Alabama's Mark Gottfried played on three straight Sweet 16 teams (1985-86-87), while Mike Davis of the Hoosiers graduated from The University in 1983 after a four-year career. A native of Fayette, Alabama, Davis played in the NCAA Tournament twice, reaching the Sweet 16 himself in 1982.
"It was a great feeling, but also a surprise," Davis said, describing his thoughts when he learned of his team's first-round opponent. "I thought I had seen it all in coaching, but to have our first game against my school where I played and coached… Well, I've definitely experienced it all now.
"I hope my family isn't too torn between Alabama and Indiana."
By the time Gottfried arrived at Alabama Davis had graduated, but the two knew each other from pickup games on campus. "Sometimes the committee has a strange sense of humor," Gottfried said, noting the deep Bama ties shared by the two coaches. "It makes for good stories leading up to the game."
As coaches both men are familiar with "March Madness." Gottfried took Murray State to the tournament twice, and last year's Tide squad made it to the second round. Davis guided Indiana all the way to the 2002 Final Four, where the Hoosiers came up short against national champion Maryland.
One of Alabama's favorite sons, Davis was honored by his hometown last season, following Indiana's Cinderella tournament run. "Attending The University was great for me," Davis said. "I played my heart out for the fans. I tried to work hard every practice and every game. I'll always remember my teammates and the (Alabama) fans. It's nice to be a part of that program."
The Tide will enter the tournament as a No. 10 seed, while Indiana is seeded seventh. Alabama will be making its 16th appearance in the NCAAs. The two teams have met twice before, including a memorable tournament match-up in 1976 in which the Tide gave the eventual undefeated and national champion Hoosiers all they wanted, before falling 69-74.
Games in Bama's bracket of the Midwest regional will be played in Boston's FleetCenter, with tipoff Friday scheduled at approximately 8:30 pm (CST).
Davis might prefer to play down his personal history this week, but it's not likely the media will let him. "My telephone was ringing all night last night," he related Monday. "I'm just not answering the phone. I look at it that I'm blessed to be in this situation. But my stomach is churning with excitement."
Like Davis, Gottfried will try to concentrate exclusively on the task ahead: winning the first game and advancing in the tournament. But it won't be easy. Gottfried explained, "I probably won't speak to Mike before the game, but I'm happy about his team's selection. It makes for a warped feeling. You want your friend to do well, but you're staring at him as your first-round opponent.
"And in the tournament, it's ‘one and done.'"
The two head coaches will be working to keep distractions to a minimum and remain focused on the game alone. But neither man is worried about his players. "You've got to win that first game in order to make any noise," Gottfried said. "Our players think they can play with anybody in the tournament. It's just a matter of getting a good start in the game."
Davis definitely agrees. "I don't think the players care at all," he said. "They don't always listen to what I say to them anyway, so I know they don't care where I went to school.
"We've got the same opportunity that 65 other teams have. We've got to only think about winning."
The winner of Friday's Alabama/Indiana game will advance to Sunday's second round, where the opponent will be either Wagner or Pittsburgh.