As the Crimson Tide prepare to face No. 1 overall seed UConn with a trip to the national championship on the line on Saturday, it's safe to say Alabama coach Nate Oats has a hefty list of responsibilities on his plate this week. However, preparing for an opponent -- even one as formittable as the reigning national champion and betting favorite to repeat in 2024 -- is nothing compared to the task that Oats faced this time last year. 

Back then, the Tide had just wrapped up their 31-6 season with an exit in the Sweet 16 as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Oats was on the verge of losing three assistant coaches (Charlie Henry, Antoine Pettway, and Bryan Hodgson) to different college jobs. On top of that, he was losing seven of his nine top scorers. That included his two best players -- Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney -- who entered the NBA Draft

"While I was really happy (for my assistants), it did cause some stress," Oats said last week before his team faced North Carolina in the Sweet 16. "Charlie (Henry) and Bryan (Hodgson) had their jobs, and then the day that (Antoine) Pettway got his, I all of a sudden realized, I have no assistants anymore."

Oats quickly retooled his staff to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of the sport. He hired Austin Claunch (Nicholls), Ryan Pannone (New Orleans Pelicans) and Preston Murphy (Creighton) to round out his coaching staff. Those assistants helped land Mohamed Wague (West Virginia), Grant Nelson (North Dakota State), Latrell Wrightsell Jr. (Fullerton), and Aaron Estrada (Hofstra) from the transfer portal.

The four transfers joined key returners Mark Sears, Nick Pringle and Rylan Griffen. Freshmen Jarin Stevenson, Mouhamed Dioubate and Sam Walters rounded out the roster to form the top-ranked scoring offense in the country. The Crimson Tide's high-powered offense and fast-tempo style of play has resulted in the program's first Final Four appearance. 

"To put the roster together that we did speaks volumes to our staff, to our system," Oats said. "To be able to hire the guys in that I did speaks to the level of basketball we've got in this program too. Yeah, and we only had three returning players and no returning assistant coaches. I think our staff did a great job. We did a pretty good job hiring."

Key players lost from Alabama's 2022-23 roster

  • Brandon Miller (18.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg): NBA
  • Noah Clowney (9.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg): NBA
  • Jahvon Quinerly (8.7 ppg, 3.6 apg): Transferred to Memphis 
  • Charles Bediako (6.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg): G-League
  • Jaden Bradley (6.4 ppg, 3.1 apg): Transferred to Arizona
  • Noah Gurley (4.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg): Graduated
  • NiMari Burnett (5.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg): Transferred to Michigan 

Pringle joined the Crimson Tide ahead of the 2022-23 season after stints at Wofford and Dodge City Community College in Kansas. His minutes spiked from 8.1 to 18.3 this year and he's coming off arguably the best game of his career with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three assistsin the 89-82 win over Clemson in the Elite Eight.

"It's the coaching we have," Pringle told CBS Sports when asked how Alabama rebuilt its roster. "We really buy into all of that. That makes things go here. We really bought into everything that was given to us. I don't think anyone watches more film than us in the country -- not even NBA guys."

Alabama wouldn't be playing in the final weekend of the college basketball season without the drastic offensive jump from Sears, who went from key starter in 2023 to an All-American this season. The former Ohio transfer averaged 21.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals and was the engine on one of the top-scoring offenses in recent memory. Alabama is on pace (90.6 ppg) to finish as the highest-scoring team from the SEC since Kentucky's national title team in 1995-96.

Spears attributes the loss to San Diego State in last year's NCAA Tournament to his breakout campaign.

"We were the No. 1 seed and wanted to win the whole thing," Sears said last week. "Just having that motivation through the whole offseason, just constantly putting in the work and hours. No matter when I'm tired, just continuing to fight through it and be mentally tough. I just had that mindset throughout the whole offseason."

Unsung heroes stepping up in big moments has been a repeated theme in Alabama's NCAA Tournament run. In the second round Dioubate recorded nine points, five rebounds and two blocks in a 72-61 win over GCU. Against No. 1 seed North Carolina, Nelson emerged with 24 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the 89-87 Sweet 16 victory.

In the first 20 minutes against Clemson last weekend, Sears struggled. He missed nine of his first 11 shots before exploding for six 3-pointers after halftime to seal a historic win. While Sears played an uncharacteristic first half, Stevenson picked him up with a career-high 19 points.

Tough task still remains

Alabama opened the season ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Crimson Tide were tabbed to finish fifth in the SEC behind Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Kentucky. The Tide played the role of underdog to perfection through their history-making run, but they know there's still one more major upset standing between them and the program's first-ever national title game appearance.

UConn has won 10-straight NCAA Tournament games -- all by double digits -- dating back to last year. The Huskies are obliterating opponents through this year's tournament run with four victories by an average of just over 27 points per contest. They are seeking to become the first team since Florida (2007-08) to repeat as national champs. 

"I'm very excited to see them (Uconn)," Pringle said. "We played them last year, so we got a little taste (of) what they're about. We have seen (Donovan) Clingan, we have seen their big-time players. ... I feel like we have the best offensive power in the nation. It's going to be fun. We aren't scared of anyone, we aren't frail, we aren't soft. We are here. We are Bama. (There is) more to come."