The Crimson Tide was picked for second behind the defending league champion Bulldogs in the preseason media poll and has been impressive in rolling to seven victories in eight games while the Bulldogs have lost twice.
If there is anything working against the Tide it could be the team's depth. Only eight players have appeared in all eight of Alabama's games, and only one reserve, Jean Felix, is averaging as many as five points a game.
Center Jermaro Davidson is the only starting not averaging more than 30 minutes a game. He averages 24. In the 72-54 victory over Alabama State he played 33 minutes as subs got in only a handful of minutes apiece. Of the reserves, Felix got in the most court time that game -- nine minutes.
The Tide opens SEC play at Vanderbilt Jan. 5 and has five of its first eight conference games on the road.
Alabama, which led the nation in scoring at 91.7 points per game going into its contest against Alabama State, was held to a season-low in its 72-54 victory over the Hornets. The Tide shot well (53.8 percent) but had only 52 field goal attempts. Four starters were in double figures, topped by Kennedy Winston's 21 points.
-- The Tide was only 6-of-23 from three-point range but still hit nearly 50 percent in (39-of-80) in beating Charlotte 102-101 in triple-overtime. Alabama was 18-of-22 from the free throw line to Charlotte's 23-of-38 performance.
-- Charlotte became the 25th team in Alabama history to reach triple digits against the Tide but was only the second to lose after doing so. Alabama beat LSU 106-104 in 1970.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Ronald Steele, shooting guard Earnest Shelton, center Jermareo Davidson, forward Kennedy Winston, forward Chuck Davis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to get more out of our bench and those young players." -- Coach Mike Gottfried
KEYS: Even though Temple is not the team it once was, the Tide will have to handle the Owls' usual patience and zone defense. The Owls held Villanova to 31.1 percent shooting in a 53-52 victory recently. The Tide has a week between games after playing host to the Owls. Its lone remaining non-conference road game is at Wisconsin Dec. 29.
ROSTER REPORT: Junior Kennedy Winston scored a career-high 33 points and hit the decisive basket in Alabama's 102-101 triple-overtime victory over Charlotte. Winston also hit a basket with 2.9 seconds left in regulation to send the game into the first extra period. Coupled with his 21 points and 10 rebounds against East Tennessee State, Winston was named National Player of the Week by ESPN and the Sporting News.
-- Winston may have had the hot hand recently, but Earnest Shelton leads the team in scoring through eight games with 19.1 ppg. Winston's average is 18.5 and Chuck Davis' 16.9.
============== ARKANSAS ==============
Arkansas is making some noise in the SEC West. After losing to top-ranked Illinois 72-60 at North Little Rock for its first loss, the Razorbacks posted an impressive 62-52 victory at Missouri.
It was the fourth time in the first seven games the Razorbacks have won away from Fayetteville. They were 3-0 at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier in the season.
One of the more encouraging signs for the Hogs was their second-half shooting performance at Missouri. After hitting only 36.5 percent from the field in the loss to Illinois and only 39 percent in the first half against the Tigers, the Razorbacks blistered the nets at a 60 percent rate in the second half, going 12-for-20.
The Razorbacks now take a break until Dec. 16 when they are host to Tennessee State. They open SEC play Jan. 5 against Ole Miss in Fayetteville.
Arkansas' defense was tough at Missouri. The Razorbacks held the Tigers to 31 percent shooting in the first half (9-of-29) and stepped it up from there, holding them to 28.6 percent (8-of-28) in the second. The Tigers actually had more turnovers (18) than field goals (17) against the Hogs.
-- The Razorbacks are struggling at the free throw line, converting at only a 64.8 pace (114-of-176). The leader is Charles Thomas (24-of-32, or 75 percent), but top scorer Ronnie Brewer is hitting only 59.5 percent (22-of-37). Center Steven Hill has managed only 33.3 percent (4-of-12).
-- Arkansas has 49 blocks while opponents have only 17. Hill has 25 blocks by himself.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This was a game where we could gauge ourselves and see where we are right now. We wanted to be in position to win, and we almost got there today. -- Coach Stan Heath, after the Hogs' 72-60 loss to Arkansas at North Little Rock.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Tennessee State, Thursday, Dec. 16; vs. Prairie View A&M, Saturday, Dec. 18; vs. Lipscomb, Monday, Dec. 20.
KEYS: Arkansas needs to pick up its free throw shooting. The Hogs figure to have little trouble through the rest of the month, but once conference play starts, they are going to have to do much better than the 64.8 percent they currently are hitting.
ROSTER REPORT: Junior Dontell Jefferson moved into the starting lineup against Missouri after Jonathan Modica struggled in the previous game against Illinois. Modica, the team's leading returning scorer, had three turnovers and only two points in the loss to Illinois and had three more turnovers and only three points in the win over Missouri.
-- Ronnie Brewer tops the Hogs in scoring at 16.4 ppg. Others in double figures are Eric Ferguson (12.6 off the bench) and Olu Famutimi (10.4).
