Alabama ‘surgical’ as it cuts through SEC: ‘Our mission is to win a national championship’

Minutes after Alabama pulled off one of its most one-sided SEC wins in program history on Saturday, its star player, whose shooting LSU had on the mat before halftime, was in no mood to brag.

“The only thing we can do is go back to basics and prepare for Vanderbilt,” said Brandon Miller, whose 31 points on 16 shots in 24 minutes was described by coach Nate Oats as one of the most efficient plays he’s seen.

From the start of its Jan. 3 game against Ole Miss through Saturday’s halftime when it led LSU by 37 points, Alabama had outscored its four conference opponents by a total of 100 points during that span.

Sunday’s 106-66 win moved The Tide to No. 3 in the NCAA net rankings behind Houston and Tennessee. A predicted No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, Alabama’s betting odds for winning the national championship are shrinking – and are now the fifth lowest on the BetMGM board.

But as Alabama rises, its players and coach are clearly trying to stay grounded.

“Very surgical, methodical, no-nonsense,” Oats said of the approach he would expect from his players. “It takes what it takes. We must prepare. We have to be ready to go.”

That includes Miller, whose NBA draft stocks continue to rise, where Sports Illustrated last week forecast him as the No. 4 overall pick this summer.

“I think my teammates keep me really focused on the mission here,” Miller said. “Our mission is to win a national championship.”

Oats has yet to address the issue, but he has spoken candidly before and after recent games about what it takes to win a regular-season SEC title for the second time in three seasons.

Alabama (5-0) sits with Texas A&M (4-0) at the top of the conference standings as the only other undefeated team after Tennessee lost to the unpredictable Kentucky on Saturday.

“Obviously it helped us win the league that Tennessee lost. We only pick them up from them once,” Oats said of the Feb. 15 trip to Knoxville.

But the Vols, who lost to an unpredictable Kentucky team on Saturday, could still be the main threat from the flood.

“Tennessee’s defense was incredible. To be honest, I don’t see them losing many more games,” Oats said of the Vols, who are still #1 nationally on KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings. “I watched KenPom and they didn’t let Tennessee lose another game the rest of the year before this game. When we’re trying to compete for the SEC, there are some teams at the top of this thing that are playing at a high level where we can’t afford to drop games that we shouldn’t be dropping.

Alabama fielded struggling Ole Miss and LSU teams, ranked 110th and 113th in the NCAA NET rankings, respectively. In both cases, Oats praised his players’ maturity in approaching their opponents.

“You have to win the games you’re supposed to win,” he said. “And we know we’re more talented than some of the teams that come in. I will not try to make teams bigger than they are. I don’t lie to our boys. But we tell them that the more talented teams don’t always win. The more talented teams win when they play harder, play more together, and are more focused and solid.

“Until then, we have to take care of business at every game [the Tennessee game]. I spoke to our boys before then. I told them Tennessee lost to Kentucky at home. Anything can happen in this league.”

Alabama, which started 9-0 in the SEC two years ago, has two weeks before it can reach that mark. It’s playing twice on the road this week – Tuesday nights in Vanderbilt and Saturday nights in Missouri.

After Alabama players high-fived fans at a packed Coleman Coliseum to celebrate the win over LSU, Vanderbilt’s preparations began.

“Shoot, they’re all in the weight room right now,” Oats said during his post-game press conference. “We raise for games. You’re about to get a job. It helps to keep them very factual – game over, you go to the weight room, take off. Get your rest with the trainer.

“Uploaded the Vanderbilt staff. They can watch it on their phones and devices while they are being treated.”

Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @micerodak.

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