Though Gottfried refuses to take his opening game lightly, it's clear his and his team's goal is farther down the road. "I don't think a whole lot of teams out there right now really believe they can win the national championship," he explained. "I want our team to believe that they can. And I believe that they do."
Having been an assistant coach for UCLA during the Bruins' most recent national championship run, Gottfried understands the mindset necessary. "Some programs have that belief built right in," he said. "While other programs have to convince their players and fans. I told my guys when I visited in their houses (during recruiting) that our goal was a national championship. If they didn't want that, then they didn't need to come to Alabama."
Ranked No. 8 in the country heading into the tournament, Gottfried understands other teams have better odds at that elusive title. But he believes his team is in the hunt. "I'm not naïve enough to predict we'll win," Gottfried said. "I know how hard that is to achieve. But I believe we want it."
But first up for Alabama is a game Florida Atlantic squad, and Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried is taking nothing for granted. "Everyone is 0-0 right now," Gottfried said. "We all know it's ‘one and done.'"
The Tide will face the Owls in an opening round game this Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina. Tip-off will be approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the 12:20 (ET) game between Oklahoma State and Kent State. The winners of each game will face each other in a second-round game Saturday.
Florida Atlantic is led by 6-10 center Raheim Brown who is averaging 16.4 ppg and 8.4 rebounds. "They're an athletic club," Gottfried said. "And at this point don't think anyone doesn't deserve to be in the tournament. Brown is a skilled inside player who can score from the perimeter with good quickness. They can really get up and down the court. Watching them on film you can really see how they were able to win their conference tournament."
The Owls earned an NCAA berth by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. They finished the year at 19-11, 13-7 in league play. Alabama, regular season champions of the SEC, dropped a three-point decision in the finals of the SEC tournament to Mississippi State. The Tide stands at 26-7 overall, 12-4 in SEC play.
Being seeded No. 2 ties Bama for its highest NCAA seed ever, dating back to the 1987 squad, which Gottfried was a member of. That team made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to a hot-shooting Providence team.
"We're going on the road just like any other game," Gottfried said. "We're going to approach it in a similar manner. Florida Atlantic is a pretty hungry squad. They do a nice job of spreading the floor."
Former NBA player Sidney Green is in his third season as coach of the Owls. "His first year they won two games, then seven and now 19, so you can see the job he's done," Gottfried said. "Florida Atlantic is not going to back down from anybody."
This will be the first meeting ever in men's basketball between Alabama and Florida Atlantic. The Tide has played the other two teams in the bracket Kent State (once) and Oklahoma State (five times).
Alabama is making its 15th NCAA tournament appearance, dating back to 1975. The Tide holds a 15-14 record, including seven appearances in the Sweet 16.