============== AUBURN ==============
It is becoming quite evident that undersized Auburn is going to have to hustle its way for any victory it gets.
The Tigers were going back and forth with College of Charleston in their last outing before turning up the pressure near the end of the first half to take a 34-24 lead at the break on their way to a 76-61 victory.
Auburn shot well (52.6 percent) from the floor and out-rebounded the Cavaliers 34-33 in the loss at Richmond. That was encouraging, but two nights later the Tigers lost at home to Wofford, where they didn't shoot as well (43.5 percent) and were out-rebounded by 16.
Football teams may be accustomed to playing in the worst of weather elements, but basketball teams? Auburn was leading College of Charleston in the second half of their Dec. 7 night game when play was halted ... because of ice on the floor.
Unseasonably warm weather coupled with an ice rink under the basketball floor led to excessive condensation and a delay with less than 14 minutes left and the Tigers leading 43-27.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the floor was dried and they continued to the 76-61 victory.
-- Auburn was out-rebounded 38-29 in a 85-76 home loss to Wofford but bounced backed with a whopping 46-29 advantage on the boards in the victory at College of Charleston.
-- The Tigers had only nine assists in their loss to Wofford and were only 4-of-24 from three-point range.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "One more slip and it would have been suspended. It's not what I wanted to do." -- Coach Jeff Lebo, after several players on both teams had trouble with footing because of condensation on the floor at the College of Charleston game
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. UNLV Sunday, Dec. 12; vs. Delaware, Monday, Dec. 20 (San Juan Shootout); vs. Middle Tennessee State, Tuesday, Dec. 21 (San Juan Shootout); vs. Toledo, Wednesday, Dec. 22 (San Juan Shootout).
KEYS: Auburn beat College of Charleston without shooting well from three-point range (5-of-22), but that was because Charleston helped by going 0-of-13. With four guards starting and five sometimes playing, the Tigers can create match-up problems for opponents, but they have an equally difficult time at the defensive end.
ROSTER REPORT: Senior guard Ronny LeMelle scored a season-high 15 points, gathered in four rebounds and had three assists in the loss to Virginia. LeMelle made his season debut against Louisiana Tech Nov. 27 after missing three games because of a knee injury.
-- Freshman Toney Douglas showed just how flighty first-year players can be. After scoring 38 points against Virginia, he was held to three the next outing, going 0-of-7 from the field in the loss to Wofford. He had 17 against Charleston.
============== LSU ==============
LSU ends a long layoff Dec. 11 when the Tigers are home against Northwestern State in the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers haven't played since Nov. 27, when they dropped an 84-69 decision to West Virginia for their first loss.
They play again on Dec. 13 against McNeese State, then meet Southern Mississippi Dec. 18 at Biloxi, Miss.
Coach John Brady said he would emphasize defense in the long downtime after the Mountaineers blistered his Tigers for 60 percent shooting.
Northwestern State could be a good measure to see how the Tigers have progressed. The Demons are shooting 46.4 percent for the season (187-of-403) but only 37-of-114 (32.5 percent) from behind the three-point arc.
They are coming off an 85-72 victory over Tulane in which they shot under 50 percent (23-of-50) for the first time in five games. They were 10-of-18 on treys, however.
After the games against Northwestern, McNeese and Southern Mississippi, the Tigers will play two of their next three on the road (at Houston Dec. 21, at Utah Jan. 3) with Florida State at a neutral site in New Orleans Dec. 30.
The Tigers open SEC play Jan. 8 at Alabama.
Balance is one of the strengths LSU has demonstrated in the early season.
The Tigers have five players averaging in double figures, topped by the 17.0 ppg of Brandon Bass. Next comes Antonio Hudson (14.0) followed by Darrell Mitchell (13.8), Tack Minor (12.3) and Glen Davis (10.8). Darnell Lazare is tops among reserves at 5.0.
-- LSU has been deadeye from three-point range. The Tigers are 41.8 percent on treys (33-of-79). Opponents are hitting 35.1 percent (26-of-74).
-- The Tigers are dominating opponents on the boards, averaging 37.5 rebounds per game to opponents' 29.0.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Tack Minor, guard Darrell Mitchell, guard Antonio Hudson, forward Brandon Bass, forward Glen Davis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll start another one." -- Coach John Brady, whose team had a 56-game home winning streak in non-conference games snapped in the loss to West Virginia last month
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Northwestern State, Saturday, Dec. 11; vs. McNeese State, Monday, Dec. 13; vs. Southern Mississippi, Saturday, Dec. 18, Biloxi, Miss.; at Houston, Tuesday, Dec. 21.
KEYS: LSU will have to shake off the rest when the Tigers play Northwestern State Saturday. The Tigers haven't played since losing to West Virginia 84-69 on Nov. 27. In that game the Tigers shot only 38.6 percent (22-of-57).
