Bama searching for answers on offense

For a number of reasons, including chronic cold shooting and the recent addition of Kennedy Winston into the lineup, Alabama is still struggling to find itself on offense. <br><br>A fact that Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried frankly acknowledged at his Monday press conference. "I think in many ways offensively we're still a work in progress," he noted.

"We're getting wide open shots," Gottfried continued. "We're just not making them."

As a team Alabama is shooting .422 overall and .321 from beyond the three-point line. Coupled with Bama's excellent defense, those numbers are good enough to win most of the time. But occasionally--especially on the road as in the Tide's two losses to Utah and Vanderbilt--Alabama struggles mightily to score a field goal.

Opposing defenses are concentrating on Dudley this season, which has sometimes frustrated the Tide offensively. (Associated Press)

"I think we can play a lot better," Gottfried admitted. "At this point I don't think we're anywhere near where we can become. We're getting a lot of good shots, and we're going to start making them.

"At that point we'll start reaching our potential as a team."

One of the Tide's problems involves Erwin Dudley. The SEC Player of the Year last season, Dudley has been the focus of opposing defenses in virtually every game, drawing double- and triple-teams.

And the Tide has not always adjusted well.

In Saturday's one-point loss to the Commodores, Dudley managed only nine points. "Teams are focusing on Erwin, and they should," Gottfried said. "There are times when he's wide open, and we're not getting him the ball. That has to change.

"At other times Erwin has not been as aggressive in positioning himself and then asking for the ball. He needs to be more aggressive to get open."

Gottfried wrote down three points to emphasize with his squad at Monday's practice:

  1. We need to do a better job of getting Erwin the ball when he's open.
  2. Erwin has got to create more opportunities for himself.
  3. We need to do more within our offense to get him the ball.

When Dudley is open, Gottfried is determined that Bama's guards must do a better job making the entry pass. But the Tide's premier player must do his part as well. "You can't orchestrate every basket," Gottfried pointed out. "Great players get some on their own. Sometimes we really try to over-complicate basketball. At some point you've got to make the plays."

Gottfried also believes that the problem is circular. As Bama's overall offensive efficiency improves, then things will open up for everyone. "I do think as our other players get more comfortable in their roles, then it will be harder for opposing teams to take away any one player," he said.

From watching superstars like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in the NBA, fans have grown to expect one or two "go to" guys per team, players frankly eager to step up and take the big shot when the game is on the line.

Williams' shooting has significantly improved, but Alabama needs consistent production from other wing players as well. (GettyImages)

Saturday point guard Mo Williams drilled three three-pointers at the end of the game to keep the Tide close. But Gottfried envisions more than one athlete in that role.

"The really good teams have a number of players that can create their own shot, score on their own," he explained. "We've got a number of guys that can take and make big shots. Mo and Erwin have proven themselves, and I think that Kennedy Winston can become one of those guys as he gets more minutes under his belt."

The recent addition of Winston to the lineup has forced some adjustments to Bama's playing rotation. In recent games Emmett Thomas had seen significant minutes, but versus Vanderbilt he played only six. "We won't play them all--that's just part of the game," Gottfried explained. "There are not enough minutes to go around. Our players need to learn their roles."

Gottfried seems set on a starting lineup that would include Williams, Dudley, Winston and Kenny Walker. But the fifth shooting-guard slot is up for grabs.

Senior Terrance Meade starts most games, but he's frankly struggling right now, particularly with his outside shot. Sophomore Earnest Shelton has shown flashes, but at other times his shot has been badly off. Demetrius Smith has been slowed by injury. Emmett Thomas is probably more suited for the small forward position. And Antoine Pettway is clearly more effective coming off the bench than starting.

How Gottfried handles the wing players off the bench is still being worked out. "Pettway with his defense and ability to come off the bench is really in a different category, but we've got another group that is not that well defined," Gottfried acknowledged. Emmett, Earnest, Terrance and Demetrius can all provide scoring for us. But I'm not sure any of them have separated from the others. In one game I'll think it's Emmett, then Earnest will have a good game and so on.

"If one doesn't separate himself, then it may be up to the coach to make a decision and just go with him."

The Tide faces its third SEC opponent of the season this Wednesday, as Mississippi State visits Coleman Coliseum for a game with a 7 pm tipoff.

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