The Warriors are coached by Tom Crean. When Mark Gottfried addressed the Alabama media following the announcement of the 65 teams in this year's NCAA Tournament, he said that "Tom Crean is a guy I know well." Later it came out just how well. Crean is married to Gottfried's cousin, the former Joanie Harbaugh. She's the sister of former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who is now the head football coach at San Diego State (just one of several connections in this year's bracket). Joanie and Jim's father, Jack, is Gottfried's mother's sister and Mark's godfather.
Understandably, Gottfried said Marquette is a team he watches when he can and "roots for." Just as understandably, and needlessly, he said he would not be cheering for the Warriors Thursday.
Although Gottfried went through those branches of the family tree, he was more concerned about the likes of Marquette's 6-10 senior Steve Novak, an excellent outside shooter, than about several peripheral aspects of the tournament draw.
Following his Alabama playing career, Mark played a year for Athletes in Action, based in San Diego, and lived there for a year. "I have a lot of friends there," he said.
After that, he coached at UCLA for seven years. If Alabama gets by Marquette, it is likely that UCLA (the number two seed, playing 15th seed Belmont) will be waiting. Gottfried did not that he expects UCLA is excited about the possibility of playing two games in San Diego and then two in Oakland, never having to leave the state of California to get to the Final Four in Indianapolis April 1 and 3.
If Alabama defeats both Marquette, the seventh seed, and UCLA, it is possible the Tide would have a date with Indiana, playing its final games under Head Coach Mike Davis, like Gottfried a former Alabama guard.
This is the second consecutive year for Bama to have a first round game against a team from Milwaukee. Last year Bama was bounced in an upset by Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 83-73, then coached by Bruce Pearl, who is now at Tennessee.
This is Alabama's 19th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The number one seed in the Oakland bracket is Memphis, which defeated Alabama, 87-76, in Tuscaloosa in the second game of the season, a Pre-Season NIT game.
Gottfried said, "I'm excited for our players and our program. It's quite a statement in that it's five in a row for us."
Although some considered the Tide a "bubble team" which could have been left out with an upset or two in a conference tournament, Gottfried said, "We have done what the (NCAA Selection) Committee has asked us to do. I think there's a reward for playing a rigorous non-conference schedule. I also think the players did what they could do by going 10-6 in the Southeastern Conference."
Alabama is on a two-game losing streak, at Mississippi State and to Kentucky in the Tide's first game (second round) of the SEC Tournament. Bama has a 17-12 record.
Marquette, a first-year member of the Big East after leaving Conference USA, is 20-10. The Warriors were 10-6 in Big East play, including an impressive 94-79 win over second ranked Connecticut.
Marquette's star, Novak, is sometimes used as a fourth perimeter player, which Gottfried noted would present a difficult match-up problem for Bama. Novak is an excellent outside shooter. He has made 116 of 250 three-point shots (46.4 per cent) and 72 of 74 free throws (97.3 per cent). He averages 17.5 points per game. He's also Marquette's top rebounder at six per game.
Alabama and Marquette had a few common opponents. Early in the year Bama defeated Winthrop, 60-57, while Winthrop was a 71-64 winner over Marquette in Milwaukee. But the Warriors defeated South Carolina, 92-89 in overtime, and split with Notre Dame, winning 67-65 at home and falling 80-72 in South Bend. Alabama lost to Notre Dame, 78-71, in Tuscaloosa and fell to South Carolina, 67-56, in Columbia.
Gottfried had been making a case for Alabama to be in the tournament in recent days. Was he nervous? "You're always a little nervous," he said. "I was more anxious. But it was a relief when our name came across."
The Tide coach said, "It's important to go to the NCAA Tournament. We want to be a team that consistently gets into the national championship tournament. But neither I nor our players will be satisfied just getting in. We want to advance."