👨🏻‍💻 Tsoukalas Oats, Pitino share mutual respect heading into NCAA tournament matchup

Tony_Tsoukalas

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Rick Pitino has never met Nate Oats. Tuesday, the Hall of Fame head coach joked that he isn’t necessarily looking forward to being introduced to Oats or his Alabama basketball team on the court this weekend either.

Oats and the No. 2 seed Crimson Tide will open up play against Pitino’s No. 15 seed Iona on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT inside of Indianapolis’ Hinkle Fieldhouse. As of Tuesday, BetMGM has Alabama as a 17-point favorite in the matchup — the fourth-highest spread among this weekend’s games.

“They have a great system,” Pitino said of Alabama. “They’re fun to watch. I’m not sure they’ll be fun to play against, but they’re fun to watch on film.”

Oats and Pitino might not know each other, but they share a mutual respect. Earlier this week, Oats said he used to watch Pitino’s coaching tapes during his high school years when he began to develop an interest in getting into coaching. The 46-year-old Alabama head coach graduated high school in 1993 as Pitino, 68, was leading Kentucky to a Final Four appearance.

During his weekly radio show Monday night, Oats called Pitino a “pioneer” of 3-point shooting, signaling out his Providence team that upset Alabama during the 1987 season with sharpshooter Billy Donovan at point guard.

“A lot of people didn’t embrace the 3 ball as much or as quickly as he did,” Oats said of Pitino. “I think he influenced a lot early with the 3. Obviously, we’re taking a lot, making a lot, setting records with that stuff now.”

Alabama leads the nation with 912 attempted 3-point shots, 95 more than Toledo which ranks No. 2 in the category. While Pitino isn’t the primary influence behind Oats’ perimeter attack, it’s safe to say those tapes rubbed off a bit on the Alabama coach’s scheme.

“I like the way his teams played when I watched them,” Oats said. “I was really young when he was at Providence. He was at Kentucky more when I was really into it, watching all that. They had some loaded, talented teams there. Those were some of the better NCAA tournament games. I still remember the [Christian] Laettner shot against his Kentucky team.”

Pitino understandably has seen far less of Oats. However, he came away equally impressed while watching film on Alabama the past couple of days.

“I think he’s a terrific coach,” Pitino said. “I don’t know of any player in the country, high school or junior college, that wouldn’t want to play in that system.”

During his Zoom call with reporters Tuesday, Pitino reiterated his admiration of Alabama several times, crediting the Tide for its production on both sides of the ball. According to the KenPom.com ratings, Alabama ranks No. 2 in the nation in adjusted defense and No. 34 in adjusted offense. The Tide is just one of four teams to have a top-40 offense and a top-10 defense.

“They shoot so many 3-point shots, and then you turn around and they’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation,” Pitino said. “It’s not easy, certainly. … Alabama is probably every bit as good as any of the one seeds, so it’s difficult when you’re going against a team of that talent.”

While Oats has marveled over Pitino’s past teams, his focus this week is on an Iona squad that finished 12-5 en route to winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship. The Gaels, who have played the second-fewest games of any tournament team, are led by a senior backcourt of Isaiah Ross (18.4 points per game) and Asante Gist (13.3 ppg) as well a freshman forward in Nelly Junior Joseph, who averages 11.4 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds.

“They’re a good team,” Oats said. “They’re obviously well-coached. They’ve got a couple good guards. They’ve got a good, young freshman big. They’ve got a freshman guard off the bench that shoots it well.

“Pitino knows what he’s doing. He knows how to coach. He’s going to have them well-prepared. We’ve got more talented players, but we’re gonna have to come ready to play. This isn’t the first time that — shoot, a 15 has beat a two, a 16 has beat a one. So our guys got to understand that they’ve got to come ready to go.”

Oats is no stranger to upsets in the tournament. The former Buffalo head coach made his mark in the coaching scene in 2018 when his No. 13 seed Bulls beat knocked off No. 4 seed Arizona in the first round. As Alabama found out in 1987, Pitino knows a thing or two about upsets in the tournament as well.

“Our guys just got to play hard,” Oats said. “I think when upsets happen, the top team either plays really tight or just doesn’t play as hard as they need to. We need to make sure our guys are playing hard and loose.”

As for meeting up against his former idol, Oats said he’s looking forward to the opportunity.

“It will be a good night to go against Rick Pitino,” Oats said. “The good thing is my players have to play his players. I don’t have to play him. I think our players are pretty good and we’ll have them ready to go.”
 

BamaHudson

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Maybe should've been a bit more humble about talent, but he's correct.

I think his honesty about that sends a message to his players. I don't think his overall statement that -if they don't come ready to play they can and will get beat by a team of guys who will be prepared, are well coached and are a good team - is a pretty humble statement acknowledging the significance of the opponent. CNS says similar stuff when we play other programs, emphasizing all of the opponents strengths and saying if our guys don't come out with effort they can get beat.