Could Alabama Pull off the Elusive Basketball/Football Championship Double Dip?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 14, 2021

Alabama's Jaden Shackelford
Alabama's Jaden ShackelfordVasha Hunt/Associated Press

On Monday night, Alabama won yet another college football national championship, polishing off a perfect 13-0 season with a blowout win over Ohio State.

Twenty-four hours later, the men's basketball team went on the road and rather effortlessly took care of business against Kentucky in an 85-65 victory. The Crimson Tide never trailed for a moment at Rupp Arena in the process of improving to 5-0 in SEC play and 10-3 overall.

Even though they have been conference rivals for forever, it was their first win at Kentucky since 2006, and their first win at Kentucky by a margin of more than four points since 1987.

Most will view that result as just the latest "What's wrong with Kentucky?" moment in this 2020-21 season. But, more so, it was a statement about Alabama's potential to make a deep NCAA tournament run.

The Crimson Tide were already just eight votes away from cracking into Monday's AP Top 25. If they can follow up this dominant performance against the Wildcats with a home win over Arkansas on Saturday, they will definitely be ranked next week. They would probably even jump into the AP Top 20 for the first time since December 2011.

This, of course, begs the question: Could this team win it all? And how rare would that be, winning a national championship just a few months after your football program did the same?

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Let's address the latter question first, because, y'all, it is shockingly rare.

Since college football implemented the Bowl Championship Series to start officially crowning national champions in January 1999, it has happened one time. Florida won it on the gridiron in January 2007, followed by the Gators men's basketball team winning it on the hardwood that April.

(In both sports, Florida defeated Ohio State to win that championship. Wouldn't it be preposterous if Alabama did the same? Already halfway there, right?)

Here's how uncommon that was, though. Not only was Florida the only team to win the title in both sports in the same year since 1999, but it's also the only school to win at least one national championship in both sports at any point in the past two-plus decades. And aside from Florida, Ohio State is the only school to have played in at least one national championship in each sport since 1999.

Florida celebrates its second consecutive basketball championship in 2007.
Florida celebrates its second consecutive basketball championship in 2007.John Bazemore/Associated Press

Moreover, that Florida vs. Ohio State battle in both sports in 2007? That was the only year in which either the national champion or the runner-up in football also made it to the Final Four in basketball.

Even since the expansion to four teams for the College Football Playoff, the only school to make the Final Four in both sports in the same year was Oklahoma in 2015-16, with the Sooners losing by 20 to Clemson in football and by 44 to Villanova in basketball. So close, and yet so very far from the double dip.

Let's go one step further into college football's wild, wild west to show how rare an Alabama basketball title would be.

Prior to 1999, there were usually multiple football teams who claimed a national championship. Every once in a blue moon, there would be a unanimous championlike Texas in 1963 or Nebraska in 1995but there were also years in which four, five or even six different teams finished at No. 1 in one of the many polls.

Even if we count all of those different teams as national champions in those seasons, you have to go back to 1950-51 to find the next-most recent instance of a school winning both in the same academic year. That's when Kentucky finished in first place in the football Sagarin Ratings and then won its third NCAA tournament in four years.

So, if Alabama were to pull off the basketball/football title combo, it would become just the second school to do so in the past seven decades.

Never mind all that football banter, though. Just making the Final Four would be a historic moment for men's basketball at Alabama.

It has never happened before. And the only time the Crimson Tide made it so far as an Elite Eight, they were a No. 8 seed in 2004 and got pummeled by Ben Gordon and the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies.

But this just might be the roster to end that eternal drought.

Because the ridiculous part of how easily the Crimson Tide destroyed Kentucky is that they did so while short-handed.

Alabama's Herbert Jones
Alabama's Herbert JonesVasha Hunt/Associated Press

Jahvon Quinerly has averaged 13.0 points and 3.4 assists as 'Bama's primary point guard, but he missed his third consecutive game for an undisclosed reason. Stat-sheet stuffer Herbert Jones only played eight minutes due to a hand injury. Big man Jordan Bruner left the game early with a leg injury. Didn't matter. Alabama won by 20 despite a combined 27 minutes of playing time from three of its five usual starters.

That's liable to happen when John Petty, Jaden Shackelford and Co. start stroking threes and forcing turnovers, though, and that's why this team could make a deep run.

In 2019, Auburn launched its way to the Final Four with a veteran roster full of perimeter weapons and active hands. Those Tigers made 11.4 threes and forced 17.1 turnovers per game. And I see more than a glimmer of that Auburn team in this Alabama bunch.

(How many Hail Marys do I need to say in order to receive forgiveness for that comparison between archrivals?)

In the win at Kentucky, Alabama made 14 triples and forced 19 turnovers. It was 'Bama's eighth game with at least 10 threes, as well as its eighth game forcing at least 16 turnovers. The Crimson Tide's year-to-date averages now sit at 9.8 and 16.1, respectively.

And they do it all at a pace that makes your head spin.

While a lot of the great teams in recent years have been intentional about grinding the game to a snail's pace, Nate Oats has Alabama operating at the speed of light, trusting that his athletes will prevail in a track meet. As demonstrated in the wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, that tempo often neutralizes the opposing team's big men and forces them to adapt to a smaller lineup.

Obviously, Alabama isn't unbeatable. In the losses to Clemson and Stanford, Alabama shot a combined 10-of-51 from three-point range and was minus-31 in rebounding margin. In the loss to Western Kentucky, the pace of play did nothing to bother future NBA big man Charles Bassey, who racked up 27 points and 12 rebounds. The Crimson Tide also struggled from distance (7-of-26) in that game.

But they are a perfect 9-0 when shooting at least 27 percent from downtown, which isn't asking much. That Auburn team was on fire from deep in March. Same goes for those two Villanova national championships. Sometimes the teams who spend all season jacking up threes do it with great success in the tournament.

Even if they fall flat and get bounced in the first round, though, it's kind of cool to see people excited about Alabama basketball for a change. They had some brief windows of enjoyment during Collin Sexton's season (2017-18), but the last time Alabama made the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed or better was in 2005when the football team went 6-6 with Nick Saban still coaching the Miami Dolphins.

Six football championships later, maybe Alabama can finally make a run at cutting down some nets.

           

Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.