Nate Oats wants crimson tint to Alabama vs. South Alabama game in Mitchell Center

17 days ago

The next stop on Alabama’s hoops tour of the state is Mobile’s Mitchell Center.

After playing games in Birmingham and Huntsville over the past three seasons, the Tide will head to the gulf coast Tuesday night for a road game at South Alabama.

In a part of the state where allegiances can overlap, Alabama men’s basketball coach Nate Oats wants fans to show out for the visitors from Tuscaloosa.

“I would hope that we’d have quite a few Alabama fans down there in South,” Oats said Monday. “I mean, that’s part of the reason we agreed to do the 2-for-1, was to get, kind of, all the Alabama fans down in the Mobile area a chance to watch us play.”

RELATED: South Alabama basketball set for historic visit from Alabama on Tuesday

Alabama and South Alabama announced a three-game series in 2020 that was later postponed a year because of COVID-19. After the Tide won in Coleman Coliseum last season, it will make a road trip to Mobile before the Jaguars return to UA next season.

In his four seasons as coach, Oats has welcomed opportunities for his team to play outside of his home arena but within the state. In his first season, that included a true road game against Samford in Birmingham’s Legacy Arena and a neutral-site game against Belmont in Huntsville’s Von Braun Center. Alabama fans dominated the crowd of both contests, as they did when the Tide faced last-minute opponent Davidson in Birmingham last season.

“It’s a road game that [South Alabama is] used to playing in their gym, but I’m hoping the crowd was not what it was, say, in Seattle against Gonzaga last year,” Oats said of a neutral-site win for the Tide, which Gonzaga will return next month by coming to Birmingham. “I’m hoping it’s a little more neutral crowd or maybe even tilted our way. I don’t know. We’ll have to see what happens. I think Auburn played down there, I think, my first year here. If I remember right, that was a one-point game that easily could have gone South’s way.”

Auburn held off South Alabama, 70-69, in the Mitchell Center in November 2019. That was the Tigers’ first trip to Mobile since 1995, and this will be Alabama’s first-ever trip. Oats is not taking it lightly.

“We got a tough road game early in the season, which is probably not ideal with the young roster we’ve got,” Oats said. “But it’s the schedule we’ve got.”

The meeting on paper is a mis-match between Alabama, which is ranked No. 15 in KenPom after two games, and South Alabama, which is No. 218. The Tide won its two games last week by a combined 57 points over Longwood and Liberty, while South Alabama opened with a win over Mobile and then lost at New Mexico.

“They obviously played New Mexico really tough on the road,” Oats said of USA’s 80-74 defeat. “New Mexico is a quality team. So we’ve got our hands full early this season. The season is seven days old and we’re going on the road already. We’re gonna have to show some maturity to play well. They’ve got some talented players.”

South Alabama led Alabama at halftime last season in Tuscaloosa, 34-31, and remained competitive until the final minute of what became a 73-68 win for the Tide. But only two players (Charles Bediako and Noah Gurley) that played for Alabama in last year’s game are likely to suit up Tuesday night, while South Alabama returns only four players that saw the floor a year ago.

The transfer portal has churned both rosters, with 7-foot, 260-pound center Kevin Samuel joining the Jaguars from Florida Gulf Coast and previously TCU.

“Richie’s done a great job at South getting transfers,” Oats said. “I think Kevin Samuel was very productive in the Big 12. He’s there now. He’s a load. I mean, he’s bigger than any of our bigs. We’re going to have to handle him well. The guards they’ve got -- [Greg] Parham is obviously super-talented. But the [Isaiah] Moore kid that transferred off from a DII [Franklin Pierce University] is playing really well. Pushing a triple-double at New Mexico.

“We’ve got a tough game in front of us, to be honest with you. They played us tough here last year. It was a five-point game here last year. They’ve played us tough in our gym, now they feel like they’ve got a more talented roster and the best roster he’s had since he’s been there, and we have to go on the road. We’re gonna have to play well.”

Oats said forwards Dom Welch and Darius Miles are doubtful to play after participating minimally in Monday’s practice because of injuries. Welch, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, has yet to play while Miles played seven minutes in the opener.

Tuesday’s game will tip off at 9 p.m. CT and air on ESPNU.

“The 9 o’clock tip, basically for TV, is not ideal. We practice in the morning, so that’s super late,” Oats said. “But, look, we’ll wake them up later. ... They’re college kids. They’ll sleep in as late as you’ll let them, usually.”

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

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