Last season the NCAA tournament selection committee basically made Alabama its poster child for a weak out-of-conference schedule, leaving a probably deserving Tide out of the Big Dance. "Last year we sat here with our non-conference schedule," Gottfried said. "We had a great win over Louisville, Ohio State, Washington of the Pac-10 and Cincinnati was an overtime game. I read in the paper a hundred times and looked up on the Internet that we were locks for the NCAA tournament. Yet we were left out."
So Gottfried was determined to beef up his team's schedule in 2001-02. "Everybody in the country is lobbying and jockeying around," Gottfried continued. "But at this point I think we're in good shape. We've gone 5-2 in our major non-conference schedule."
So far the Tide has notched victories over Memphis, Utah, Notre Dame and Temple, while losing to Missouri and UCLA. And Gottfried would add another frequent NCAA tourney participant to the list of quality opponents. "You've got to count Samford in that."
Alabama has also claimed wins over McNeese State, UT-Chattanooga, Mississippi Valley State, Florida A&M, Jacksonville State and Alabama A&M. The Tide's record entering today's game is 11-2. The Associated Press ranks Alabama 18th in the nation, while ESPN/USA Today has them at No. 19.
Unlike football, where games are usually worked out years in advance, college basketball schedules remain in flux almost up until the opening game. Coaches work together with the networks to maximize their program's exposure, but sometimes the juggling act falls through.
Gottfried explained; "We really only wanted to play one game this week. We were working with ESPN, trying to get one more really good game on top of everything else, and it didn't work out. These games (this week) were the only dates left. We'd prefer to play just one and go rest with a little more practice time to prepare for LSU."
No one is looking past today's game, but Alabama begins its SEC schedule this Saturday, when the Bengal Tigers visit Coleman Coliseum. That contest will be televised by Fox Sports Net, with tip off set for 6 pm (CST).
"The players are ready for the conference," Gottfried said. "But we're a long, long way from being where we need to be. We've talked about that with our players. We've got to get ready to play a very tough SEC schedule. In my opinion the West is as balanced as it has been in a long time."
In early statistics, Alabama ranks among the SEC's best in several categories:
- Scoring: 3rd
- Scoring Margin: 4th
- Rebounding offense: 3rd
- Rebounding margin: 4th
- 3-Point Field Goals Made: 2nd
- Offensive Rebounds: 3rd
- Defensive Rebounds: 4th
- Field Goal Percentage Defense: 3rd
- 3-Point Field Goal Percentage Defense: 4th
- Blocked Shots: 5th
- Assist/Turnover Ratio: 5th (1.07)
Individually, several Tide athletes rank among the conference's best. Erwin Dudley is first in offensive rebounds and fifth defensively, ranking him second in the SEC in overall rebounding. Dudley is first in field-goal percentage. Kenny Walker is third in offensive rebounding and fifth in blocked shots. Mo Williams is fourth in doling out assists.
Virtually every team in the SEC Western Division is judged to have a reasonable chance to contend for the title. And Gottfried lists two key areas in which his squad must improve if it hopes to be successful.
"We've got to guard people every night; that's the first thing.
"And we've got to eliminate some turnovers. I think we still turn the ball over too much. We've got to be a team that's a lot more efficient with the ball."