Chuck Davis is still out, but Alabama basketball has been anything but disheartened. The Crimson Tide of Coach Mark Gottfried has been one of the inspiring success stories in the nation as well as in the SEC, where the Tide can wrap up second place in the Western Division with a win over the Auburn Tigers Wednesday night.
The Crimson Tide will be going for its seventh consecutive win over Auburn when the teams tip off at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday in Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum. The Alabama winning streak includes Bama winning in the game following the loss of Davis, a 56-52 Tide triumph in Auburn.
Alabama has managed a 9-5 SEC record and is 16-10 overall. The Tide had wins over two top ten teams, Tennessee and Florida, in its previous two Coleman Coliseum appearances. Auburn, under second year coach Jeff Lebo, is 4-10 in SEC games and 12-13 overall.
An Alabama win against Auburn or against Mississippi State in Starkville Saturday will give Bama second place in the SEC Western Division and a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament, which begins in Nashville March 9.
The Tide is also trying to put the finishing touches on a season that will impress the NCAA Selection Committee, which will choose at-large teams for the 65-team national championship tournament and announce the field on March 12.
Most projections include Alabama in the NCAA field with the Tide generally assigned an eight or nine seed. That winner will meet the winner of a one vs. 16 game, which has always been a number one seed.
Both Alabama and Auburn are coming off big wins. Auburn ended a long SEC road losing streak with a 58-54 win over Ole Miss in Oxford Saturday. Alabama upset ninth-ranked Florida, 82-77, in Tuscaloosa Sunday. The Tide has won six straight home games since falling to Mississippi on the night of Davis' injury.
Chuck Davis will be back on the court Wednesday night, but it will be prior to tipoff. It is Senior Night in Tuscaloosa–the third time in the past five years Auburn has been the visiting team when Bama recognized its seniors. In addition to Davis, starter Evan Brock and top sub Jean Felix, will be honored in the pre-game ceremony. Gottfried said Brock has already earned his degree and that both Brock and Felix will be graduated in May.
That means that all 20 men to complete their senior seasons of basketball under Gottfried have also earned University degrees.
Brock (who averages 3.9 points per game) is joined in the Alabama starting lineup by sophomore guard Ron Steele, the Tide's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game; junior center Jermareo Davidson, who is averaging 14 points and nine rebounds per game; freshman forward Richard Hendrix, averaging 9.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game; and freshman point guard Brandon Hollinger, averaging 2.6 points per game.
In addition to Felix, who is averaging 8.2 points per game, the Alabama squad consists of only one more player, a third freshman. Forward Alonzo Gee is averaging 7.7 points per game.
Gottfried expects a difficult game from the Crimson Tide's cross-state rival. "Auburn is shooting the ball very well," Gottfried said. He pointed to the recent success of top sub Daniel Hayles (a former prep teammate of Bama's Hollinger at Mobile LeFlore), as well as that of senior Ronny LeMelle, who leads Auburn with a 12.6 points per game average, and Rasheem Barrett, averaging 11.1 points per game.
Gottfried pointed out that a smaller team like Auburn (which starts four guards and one forward) presents particular defensive match-up problems for a team with two post players, as Alabama uses. "That means either Richard (Hendrix) or Jermareo (Davidson) has to go out on a smaller guy," Gottfried said.
The Tide coach swaid that even though Alabama has a far better record than Auburn this year and even though Bama defeated the Tigers in Auburn earlier this season that there is no danger of the Tide overlooking Auburn. "We know we're not good enough to look past anyone," Gottfried said. "We have to play our best game every night or we'll be in trouble. We understand that Auburn is very capable."
The Tide coach also pointed out that Alabama is working with one day less rest than Auburn. The Tide played Sunday "while they were resting," Gottfried said. "We hope to have our legs, but it is a concern."