NCAA tournament 2022: Alabama awaits Notre Dame basketball in March Madness first round

Tom Noie
ND Insider

SAN DIEGO - Notre Dame ended last week in New York, started this week in Indiana and has been to Southwest Ohio and now, Southern California on its post-season basketball odyssey

The travel’s been trying, as have the games, but nobody within the Irish traveling party wants this NCAA tournament ride to end. 

It's been different. It’s been demanding, but it’s also been a heck of a lot of something else with the Irish back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. 

Fun. 

Here are five facts about Alabama (19-13; 9-9), Notre Dame’s first-round West Region opponent Friday (4:15 p.m. eastern time tip) at Viejas Arena in the NCAA tournament. 

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Mar 10, 2022; Tampa, FL, USA;Vanderbilt Commodores forward Jordan Wright (4) and Alabama Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford (5) go after the loose ball during the second half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

►It was a choppy run for the Tide 

All seemed good and fine early in the year when Alabama twice won four straight and won eight of its first nine. But the Crimson Tide hasn’t matched that early success. After winning four in a row on a run from late November to early December, Alabama never won more than three straight the rest of the way. It also staggered through three stretches of consecutive losses. That includes dropping three straight to end the regular season, capped by a loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament. 

Teams want to go into the postseason on a bit of a run, but it’s been anything but of late for the Tide. They’re not rolling. 

Mar 10, 2022; Tampa, FL, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores center Liam Robbins (21) drives to the basket as Alabama Crimson Tide forward James Rojas (33) defends during the second half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

►How did Alabama get in with 13 losses? That’s a lot 

Easy. It’s not just about how many losses a team might have, but how many wins. Specifically, who you beat. Few teams in the field of 64, let alone the country, have as many quality wins as Alabama, which also finished in a five-way tie for fifth place at 9-9 (blah) in the SEC. 

Alabama earned an at-large tournament bid based on wins over Baylor, Gonzaga, Houston, Miami (Fla.) and Tennessee. That’s some serious success. All five of those teams are tournament teams. 

That’s why so too is Alabama, which finished 2-4 against Top 10 teams and 5-4 against teams in the Top 25. Alabama ended the season unranked after climbing to as high as No. 6 following its win over Gonzaga. 

It had eight Quadrant One wins during the regular season. Notre Dame had two. Alabama played arguably the strongest schedule in the nation. 

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Mar 10, 2022; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard JD Davison (3) drives to the basket as Vanderbilt Commodores guard Rodney Chatman (3) defends during the second half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

►Watch out for the hard hat 

Third-year head coach Nate Oats created something called the Hard Hat Award, which is handed out to a Tide player at the end of each game. The 47-year-old Oats developed a blue-collar point system that accumulates over games. 

Deflections, steals, blocks, rebounds and loose balls count for one point. Offensive rebounds are worth 1.5 points, floor dives are two; charges are worth four points. 

The player with the most points at the end of each game is honored with a hard hat. 

Senior guard Keon Ellis earned the most hard hats this season (10). He also led the Tide in deflections with 122. Sophomore forward Darius Miles accumulated the most floor dives (19), which just sounds painful. 

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►How did Alabama do statistically this season in the SEC? 

Alabama finished first in the 14-team league for scoring offense (79.9), 13th in scoring defense (76.4). It ranked fifth in field goal percentage (.441), eighth in free throw percentage (.730), ninth in scoring margin (+3.56) and 10th in field goal percentage defense (.435) and 3-point field goal percentage (.308) and 12th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.331). 

The Tide were third in assists (14.6), ninth in assist/turnover ratio, 11th for steals (7.00) and 12th in turnover margin (-1.53) 

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►The Crimson Tide have had plenty of time to chill in Cali 

While Notre Dame was working deep into the night Wednesday to beat Rutgers in an NCAA tournament First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, Alabama was enjoying yet another evening out on the West Coast. Get in some practice, get familiar with the arena, and then maybe even some sun. 

The Crimson Tide traveling party practiced back on campus Tuesday afternoon before the nearly four-hour flight to San Diego. It’s the program’s second trip West this season following a visit to Seattle in early December when Alabama beat Gonzaga, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. 

They’ve likely adjusted their collective body clocks to play an early afternoon game. There’s little time for Notre Dame to adjust. They’ll just have to go play. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI