Bama in Good Shape Entering Tourney

Entering the Southeastern Conference Tournament this time a year ago Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried was the hunter, thinking he might need to make a splash in the SEC tourney because of the uncertainty about how his team, 16-11 overall and 8-8 in SEC play at the time, would be viewed by the NCAA selection committee.

As it turned out the selection committee had likely already deemed Alabama worthy of a bid before the conference tourney.

Most know how the story of last year ended. The Tide won its first round SEC tourney game against Tennessee and lost narrowly to Florida before making an improbable run to the Elite 8 round of the NCAA tournament.

What a difference a year makes.

This year Gottfried's Bama team is 21-6 overall and 12-4 in league play and if Gottfried is doing any lobbying it's for seeding – not entry – in the 64-team NCAA Tournament.

"My personal opinion is that they hay is in the barn. That's pretty much done. We are what we are. I do think that something extraordinary like winning the championship can affect your seed. Other than that, I don't know a lot of what happens does (affect seeding)," Gottfried said at a Tuesday press conference inside Coleman Coliseum.

"I've looked at it pretty close I would think we're somewhere in that 4-5 seed range. I think we've done well enough to be at least a 5 or a 4. To get higher I think we would have to win the tournament. That would be my guess but I don't know the answer to that obviously."

They hay began to roll in for post-season all-star awards on Tuesday as well, and Alabama's hayloft overflowed with all five Tide starters named All-SEC by the Associated Press.

Junior forward Kennedy Winston was a first-team All-SEC selection while senior Earnest Shelton was a second-team member. Junior Chuck Davis, sophomore Jermareo Davidson and freshman Ronald Steele were listed as third-team representatives.

"It's a thrill to make all-SEC," Winston said. "It's a compliment for me - all the work I've put in during the off-season, and I have been able come out and show on the court."

Winston said having four teammates honored as All-SEC players "just shows what kind of teams we have. We've got one of the most potent starting fives in the country and it's good other teams recognize that as well."

LSU Forward Brandon Bass was the AP's SEC Player of the Year, Kentucky's Tubby Smith was Coach of the Year and LSU's Glenn Davis was Newcomer of the Year.

"I was disappointed that Kennedy didn't get it but I feel like Brandon Bass is deserving," Gottfried said. "You always want your player to be recognized. I voted for Brandon Bass (in the coaches awards) and thought he is an excellent player and did great for his team."

The All-SEC honors voted on by SEC coaches will be released on Wednesday. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players for the awards.

Gottfried's team has more offensive weapons that the squad of a year ago, especially with the emergence of Jean Felix as a bench threat in recent games. Felix is averaging 5.2 points per game for the season, but has upped his average to 9.5 per game over the Tide's last four games.

"I have a lot of confidence in him. I think that's growing game-by-game. Playing time is usually involved with trust. It's how much does the coach trust you. He is gaining trust," Gottfried said. "Sometimes he may take a bad shot but you've got to live with that because he is so active all over the floor in rebounding and defensively."

Comparing his squad of a year ago to now Gottfried said, "We had some age and maturity. We don't have that this year. We're a different team."

With a first-round bye in the 2005 Southeastern Conference tourney Bama will be the hunted team Friday afternoon facing the winner of Ole Miss and South Carolina who play on Thursday. Gottfried won't be watching live, however. His team will be practicing and preparing themselves for either opponent.

"I think South Carolina and Ole Miss both are going to be pretty hungry because they feel like they need to win to get in the NCAA tourney. I don't know if one is better to play than the other," Gottfried said. "Our coaches will go early to scout it. We'll practice here Thursday and then go (to Atlanta). We'll watch it on tape but not live."

Bama will play the winner of the game on Friday at noon. It will be televised by Jefferson Pilot.

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