Tide Hoops Confident

The Alabama basketball team has an overall 7-5 record as it prepare to enter Southeastern Conference play Saturday against Ole Miss, but Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said because of the tough pre-conference schedule the Tide has played, his team is in the right mental state to begin conference play.

"I think our guys are right where you want them to be," Gottfried said Thursday afternoon. "They know we have played a challenging schedule and they know this is somewhat of a fresh start for them. We would love to be sitting here with a better record, but at the same time they know if they take care of business in the league that they can do what they want to do."

Alabama's pre-conference losses came against Memphis, Notre Dame and North Carolina State at home in Coleman Coliseum, and in road games against Temple and Oklahoma. In the latest Associated Press poll, Memphis is ranked fourth, Oklahoma 12th, and North Carolina State is 13th.

"We could have played a different schedule and had a different record but I like the way we've been challenged," Gottfried said. "You can schedule your way into 10-1 or 11-1 record. I have learned from both cases - you aren't going to trick this selection committee. At the end of the year we are who we are. We don't hide anything, and if you're one of those teams that deserves to be in the tournament you will be."

Gottfried said Alabama has a "great chance" to make the NCAA tournament if the team "takes care of business in the SEC night in and night out."

We've got a new season started, 0-0 in the league," he said. "We need to make sure we concentrate on playing Ole Miss. You want your team to improve and play well against Ole Miss and at the end of the year we'll see what happens."

Alabama edged past Birmingham Southern Monday night, just two days after the loss to Oklahoma on the road. Alabama used different players against Birmingham Southern, playing perimeter players Justin Jonus and Jean Felix several more minutes against BSC than against Oklahoma. Gottfried said he expects the varied playing time to be a continued theme throughout the year.

"We'll stay with our same starters [of Steele, Gee, Hendrix, Davis and Davidson]," Gottfried said. "We're going to have some nights where we're going to play with a smaller group that is going to be more effective. Some of that will be matchups, some how well guys are playing. We have to hunt each night for that particular lineup."

"We don't have the type of team where we have core unit that just goes, and just plays," Gottfried said.

Alabama was out-rebounded 40-18 in the game at Norman, Okla. and had just one offensive rebound, which was a major determining factor in the outcome of the game. Gottfried was disappointed with the rebounding in the game. He said some of the Tide's rebounding trouble could be attributed to Oklahoma's players blocking out and others to long rebounds and unfortunate bounces, but, he said, "having a nose for the ball, that was a weakness for us in that game."

Alabama opens conference play on Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. with a home contest against Ole Miss, who enters the game with 10 wins and three losses. The Rebel losses came to New Mexico (L 95-42), Illinois-Chicago (L 87-75) and Memphis (L 72-49).

"I don't know if there are any clear-cut favorites, especially in the [SEC] West," Gottfried said Thursday.

"Ole Miss is a lot better than have been past couple of years. They have an improved talent level and know they're going to be very aggressive and play hard. It will be a very difficult game for us."

Mississippi plays a notoriously physical style under head coach Rod Barnes, and is led this year by center Dwayne Curtis, a 6-8, 290 pound sophomore from Chicago. Curtis is averaging 13.1 points per game and 7.1 rebounds for the Rebels.

"I feel better about it because we have the size and we will matchup with them better than we did last year," Barnes said.

Alabama's leading scorer is Chuck Davis, who is posting a 17.8 point per game average and 5.3 rebounds. Center Jermareo Davidson is averaging 9.7 rebounds per game for Alabama. Davidson also iced the Birmingham Southern game down the stretch with four important free throws in the final minutes.

Bama's point guard Ronald Steele has recovered well from back spasms that bothered him through much of December. Steele said his back felt much better following the Oklahoma game and a shot he took on the back was a "minor thing", and Gottfried said Steele has felt better as of late.

"I don't know that he's 100 percent but he's a lot better than he was," Gottfried said. "That two weeks to ten days there he was struggling hurt our team, and there wasn't a whole you could do about it. He wasn't as bouncy as he's been since he's been feeling better."

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