Tide Begins SEC Tourney Practice

Everyone agrees that it is easier to win the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament if you are one of the four teams that has a bye for the first round. Easier to win three games in three days than four games in four days is part of it.

An even more obvious aspect of the four teams that have the bye on Thursday being the most likely to win the tournament is that over the course of the past seven weeks, those four have proved to be best in the SEC.

Alabama is one of those four, the Crimson Tide having won the Western Division of the conference. Overall and Eastern Division champion Florida, second in the East Kentucky, and second in the West Mississippi State are also watching developments on Thursday and playing their first games Friday.

Thus, Alabama doesn't know which team it will play first in the tournament. Auburn knows that it is playing Georgia and Georgia knows it is playing Auburn on Thursday. The winner of that game advances to meet Alabama at 1 p.m. EST (noon central time) Friday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant isn't worried about preparing for a first game without knowing which team will be the opponent.

"We've taken two days off," Grant said Tuesday. His team last played Saturday, a 65-57 win over Georgia in Coleman Coliseum. In Tuesday's practice, Grant said, "it's mostly about us. We want to make sure we're moving in the right direction, taking care of things we need to work on."

As for Georgia and Auburn, he said, "the good thing is we played both of them over the past two weeks. I think it would still be fresh in the minds of the players."

That doesn't mean Auburn and Georgia won't do some things differently in a next meeting with Alabama, though conventional wisdom would have it that if those teams are "playing the next game," as coaches preach, they won't be spending time this week on preparation for Alabama.

Grant said, "You go back and look at film and think ‘What could we do differently?' The second time we played Auburn they had made some changes that bothered us. And I'm sure Georgia will. It helps to be familiar (with what opponents do) and anticipate changes you might see."

Grant thinks the Tide had an advantage with the schedule. As long as Bama is in the tournament, it will play at the same time, 1 p.m. EST, noon central.

He also thinks his team has the depth for three games in three days, if necessary. "I think our guys are well conditioned," Grant said. "In our quick turn-around games, our guys have been prepared."

The coach said, "We have a chance to do some good things in the tournament and looking ahead to what we can do."

There was a time in December when Alabama had a losing record. Bama was picked to finish ninth in the SEC overall, fourth in the SEC West. Now Alabama is 20-10, including 12-4 in conference play and the overall second best team in the league.

What turned the season around?

Grant said, "The same thing we'll do in post-season: one game at a time. Our guys understand that and have gone about it the right way and with each success we have gained confidence. What you want to see over course of the year is for team to grow and get better. You don't want to be at your best in November. I think we have done that--coaches and players--in terms of what we have to do to win. That's a part of the growth."

Because of early season setbacks even with what has proved to be a relatively weak non-conference schedule, Alabama's season is thought to be on the brink insofar as the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Grant doesn't try to diminish the losses in November and December. "That's part of the season," he said. "We didn't perform from the middle of November to the middle of December.

"We're not going to live in the past. The only thing we're promised right now is one game, and the players understand. If we want to continue to enjoy the season, we have to win. We have to carry that through the post-season.

"What are we doing on the defensive end? Are we in character? How are we attacking what the other team does? We have to be prepared for every game, offensively and defensively. That's what you have to do.

"You take it one game at a time. You really have to lock in and concentrate on the things you can control. Our focus is playing the best we can individually and collectively. That's been the theme all year. We have high expectations in terms of what we can do and what we can accomplish."

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