Alabama's Gottfried seems an unlikely choice to query on benching three starters, as Kentucky's Tubby Smith has done. After all, when you have only seven scholarshipped players, you don't give a lot of thought to replacing three of your five starters. The Kentucky ropster ordinarily has a half dozen or so former prep All-America players, so the options are greater than they are for Gottfried this year.
Gottfried won't waste time thinking about impossible substitution patterns. He's got enough on his mind with a tough basketball assignment.
The Crimson Tide's "Magnificent Seven" are on the road this week, the second consecutive week Bama has followed a Saturday game with a Tuesday road game. At least this week the Tuesday meeting comes after a home game, and a very satisflying home game that that. The Tide thumped previously eighth-ranked Tennessee by a 92-79 count in Coleman Coliseum Saturday.
But that's yesterday's news. Tuesday night the Tide ventures into Bud Walton Arena, where the Artkansas Razorbacks are coming off a pretty good win themselves. Arkansas upset 10th-ranked Florida in overtime Saturday.
Alabama, 15-9 overall and 8-4 in Southeastern Conference play, will take on the Razorbacks (17-8 overall and 6-6 in SEC games) at 8 p.m. CST Tuesday in Fayetteville. The game will be nationally telecast by ESPN.
Gottfried said "We've got a big, big challenge. Arkansas is awfully good. It's a big test for our guys. They're very talented. (Ronnie) Brewer, (Jonathon) Modica start if off; (Darian) Townes I think is terrific; (Eric) Ferguson, Steven Hill–you can just do down the line with this team–there's a long list of guys. And they are going to have a lot of confidence after beating Florida Saturday. It will be a tremendous challenge for us to go in there and try to upset them. So that's what we're going to try to do."
Bama was very fortunate to defeat the Razorbacks when the teams met in Tuscaloosa a month ago. "They played good enough to win," Gottfried said. "They dominated us for most of the game." Late in the game Bama guard Ron Steele made three free thows to put the game into overtime, where Alabama was a 78-75 winner.
Alabama has won five in a row against Arkansas. A Crimson Tide victory Tuesday would assure Bama of no worse than a second place finish in the SEC Western Division.
This is Bama's last ESPN game of the year, and the Tide hopes to get one victory in its five appearances on the sports cable network. Alabama is 0-4 with a home loss to Notre Dame and road losses at Oklahoma, Temple, and South Carolina.
Gottfried said it is the consensus opinion of SEC coaches that "Arkansas has the personnel to handle everyone in this league."
That Arkansas personnel starts with 6-7 junior guard Ronnie Brewer, who is averaging 18.8 points per game, best in the SEC. Not far behind him is 6-5 senior guard Jonathon Modica, who is averaging 15.7 points per game.
Gottfried called Brewer "a great player." He said, "He's different in that he can play out front or post up."
Although Gottfried didn't announce defensive assignments, it's likely that Jean Felix will come off the bench and take over coverage of Brewer. One thing that has helped Bama in recent weeks is the defensive play of Felix on the best player of opposing teams. "It's a challgne for Felix," Gottfried said. "He wants to be the defensive stopper. I don't think we could have won eight games in the league without that. He takes that challenge as his responsibility."
Another key, Gottfried said, is that Alabama will have to do a better job on rebounding. Arkansas got 14 offensive rebounds in the first half against Alabama and finished with 20 offensive boards. Correcting that will fall primarily to Bama's inside players, 6-10 junior Jermareo Davidson (14 points, 9 rebounds per game) and 6-8 freshman Richard Hendrix (9.9, 7.7).
Hendrix said, "Arkansas was a really good team when they came in here and played us in Tuscaloosa earlier this year, and they've only gotten better. But I believe we are a different team now, too. We've grown and we've gotten a little bit better. But we know going on the road with that type of environment, we're going to have to bring our ‘A' game because it's almost like with that crowd and everything, I believe, you're going to be down 10 points before the game ever starts. So we're going to have to be prepared and be ready to play."