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It must be awkward to say you play for Alabama’s men’s basketball team. No matter how they play, they’ll forever stay in the shadow of Nick Saban’s football juggernaut. That could change this year, when the basketball Tide have a chance to make a name for themselves by winning their first-ever national championship.

The Alabama Crimson Tide are having their best season ever

Alabama celebrates during its victory over Maryland at March Madness
Jahvon Quinerly (#13) and John Petty Jr. (#23) of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate during the second half against the Maryland Terrapins in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on March 22, 2021 | Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Behind second-year head coach Nate Oats, the 2020-21 Alabama Crimson Tide are in the middle of arguably the greatest basketball season they have ever had.

They finished the regular season with a 21-6 record, winning the SEC regular season title for the first time since 2002. They followed that up by defeating LSU in the conference tournament final. It marked the first time since 1987 that Alabama won both the regular season and the SEC tournament.

When March Madness rolled around, Alabama had risen to no. 5 nationally and earned the second seed in the East region. The Tide easily swept aside their first two opponents, Iona and Maryland, to reach the Sweet 16. Sunday night, they face 11th-seeded UCLA for a chance to reach the Elite Eight. (We’ll ignore the obvious question of why UCLA is in the East regional.)

Alabama is not exactly a college basketball powerhouse

Unlike with its legendary football program, success has been few and far between for Alabama’s men’s basketball program. Prior to 2018, there was a 12-year stretch where the Crimson Tide only made the NCAA Tournament one time. Even in that one appearance in 2012, they were one-and-done.

The list of Alabama alumni to reach the NBA isn’t the most impressive among big-time basketball schools. They did send the NBA a star recently in the form of Collin Sexton. Other than that, the only real standouts on the list are Robert Horry, Mo Williams, and notorious coach-strangler Latrell Sprewell.

No disrespect to any of those players, but when Robert Horry is the best player on a list of a school’s alumni who have played in the NBA, it doesn’t reflect well on that school.

Alabama’s one great March Madness run came in 2004

To date, only one Alabama men’s basketball team has ever reached the Elite Eight — and it was the one least likely to do so.

The 2003-04 Crimson Tide men were unremarkable in every sense of the word. Not a single one of the players made any impact in the NBA. They finished the season third in the SEC West division — 20-13 overall, and only 8-8 in conference play. They didn’t help themselves much in the conference tournament either, as they lost in the second round to Florida.

The Tide just barely squeaked into the NCAA Tournament as the eighth seed. After squeaking past Southern Illinois by one point, they picked up two straight wins over college hoops powerhouses, knocking off top-seeded Stanford and fifth-seeded Syracuse. Somehow, this mediocre team ended up in the Elite Eight.

A Final Four trip was not in the cards, as Alabama ran into eventual champion Connecticut and lost 87-71.