 2-sport seasons in the SEC in the 21st century (we’re sticking with the big revenue sports of football and men’s basketball for this argument). That 2006-07 Florida school year is obviously No. 1.
OK, now I feel like I have to rank the top 5 football-basketball school years we’ve seen in the SEC in the 21st century:
- 2006-07 Florida (national titles in both sports)
- 2020-21 Alabama (football wins national title, basketball playing in Sweet 16)
- 2005-06 LSU (football finishes No. 6, basketball loses in Final Four)
- 2012-13 Florida (football finishes No. 9, basketball loses in Elite Eight)
- 2000-01 Florida (football wins SEC title, basketball wins regular-season SEC title)
Go figure that those 3 Florida school years were actually with 3 different football coaches.
Alabama became the 4th SEC school to win a national title in football and then win a game in the NCAA Tournament (1998-99 Tennessee, 2006-07 Florida and 2017-18 Alabama were the others).
But anyway, the hay is in the barn with that. Alabama is still 4 wins from even getting in the conversation to top 2006-07 Florida in terms of the best 2-sport school year.
As for this 1 sport (basketball), there are obviously some historical achievements up for grabs the next few days:
1. First Elite Eight trip since 2004
That also was of course the last time that Alabama reached the Sweet 16. Mark Gottfried’s squad made the rare run as an 8-seed by taking down 9-seed Southern Illinois, 1-seed Stanford and 5-seed Syracuse before ultimately getting blown out by 2-seed and eventual national champion UConn, which boasted 6 future NBA players (it was a 24-point game at halftime).
This is only Alabama’s 5th NCAA Tournament berth since that 2004 run, and 3 of them were as a 9-seed or worse. In 2005, the year after that last Elite Eight trip, Alabama entered the field as a 5-seed, but got upset in that dreaded 12-5 matchup against March Cinderella Milwaukee, who advanced to the Sweet 16.
And the 2017-18 team with Collin Sexton got past the 8-9 matchup, but then ran into the Villanova buzzsaw in Round 2 and didn’t really have much of a chance at even sniffing the second weekend.
In other words, Alabama has never really been close to matching that 2004 run until now.
2. Last SEC team standing in the tournament for first time since 2004
Alabama is battling Arkansas for that honor — and the Hogs won Saturday to advance to the Elite Eight. The Tide’s aforementioned 2004 run was also weird because Kentucky entered the field as a 1-seed and it lost that stunner in the second round to UAB. MSU was also a 2-seed who fell victim to a stunning upset in the Round of 32. Florida suffered an upset loss in the 12-5 matchup, while South Carolina was held to just 43 points in a first-round loss.
The SEC was actually tied for the lead with 6 bids that year, yet only Alabama and Vanderbilt made it to the second weekend. The Commodores had the unfortunate pleasure of running into that UConn team in the Sweet 16 before Alabama got that meeting in the Elite Eight.
Before 2004, the only other time that Alabama was the SEC’s last team standing in the NCAA Tournament was 1985, though Alabama lost in the Sweet 16 the same day as Kentucky and Auburn. So besides 2004, the only other time that Alabama was the last SEC team standing (or in a round with no other SEC teams left) was 1982, though that was a Sweet 16 exit to another eventual national champ, North Carolina.
So yes, the 2020-21 Alabama team can be the king of the SEC mountain in a pretty historical way.
3. Most wins in a season
The unofficial Alabama record came from that 1986-87 team, who also had a No. 2 seed, and it finished with 28 wins, though 2 of those wins were vacated when Derrick McKey and Terry Coner were ruled ineligible by the NCAA for being connected to agents.
If we’re factoring that in and pretending those 2 NCAA Tournament wins in 1987 didn’t happen, then 2001-02 holds the record with 27 wins. Alabama could tie mark that with a UCLA win and it could best that with a regional title.
(In case you were wondering, Alabama’s official record books acknowledge those 2 stripped victories in 1987, which means the program’s single-season wins record is officially 27.)
That 2001-02 Alabama team, however, played 30 regular-season games (not including the SEC Tournament). This year’s team only played 27 regular-season games with a reduced nonconference slate as a result of COVID-19. I’d argue the latter is already a more impressive accomplishment, though in the record books, Alabama is currently tied with 3 other teams (1991-92, 1989-90 and the aforementioned 1986-87 squad) for second on the program’s all-time list.
And with 2 more victories, Alabama would also tie the program record for biggest single-season win improvement (+12).
4. First Final Four trip
You know. In case you haven’t heard. That’s up for grabs in Indy.
Here are how all of Alabama’s trips to the Sweet 16 ended:
- 1976 — Sweet 16, lost by 5 to Indiana
- 1982 — Sweet 16, lost by 5 to UNC
- 1985 — Sweet 16, lost by 6 to NC State
- 1986 — Sweet 16, lost by 5 to Kentucky
- 1987 — Sweet 16, lost by 21 to Providence
- 1990 — Sweet 16, lost by 2 to Loyola-Marymount
- 1991 — Sweet 16, lost by 23 to Arkansas
- 2004 — Elite Eight, lost by 16 to UConn
- 2021 — TBD
A wild thought? Nearly all of Alabama’s roster probably doesn’t even remember a time when the Crimson Tide were in the second weekend of the tournament. Well, Jordan Bruner would’ve been old enough to remember 2004, though I’m not sure how much Alabama hoops was consumed by a 6-year-old kid in Oklahoma City. Perhaps Alabama natives Herb Jones and John Petty Jr. remembered that 2004 run as 5-year olds.
Whatever the case, this is uncharted territory for Nate Oats’ team. Surely, none of this will be on their minds. They’ve got enough to worry about against a UCLA squad who just held Will Muschamp’s Abilene Christian squad to 47 points. Once upon a time, the 1990 Loyola Marymount team was also an 11-seed in the Sweet 16 against Alabama.
Alabama, whether it acknowledges it or not, is trying to prevent history from repeating itself. The stage is set for the Crimson Tide to exorcise those second weekend demons.
History is at stake.