'Love fest' to end at tipoff

With both Mark Gottfried and Mike Davis friends off the court, it was no surprise that tons of compliments were thrown back and forth this week. But when speaking of his former team, the Indiana coach certainly sounded convincing. <br><br>"Alabama may be the best 10-seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament," Davis said.

"Unfortunately, we have to play them. For that matter, both Alabama and Pittsburgh have been ranked No. 1 this season. And they're both in our bracket."

Both head coaches are former Crimson Tide basketball stars. Gottfried and Davis missed playing together at Alabama by two years, but they've known each other since their college days. Davis would come back to Tuscaloosa in the summers to train and work out while he was playing pro ball, and he and Gottfried played many a pickup game then.

Coach Gottfried thinks Kennedy Winston must have a good game for Bama to win. (Associated Press)

After listening to Davis praise his team, Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried returned the compliment. "Indiana is obviously very good. They really shoot the ball well."

The Tide (17-11 overall, 7-9 SEC) will face Indiana (20-12, 8-8 Big 10) tonight in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Alabama is seeded 10th, while the Hoosiers are 7th. The winner plays the winner of the Pitt vs. Wagner game in the second round. That round two game will be played in the FleetCenter on Sunday. Tipoff for tonight's game is scheduled for approximately 8:30 (CST).

According to Gottfried, Indiana will be a tough team to defend. "They're similar to Florida in our league in that they rely on the three-point shot," he said. "They spread the floor and shoot the ball very well. They'll be a tough match-up for us."

Davis will field a starting lineup with three players scoring in double-figures. Guards Bracey Wright and Tom Cloverdale average 16.4 and 11.8 points per game. "Wright and Cloverdale both shoot the ball very well," Gottfried said. "Indiana is a dangerous team. If they shoot the ball well they can play with and beat anybody in the country."

Gottfried is especially concerned with senior forward Jeff Newton. The 6-9 forward can shoot from long range or move inside to post up a smaller defender. For the season he averages 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. "Newton is a versatile player," Gottfried said. "He floats all over the court. He can hurt you either inside or out.

According to Gottfried, for Alabama to win Kenny Walker has got to play well. (AllSport)

"If you try to cover their shooters outside, then it's hard to help out with Newton around the basket."

It didn't take extensive film study for Davis to identify Bama's stars. "Both Mo Williams and Erwin Dudley are outstanding players," Davis said. "They're a very athletic team. It'll be a difficult game for us to win."

Last year's SEC Player of the Year, Dudley has recently been in a slump. "Erwin has been a little down," Gottfried acknowledged. "We've all got to find ways to help him step up. But you can't orchestrate every basket. Erwin has got to get offensive rebounds and work to get into the flow. We can run plays for him, but he's got to step up and play."

Under the direction of former coach Bobby Knight, Indiana built a reputation as a national basketball power. And last season Davis took the Hoosiers all the way to the championship game. Alabama is making its 16th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, its second under Gottfried.

The game will be the third ever meeting between these schools in a series Indiana leads 2-0. Indiana beat Alabama in the 2nd round of the 1976 NCAA tournament, on its way to an undefeated national championship season.

To defeat a quality team like Indiana, the Tide must get contributions from all its starters. Gottfried explained, "We're like every other team out there. Our better players have got to play well. As a senior Kenny Walker has got to step up and find a way to get the ball in the basket."

Gottfried has challenged Erwin Dudley to rebound more and create his own scoring opportunities. (Associated Press)

Neither Walker nor freshman Kennedy Walker have played very well in Bama's recent losses. "And I want Kennedy to have an aggressive mindset," Gottfried continued. "Sometimes his inexperience shows, but he's a good player. When he plays well, our team becomes very good."

Having maintained all along that their tough out-of-conference schedule should work in their favor, Gottfried and the Tide players felt vindicated by Sunday's NCAA Tournament bid. But the gesture will be quickly forgotten unless the team can find a way to recapture its early-season magic.

"Our guys are excited about playing, and we've got high goals like all the rest," Gottfried said. "The players don't think we finished the season playing as consistently as we should. Right now our players think they can play with anybody in the country."

A deep run in the tournament would erase most of the bad memories from an otherwise disappointing season. But first the Tide must find a way to defeat a tough team coached by a good friend. "If we expect to make any noise, we've got to win that first game," Gottfried said.

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