Alabama made a leap into the NCAA Tournament's top seeds two years ago only to fall short of the Final Four.
This time, the Crimson Tide has risen to the top of the field of 68 with a team that coach Nate Oats believes is better equipped to meet those expectations.
Alabama (29-5) gets to stay home as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the headliner of the South Region bracket after landing the program's first-ever top seed when Sunday's field of 68 teams was revealed. That came hours after the Tide closed out a second Southeastern Conference Tournament title in three seasons.
Alabama opens play in Birmingham on Thursday, facing the First Four winner between Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Southeast Missouri State.
The Crimson Tide owned a 2-seed in the 2021 tournament taking place in the Indianapolis bubble due to the pandemic, but fell in the Sweet 16 to Final Four-bound UCLA. Oats figures this year's team has more offensive punch, versatility, depth and rim protection.
"We've tried to build a team that can still win when we don't shoot it well," Oats said after the SEC title win in Nashville, Tennessee. "Can we be great on defense, rebound the ball well, take care of the ball? If we do that, even if we shoot poorly, I think we can generate enough free throws, rim shots to win."
Alabama is one of four teams to rank in the top 20 of KenPom's efficiency metrics for offense and defense, joining fellow No. 1 seed Houston, Texas (a 2-seed) and Connecticut (a 4-seed). It's also one of the nation's most prolific 3-point shooting teams, ranking fourth nationally in attempts per game (29.8) and 11th in makes (10.1).
Yet the success has come with the program dealing with the fallout of being tied to a murder case. Former Tide player Darius Miles and another man have been indicted on capital murder charges for the January shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Harris.
The case also involves star freshman Brandon Miller, with a police investigator testifying last month that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun that night. Neither Miller nor current player Jaden Bradley, who police said was also at the scene, have been charged and both have continued to play.
The program has compounded the scrutiny with public missteps, including Oats having to apologize for a set of comments and later for Miller's pat-down routine during pregame introductions before a win against Arkansas.
"Obviously we never lose sight of the tragedy that's kind of marked our season," Oats said after the SEC Tournament. "It's always there."