Will It Be Riley?

Orlando Early won't find things quite as familiar as he might have expected to remember them. For one thing, Coleman Coliseum has undergone a dramatic remodeling job since Early was an assistant under Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried 2001-05. For another, when Early was on the bench of a highly-ranked team, it was Bama.

Early returns to Tuscaloosa at 7 p.m. CST today as head coach of Louisiana Monroe. The Warhawks will take on an Alabama team that is solidly in the nation's top ten.

In the latest rankings, the Crimson Tide has moved up. The Crimson Tide is 5-0, with wins, in order, against Jackson State, Middle Tennessee, Iowa, Xavier and Texas Southern.

Alabama climbed one spot from number five to number four in Scout.com rankings compiled by national basketball expert Frank Burlison. The Tide went up two spots in other polls released Monday. Alabama is number six in the Associated Press rankings and seventh in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Alabama's most active season in the Top 10 under Gottfried's era previously came in 2002-03. Alabama began the season at number eight and spent November 11, 2002 through January 15, 2003 in the AP Top 10. Its highest ranking that year was the school's highest ranking ever when Alabama climbed to Number One for two straight weeks in the December 23 and December 30th polls. That season marked its last time in the Top Five as its last time in the AP top five was at fourth in the January 6, 2003 poll. Alabama started the 2006-07 season at 11th AP and 12th Coaches in the October 27 preseason poll and moved into the AP Top 10 at number 10 the following week and into the Coaches Top 10 at eighth on November 18.

ULM is 3-3. The Tide is at midpoint of a three-game home stand. It hosted and defeated Texas Southern 74-44 on Saturday night. Alabama hosts Tennessee State at 2:30 CST Saturday. That game is a doubleheader with the Alabama women who play Savannah State at noon CST.

The Tide men are led in scoring by John R. Wooden and Naismith candidate Jermareo Davidson who is averaging the double-double, 14.5 points and 11.0 rebounds. Three other Alabama starters are averaging in double digits in scoring, including Alonzo Gee at 14.2 points a game, and both Richard Hendrix and Ron Steele at 12.8 points a game.

"Louisiana Monroe is a very good basketball team," said Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried. "Orlando Early, their coach who we know well, has done a great job. They're guard-oriented, and they can really score the ball from the perimeter so we've got to do a really good job of defending them. I like their personnel. They have very good players, so we've got to get ready to play. I think we need to be a lot better than we were a couple of nights ago (Saturday, against Texas Southern), and we've addressed some of that in practice, and we'll see if we have a better energy level on Tuesday night than we saw the other night.

"We're doing some things well," said Gottfried, "but I also think there are so many areas in the game where we can improve. We're not near the team that we can become later in the year, but I do like our guys. I like where we are. We've just got to get a lot better."

Alabama played its last game without All-America point guard Ron Steele, who has been suffering with tendonitis in his knee. Gottfried said, "He's day to day. We're still monitoring him from a precautionary standpoint, and we have not decided whether he will play or not. If he does not play, Mykal Riley will start."

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