Pittsburgh challenges fledgling Tide

In Alabama's first regular season basketball game, Head Coach Mark Gottfried will be facing an old friend.

Jamie Dixon was named head coach at Pittsburgh after Ben Howland left for UCLA in the off-season. Dixon, an assistant with the Panthers for four years, coached at a junior college in Los Angeles while Gottfried was an assistant coach for UCLA.

"He's a great person and a great guy," Gottfried said. "I think he'll do well there."

The coaching ability of Dixon isn't the only thing that has Gottfried worried about the season opener. Pittsburgh poses a much more physical team than Alabama, with forward Chevon Troutman (6-7, 236) and center Toree Morris (6-10, 282). Coming off the bench is freshman Aaron Gray (7-0, 280). In contrast, Alabama's top three forwards include Chuck Davis (6-7, 230), Evan Brock (6-8, 200) and Jemareo Davidson (6-10, 200).

Bama's only proven star, forward Kennedy Winston, is still recovering from a knee injury. (AP Photo)

"They are physical around the basket," Gottfried said. "They're big and strong and most of their key guys have a lot of experience. We've got to find ways to neutralize their strength. For us to be successful, we've got to find ways where big guys around the basket don't hurt us."

Other key players for Pittsburgh include its best all-around player, guard Julius Page, and point guard Carl Krauser. The Panthers lost three key players off last year's Big East Champion team in Brandin Knight, Donatas Zavackas, and Ontario Lett. Pittsburgh comes into the game ranked No. 22, and will definitely provide a challenge for Gottfried's Crimson Tide. The game, which is part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, will be televised on ESPN2 and will tip off at 6 p.m on Friday.

"It's a great opportunity to step up and play on the national stage," Gottfried said. "We're going against the Big East Champions. We're not starting against cupcakes."

Alabama won its first exhibition game over Global Sports by a score of 75-69. Earnest Shelton led the way with 22 points, and Kennedy Winston, Antoine Pettway, and Evan Brock each scored 11. Although pleased with the win, Gottfried didn't exactly give his team the best grade.

"I'd give us a C," Gottfried said. "There were good things, but we're certainly nowhere near where we need to be. It's going to take us a while to learn our team. We think certain players may emerge, but as time goes on, we may find out that some players aren't as good, or other players we have are good."

The defense is something that Gottfried said needs to improve. Global Sports shot 42 percent from the game.

"We've got to get better in man-to-man defense," Gottfried said. "We had to zone a lot. We're a long team, just not real physical. We have to find ways to defend to be as good as we want to be. I'm a man-to-man guy, but I don't know personnel wise if we can do it. We may look into zone or be a pressing team. We're not going to be a physical team overnight."

Gottfried believes it's important to play in marquee events like this weekend. (AP Photo)

So why did Gottfried even want to play in this tournament against a successful team? After all, four starters are gone, and the two forwards Davis and Brock combined to average less than four points per game last season.

"We wanted to play this game," Gottfried said. "We recruited these guys and told them there would be marquee events like this one. I don't think we'll ever turn this one down. We've got a chance to go to New York City and play in the [Madison Square] Garden. That's a great thrill."

On the injury front, freshman walk-on guard LaKory Daniels broke his foot in practice Monday and was scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday. He will be sidelined for six to seven weeks, but it's likely he'll use this season as a medical redshirt. Guard/forward Lucky Williams, who is suffering from a knee injury, likely won't play against Pittsburgh, but has resumed practicing.

Kennedy Winston, arguably the most skilled player on this Tide team, will start against Pittsburgh even though he is recovering from a knee injury. "I don't want him to be cautious," Gottfried said. "He needs to be aggressive and let it loose."

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