There is still a lot of basketball to be played this season. Alabama and/or Mississippi State might reach those lofty heights of recent squads. But right now both the Crimson Tide of Coach Mark Gottfried and the Bulldogs of Coach Rick Stansbury are battling to stay afloat.
Both teams suffered serious attrition before the season began and both teams have had additional losses during this season.
And so Alabama will bring a 10-7 overall record and 3-2 SEC mark into the game when Bama hosts Mississippi State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Coleman Coliseum. The Bulldogs limp in at 11-8 overall and 1-5 in league games.
Alabama did not have a mid-week game this week. Gottfried said the team "took a couple of days off. We had some conditioning work, but we felt the most important thing was to get rest. We rested their legs for a couple of days. We came back Tuesday and had a good practice." He noted that Alabama, down to only seven scholarshipped players, has a number of players playing a lot of minutes.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Alabama's basketball season last year was the Crimson Tide's 98-49 romp over the Bulldogs in Tuscaloosa. And the second biggest surprise may have been that Bama was able to complete the sweep of State with a 68-63 win in Starkville.
Those were NCAA Tournament teams last year. But in 2006 there is no Kennedy Winston or Earnest Shelton or Chuck Davis on the court for Alabama. Mississippi State has said good-bye to all five starters from last season, including the likes of Lawrence Roberts and Winsome Frazier.
This year both teams will start at least two freshmen each. Inside player Richard Hendrix (8.8 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game) and point guard Brandon Hollinger 2.6 points, 1.5 assists) are almost certain starters, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Alonzo Gee (7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds) with the first five, although the listed starter at that spot is senior Evan Brock (3.4 points, 1.8 rebounds). Junior Jermareo Davidson, Alabama's leading scorer at 14.1 per game and leading rebounder at 9.5 per game, and sophomore Ron Steele (11.6 points, 3.6 assists) are the other starters.
Gottfried said, "I think we've had some great games with Mississippi State. I anticipate this being the same thing. They've got a number of young players. We have a bunch of young players as well, so there's probably going to be more freshmen on the floor than we've had in the last number of years playing in this game."
Gottfried said, "Charles Rhodes and Jamont Gordon are two guys for them that get your attention real quick. I think that both are terrific players." Rhodes, a 6-8, 240-pound sophomore, is averaging 11.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, while Gordon , a 6-4, 225-pound freshman, is averaging 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game."
Neither Gottfried nor guard Ron Steele thought last year's Tuscaloosa romp over the Bulldogs, when the Tide doubled the score on State, would be a factor Saturday. Both the coach and player noted that these are two different teams. Steele said, "It's a new year. It's two totally different teams. I don't think that (last year's game) is going to be a factor."
Gottfried avoided comment on the departure earlier in the week of Justin Jonus, a former walk-on who had earned a scholarship. Jonus had started some games, but had been relegated to the eighth man in what has been a seven-man rotation the past few games. He quit the team and dropped out of The University Monday. Gottfried said that, "All I'm going to say about that is that we are concentrating on the players who are here. And the guys we have here are excited."