Bama Needs Steele Well

There have been myriad surprises on the Alabama basketball team this season, and most of the have been pleasant ones: Justin Jonus' emergence from walk-on to starter, Jermareo Davidson's raised level of play, Alonzo Gee's exciting potential, and so on.

A perplexing surprise, however, has been the plainness of point guard Ron Steele, who was phenomenal as a freshman for Alabama last year. On Monday, Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said Steele's aching back is a likely cause.

Gottfried said Ronald Steele took a pretty hard shot on a screen against Louisiana Tech on Nov. 29 that might have aggravated the condition. He expects Steele to be in the lineup Wednesday night when No. 22 Alabama (4-1 overall) hosts Notre Dame (2-2 overall) in the re-dedication game of the newly remodeled Coleman Coliseum at 6 p.m.

Steele has started all five games for Alabama, and is averaging more than any other Tide player at 34.6 minutes per game, but has been bothered by back pain since the season began.

"He's at the doctor (Monday) to find out," Gottfried said. "His back has been sore and bothering him, and we are trying to get some answers."

Steele has not been bad, or even inconsistent for Alabama. He has 19 assists on the season and 7 turnovers to go with 8.6 points per game. Last year he had 160 assists and 65 turnovers.

Gottfried said Steele was also getting used to a new role, looking inside more and looking to score more points on his own without the presence of Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton.

Notre Dame, coached by Mike Brey, features two former McDonald's High School All-American standouts in Torin Francis and Luke Zeller. Francis starts at forward and has 24 career double doubles at Notre Dame. He's averaging 13.5 points and 11.3 rebounds going into Wednesday night's game.

"They are an excellent team," Gottfried said, "a terrific perimeter shooting team with a low post player that's one of the best two or three low post players in the nation in Torin Francis. So they've got some challenges and difficult matchups for us. They can give us a lot of problems. So we've obviously got a tough test here on Wednesday night."

Alabama is led by three All-Southeastern Conference players, senior power forward Chuck Davis (17.2 ppg) and junior center Jermareo Davidson (14.8 ppg/12.4 rpg).

The Fighting Irish are coming off a two-game losing streak (to NC State and Michigan), and the game is their first true road test.

The schools only other meetings have been in games scheduled in New Orleans as a part of Sugar Bowl festivities. Notre Dame won the first matchup 86-80 on Dec. 29, 1955, and Alabama prevailed 79-76 when the two schools played in the Nokia Sugar Bowl Basketball Classic on Dec. 27, 2001.

Alabama's 1968 team, the first to play in Coleman Coliseum when it originally opened in January 1968, will be recognized at halftime of the game. Wednesday night's game will be televised on ESPN.

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