Alabama basketball reached into the transfer portal and snagged arguably the best guard available in Ohio’s Mark Sears.
Alabama basketball head coach Nate Oats runs one of the most guard-friendly offenses in the entire country, and it has yielded plenty of success. The Crimson Tide have reached the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons, earning a Sweet 16 appearance in 2021. Fresh off their second straight KenPom top 30 finish, though, Coach Oats needs to do some retooling via the transfer portal. It did not take long in the offseason for him to find a potential “homecoming king” with Ohio transfer Mark Sears.
An Alabama native, Sears is returning to his home state after committing to play for the Crimson Tide. The 6-1 lead guard earned All-MAC honors last season while blossoming into Ohio’s star player following the departure of Jason Preston. While he was unable to guide the Bobcats to an NCAA Tournament appearance, his numbers speak for themselves when it comes to his ability. Sears averaged 19.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game during this past season as a sophomore.
There is a chance that Alabama loses all of JD Davison, Jaden Shackleford, Jahvon Quinerly and Keon Ellis this offseason. Those departures would open the door for Sears to immediately fill a starring role next year. Given he rated 64th nationally in usage rate with Ohio, he is quite familiar with having the ball in his hands more often than not. He is a three-level scorer who experienced a 3-point explosion as a sophomore.
Alabama’s roster might look different next season, but Sears is an excellent fit for the up-tempo, 3-point-heavy offense that Coach Oats loves to run. Let’s dive a bit deeper into his profile.
Sears is an aggressive attacking guard
Mark Sears is an aggressor offensively. He is not the type of guard who is going to settle for jumpers when the defense is giving them up. He will get downhill as much as possible and uses a variety of change-of-pace moves to work his way to the basket. While he doesn’t boast much size at 6-1, he is very strong and uses that to muscle his way to finishes. In fact, he is the only player listed shorter than 6-3 to attempt over 200 shots at the rim this past season.
Not only does Sears consistently get to the basket but he finishes at a high rate. He shot 55.2 percent on those at-rim attempts and drew plenty of whistles as well. Sears’ .446 free-throw attempt rate ranked 167th in the country last season. His ability to get to the line is one of his best skills in large part because of his deadly accuracy at the line. He shot nearly 90 percent at the stripe last season and is a career 251-for-287 (87.5 percent) foul shooter.
Sears puts constant pressure on defenses with his aggression. He sets the tone of games by attacking the basket relentlessly. Over 80 percent of his at-rim makes were unassisted for the season. When he is drawing contact and finishing, defenses will start to give him more space and that is when he can splash from beyond the arc.
Finishing sets up 3-point marksmanship
Sears was not a great 3-point shooter as a freshman, shooting just 29.3 percent from beyond the arc in a limited bench role behind Jason Preston. Yet, the writing was on the wall for him to experience a breakout as a shooter. As I discussed in my preseason feature on Sears before this past campaign, he impressed as a free-throw and mid-range shooter during his freshman year. A 3-point improvement was inevitable, and he was able to do precisely that as a sophomore.
Sears showcased his dynamic 3-point shooting from the get-go during his sophomore season. He splashed home all four of his 3-point attempts during a season-opening win over Belmont in which he dropped 27 points. The dynamic guard continued to shoot as as the season progressed, finishing 59-for-144 (41.0 percent) from beyond the arc. This accuracy mark ranked 133rd nationally.
The lefty’s hot season should not be viewed as a fluke, either. His form is excellent, nearly 50 percent of his makes were unassisted, and his free throw percentage backs up his elite marksmanship.
Sears’ 3-point shooting will be essential for Alabama
Sears’ deadly shooting is a major reason why his fit with Alabama is so clear. The Crimson Tide love shooting the three, having ranked in the top 20 in 3-point attempt rate in each of Coach Oats’ three seasons at the helm. Yet, they were wildly inaccurate during this past season with just a 30.9 percent connection rate (303rd nationally). They only shot over 40 percent from three in two games all season.
Part of this could be due to their two lead guards, Quinerly and Davidson, combining to shoot 75-for-261 (28.7 percent) for the season. Both were superb players for the Tide, but their lack of 3-point efficiency in an offense predicated on launching from distance was an issue.
Sears is an excellent shooter and understands the value of taking threes early in the shot clock if they are good looks. Ohio ranked 116th in offense tempo and 30th in 3-point attempt rate this past season and Sears is going to a program that prioritizes similar aspects, though on a more extreme level. Alabama ranked 11th in offensive tempo and 12th in 3-point attempt rate.
These types of shots were commonplace for Sears last season and should continue with the Crimson Tide (full highlights):
Sears has lead guard ability
Sears took a giant leap as a scorer between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Some of that can be chalked up to an increase in minutes and role, but he also made major strides as a shooter that changed how defenses guarded him. One of the most impressive parts about his freshman season was his passing acumen. He posted a 29.7 percent assist rate that ranked 78th in the nation during his first year and maintained a low turnover rate as well.
While his assist-to-turnover ratio shrunk as a sophomore with more usage, he remained a strong passer. His assist numbers might even be a tad deflated due to some down shooting seasons from teammates. Sears posted the 178th-highest assist rate in the country at 24.9 percent. His 17.8 percent turnover rate was among the lowest of players with a similar usage rate. Sears is a heady playmaker who makes sound decisions as a passer.
Alabama’s guard-oriented offense is predicated on tempo and 3-point shooting. The Crimson Tide also tend to do an admirable job moving the ball and creating looks for teammates. They ranked 118th in assist rate during this past season, due in large part to top 150 assist rate rankings from Quinerly and Davison.
Sears is mainly known for his scoring after posting nearly 20 points per game as a sophomore. Still, he has the necessary skills to play the point and create for teammates as well as himself. These traits will hopefully help make the transition easier and give Coach Oats some lineup versatility with being able to play Sears at either backcourt slot.
How might Sears’ game translate?
The MAC was rated as the 20th-toughest conference in the country this year. The league featured several strong teams at the top, including an Akron team that gave UCLA a major run for its money in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, Sears is set for a major jump in competition as the SEC was rated as the second toughest conference.
To get an idea of how Sears has performed at varying levels of competition, here are his numbers from the last two years (extrapolated to per-40 minutes):
Most players experience difficulty against tougher competition and Sears is no different. Yet, he has still shot very well from three and the free-throw line against top-tier competition while netting nearly 17 points per 40 minutes. The struggles inside the arc (37.5 percent) are a tad concerning as upper-level programs tend to have more size inside.
His career matchups against high-major competition are limited. Two of his worst games of his sophomore season, though, came against future SEC opponents. He scored 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting in a loss to Kentucky and 11 points on 4-for-18 shooting in a loss to LSU. Those are his only matchups against high-major opponents as a collegiate starter.
While a step up in competition is on the horizon, Sears put together a superb sophomore season with Ohio and appears to be an excellent fit with Alabama. His combination of aggressive driving, reliable shooting, and solid playmaking should make him a great piece in Nate Oats’ system. Alabama has been successful over the past two seasons and Sears will be asked to play a big role in continuing that trend.
Header image courtesy of Ohio Athletics.