In what is sure to be one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory for college basketball, Mark Gottfried's Alabama Crimson Tide is expected to be in the thick of the conference, if not the national race. If that is going to be the case, the team must gel during this time, less than two weeks before the regular season tips off against Miami, Ohio in the preseason NIT.
"We're going to have a different team this year," Gottfried said. "Last year Steele could come down the court, pass the ball to the left or right, then count on a three. We're not going to be able to do that this year."
Like virtually every other team in America, the Tide has question marks. Who will play the two-guard? What's the starting line-up? Can Ronald Steele avoid a sophomore slump?
These are just a few of the questions Gottfried and his staff are trying to answer. All of this in the midst of a massive remodeling project to Coleman Coliseum, causing an extremely quirky pre-season schedule.
The Tide has practiced all over the city of Tuscaloosa, has had to dodge screws and wet paint at Coleman and obtained a waiver from the NCAA to be allowed to host an exhibition game off campus, which will be in Mobile on November 10th against Spring Hill College. The only chance to see the Tide in Tuscaloosa in exhibition action this year will be the Crimson-White game Thursday night in the CAVE.
"We're excited to get some of the young guys out on the court in front of an audience," Gottfried said. "We need to be able to evaluate them in another environment besides practice."
The team has been divided up based on a coach's draft amongst the assistants with Gottfried having veto power. It ended up as basically the older guys against the youngsters and Ronald Steele. According to Gottfried, the trash talking has begun.
Despite having to hold the game in the CAVE, Gottfried said that Coleman is on schedule for the Miami, Ohio game. "We may be holding paint brushes when that game happens, but we'll be ready."
There are a few things to look at during the preseason scrimmages and exhibitions, such as the battle for the two-guard position between Jean Felix and Alonzo Gee, Richard Hendrix's role on this team and Evan Brock's move to the perimeter.
"Felix and Gee have been battling every day in practice," Gottfried said. "I honestly don't know who will start. The starting five is not set yet."
Hendrix is an interesting case. A player of his size and caliber would probably be starting on most teams, but with the big man depth on Bama's roster, he doesn't have to step right in and be the man. Gottfried thinks that the lack of pressure will help Hendrix relax and become a better player in the long run.
Brock has been a role player on this team during his tenure, known for the spectacular play but lacking the consistency and physical play necessary to bang down low in the SEC. To help with that and to take advantage of the big man depth, Gottfried is taking a look at Brock on the perimeter.
"We want to take advantage of his size and length on the perimeter," Gottfried said. That would keep Brock from facing guys with a strength advantage down low on a regular basis and could translate into a little more playing time for one of the veterans on this team.
Tom Canterbury produces and can be heard on Chris Stewart in the Morning weekdays from 7-9 am and The Sports Breakdown with Vince Ferrara weekday afternoons from 3-6 on Sports Radio 1420 the Tusk in Tuscaloosa. He can be reached at ThomasCanterbury@clearchannel.com.