Tide vs. UT in opening round

The Alabama men's basketball team will try to keep its hopes -- albeit solid hopes -- for an NCAA Tournament bid as the Crimson Tide (16-11, 8-8 SEC) will open the SEC Tournament with an 8:45 game against Tennessee (15-12, 7-9).

The Tide is probably already in the "Big Dance," but a good showing in the SEC Tournament will improve the Tide's seeding, which is projected in the 8-11 range from most analysts.

"Our team has played pretty well down the stretch," head coach Mark Gottfried said. "Hopefully we can continue to do that. It's a great match-up with Tennessee. They're playing well pretty also. Hopefully our team plays its best basketball. That's what everyone hopes this time of year."

The Tide, behind 27 points from guard Earnest Shelton, defeated the Volunteers 83-70 in the meeting in Tuscaloosa, but times have changed, and a change in Tennessee's starting lineup could prove better results for the Volunteers.

"I think they're different now because they're starting Dane Bradshaw (at guard)," Gottfried said. "I think that's helped (Scooter) McFadgon play better. We had a great game with them in Tuscaloosa. I don't think that game has a whole lot of barring on this one. That was another day and another time."

The Volunteers are led by McFadgon, one of the SEC's top scorers at 18.1 points per game. McFadgon has a good supporting cast in point guard C.J. Watson and center Brandon Crump. Along with Bradshaw, freshman Major Wingate starts at center. The Volunteers have won two of its last three games.

"I think (Brandon) Crump has been a factor for them," Gottfried said. "I think he's a very good player. Major Wingate played well, he's another inside guy, against South Carolina. They've changed their lineup a little bit and inserted Dane Bradshaw, the freshman guard, in there which gives them two point guards on the floor, another ball handler and another guy that can create shots for those other guys. They've done a good job.

Emmett Thomas and the rest of Bama's team have been playing well in recent games. (AP photo)

Gottfried credits the Volunteers' defense as a reason that they are a potentially scary team even as the No. 6 seed from the SEC East.

"I think they've done a good job defensively," Gottfried said. "I think they went through a stretch in the middle where Buzz (Peterson) was probably a little concerned with that but they've picked up their defense. I think they're just playing better. They went on the road to Vanderbilt and I think played extremely well. It came right down to the wire there. Beating Auburn and South Carolina both at home, I just think they're a confident team right now.

"And, again, I think the addition of Bradshaw in the lineup gives them another ball handler, a guy who can create some shots offensively for them."

Before a loss to Mississippi State last Saturday, the Tide had won four games in a row, but Gottfried doesn't think that, despite the heartbreaking loss, the Tide has lost any momentum.

"I think our players feel like we're playing really well," Gottfried said. "And we played pretty well against Mississippi State. It comes down to a play or two here late in the game or the bounce of the ball-outside of that I really like how we're playing. I want us to play with the same energy level that we've had in the last couple of weeks and play with confidence like we have and just concentrate on playing hard and not concentrate so much on all those other things like the NCAA tournament. All those things I think can become distractions right now."

As far as Gottfried is concerned, all the Tide needs to do is continue the same effort and it will be successful. "I just want them to keep playing hard and to play well," he said. "We've been playing well so I don't think losing the (Mississippi State) game will affect us."

But without a doubt, Gottfried will feel better about his NCAA Tournament chances if the Tide can get out of Atlanta with a few wins.

"We're going over there hoping to win the whole thing," Gottfried said. "We've got to go one game at a time, and I think for us, from the NCAA tournament standpoint, I think we've done everything they'd asked us to do. Period."

If the Tide wins, it will play Florida on Friday night at 8:45.

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