Alabama is 8-1 on the season and preparing to meet an undefeated Southern Miss (7-0) team in the Coors Classic at the Mitchell Center in Mobile Saturday. Tipoff is expected to be about 7:15 p.m. CST, depending on the completion time of the first game in the doubleheader. South Alabama meets Ole Miss in that preliminary game.
"We haven't come near playing as well as we can," Bama Coach Mark Gottfried said Wednesday. "We're ranked high, but I'm not sure we've earned it. We've been out of rhythm with guys missing time.
"We're not shooting foul shots well enough. We've not playing good enough defense. But it's a long season. We just have to play better."
The primary reason for Alabama not playing as well as Gottfried would like is that All-America point guard Ron Steele has been injured all year. Gottfried said it appeared there was improvement in Steele's right knee, where he has suffered with tendonitis, but that the left ankle he sprained at Notre Dame last week still has Steele slowed. Steele missed last Saturday's 92-58 win over Alabama State, the third game this year the junior has missed.
Steele, who is averaging 12.7 points and 5.0 assists per game, is questionable for this weekend. "He's no where near where we want him," Gottfried said. "I'm not sure if he'll play this weekend."
The Tide coach said Steele's situation was "frustrating. I know Ron is frustrated. He has missed all or half of 20 practices this year and it's only the middle of December."
Steele isn't the only high-profile absentee on the Crimson Tide practice court.
"Jermareo has missed eight or nine practices," Gottfried said. "Ron has missed three games and Jermareo has missed two games. We're trying to prepare for Southern Miss and Jermareo is in a chair and Ron is on the (exercise) bike."
Jermareo Davidson, the senior center for the Tide, is sitting out practice this week until he can be reinstated. Because of well-documented personal tragedies involving the death of his girl friend and crtical injury to his brother, it was decided that Davidson would take advantage of NCAA rules that allow a player in certain circumstances to cancel out his classes for a semester without losing eligibility.
"It's cases like Jermareo's that they made the rule for," Gottfried said.
By University of Alabama rules, Davidson had to withdraw before the start of final examinations, which meant he was withdrawn from classes last Friday. The NCAA rule says that he can be reinstated following the semester, but the NCAA doesn't consider the semester to end until final examinations end, which is this Friday. Thus, Davidson has been unable to practice this week while not enrolled.
"We have held him out of practice, but I am 100 per cent sure he will be reinstated," Gottfried said. "I fully anticipate him playing Saturday."
The coach said, "You do the best you can, but it is difficult to not have two of your starters. We go day-to-day and move on. Hopefully, soon, they will begin practicing and playing so our team can begin to build itself."
Davidson is averaging 14.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, but the 6-10 senior center has shot only 39 per cent from the field. Gottfried said that he had given Davidson freedom in his shot selection, but suggested that freedom might be curtailed a bit in order to encourage more realistic selection.
Gottfried said that if Steele is unable to play that junior Mykal Riley, who is averaging 11.9 points per game, will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Brandon Hollinger, a starter with Steele the last half of the 2006 season.
The other starters are sophomores, 6-8, 265-pound Richard Hendrix at power forward, averaging 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and 6-6 wing forward Alonzo Gee, averaging 16 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Gottfried is pleased to be taking the Crimson Tide to Mobile. Over the years Bama has played "home" games in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Mobile. The Tide has played in this December doubleheader the past few years. It is hosted by South Alabama, where Gottfried's father, Joe, is director of athletics. Bama's coach joked that "I might be able to say no to my dad, but I couldn't say no to my mom" regarding playing in Mobile.
Gottfried said Southern Miss, coached by Larry Eustachy, "has earned our respect." The Golden Eagles are particularly noteworthy as a rebounding team. Starting four freshmen and one sophomore, USM is averaging 44 rebounds per game and its opponents are averaging only 28.6. "They go after the ball hard on every rebound opportunity," Gottfried said.
Southern Miss is led in scoring by 6-2 freshman guard Jeremy Wise, who averages 16.9 points per game. The Golden Eagles use a three-guard system. Courtney Beasley, a 6-3 guard from Huntsville, is the only other USM player in double figures in scoring, averaging 11.3 points per game. The Golden Eagles have averaged a winning margin of 25.3 points per game.