ROSTER REPORT: Junior Antonio Hudson, whose scoring average dropped to 7.5 ppg his sophomore season after he had averaged 10.3 ppg as a freshman, is averaging 14.0 ppg, just three off the pace of team leader Brandon Bass. Hudson is 10-of-21 from three-point range.
-- Glenn Davis, a 6-9 310-pound freshman, leads the Tigers in rebounding with 39 in just four games.
============== MISSISSIPPI ==============
Off to a 2-4 start and with a trip to Memphis coming up, Ole Miss faces an uphill task to get to .500 or better by the time SEC play begins.
The one thing in the Rebels' favor is that five of their six games following their visit with the Tigers will be at home, and on the surface most appear winnable.
Also, after taking earlier beatings (60-36 to Air Force and 70-52 to Illinois State), the Rebels have been competitive in their last two losses. They lost at Arkansas State 70-68 and to Florida State 69-64 at home.
They had a chance to tie late against Florida State but a turnover was critical, allowing the Seminoles to hit a clinching basket.
Their shooting deserted them against Florida State, and with the struggles they have on the boards, that can be fatal for the Rebels. They were only 24-of-62 from the floor against the Seminoles (38.7 percent) after hitting 43.5 percent through their first five games.
The Rebels have a tough opener in conference play, going to Arkansas Jan. 5 and then must come back home to face defending SEC champion Mississippi State on Jan. 8.
Ole Miss had its worst three-point shooting night of the season in the loss to Florida State, going only 9-of-31 (29 percent) from behind the line. Going into the game, the Rebels were 41-of-97 (42.3 percent). Londrick Nolen (11-of-24, 45.8 percent) and Justin Johnson (12-of-28, 42.9 percent) are the leaders.
-- The Rebels are getting beat up on the boards. Opponents are averaging 30.5 rpg to their 27.2. Ole Miss has been out-rebounded in three games and matched the opponent once. The Rebels managed to win the board battle against South Carolina State and Arkansas State.
-- The back-to-back losses to Arkansas State and Florida State dropped the Rebels to 70-21 in non-conference games under coach Rod Barnes, who is in his seventh season at Oxford.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's tough, but it's clear that we're still getting better. There were opportunities in the first half to fold the tent, and we didn't. We had a chance to win the game and we didn't." -- Coach Rod Barnes, after the five-point loss to Florida State
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Memphis, Saturday, Dec. 11; vs. Nicholls State, Monday, Dec. 13; vs. Troy State, Wednesday, Dec. 15; Louisiana-Monroe, Saturday, Dec. 18; vs. UT-Martin, Tuesday, Dec. 21.
KEYS: The Rebels figure to have a tough time rebounding against Memphis. The Tigers are a plus-5.2 in rebounding over their opponents and the Rebels are a minus-3.3. The Rebels have to be "on" their perimeter game with their shooting to win this road test.
ROSTER REPORT: Tommie Eddie and Londrick Nolen are the only two Rebels averaging in double figures (11.2 ppg and 11.0 ppg, respectively). They also lead the team in rebounding with Eddie at 4.7 rpg and Nolen at 4.5.
-- Freshman guard Brandon Patterson is off to an impressive start. He got his first career start against Tennessee Tech and scored 19 points, knocking down five treys. Though held to only two points in the loss to Florida State, Patterson is shooting at an even 40 percent clip (10-of-25) in three-pointers.
==================== MISSISSIPPI STATE ===================
Mississippi State wasn't particularly sharp in a 66-52 victory over South Alabama and lost its next game 68-64 to Arizona despite holding the Wildcats scoreless over a six-minute span near the end of the game.
"They're good and outstanding on the break," South Alabama coach John Pelphrey said. "Obviously, Lawrence Roberts is a great player, and they have some great defense with Frazier and Power. Gary Ervin's coming into his own.
"They're very good and are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
If there is an unsettling aspect it is that the team hasn't found a way to win recently without getting a big contribution from Roberts. The Bulldogs did win their first two games when he was sitting out due to NCAA penalties, but in their two losses, Roberts has scored a total of only 16 points -- nine against Syracuse and seven against Arizona. He is averaging 14.7 points for the season.
The Bulldogs have two neutral site games coming up later this month -- vs. Jacksonville State on Dec. 22 in Jackson, Miss., and vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 30 in New Orleans -- before opening its SEC schedule Jan. 5 at home against Auburn.
The end of Mississippi State's loss to Arizona was a little confusing.
After closing a nine-point deficit to 65-64, the Bulldogs were working the ball offensively in the final minute when Arizona's Hassan Adams apparently stole the ball from Gary Irvin. Irvin got it right back, and though Adams did take a dribble, it was ruled he never had possession so the Bulldogs didn't get a new shot clock. They had only three seconds to get off a shot, which was blocked.
The Bulldogs still had another chance, trailing by a point with 17 seconds left, but they committed a turnover.
-- The Bulldogs are shooting only 41.5 percent from the field (33.1 percent from behind the arc) but are holding opponents to 36.7 and 26.2 percent, respectively.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Gary Irvin, shooting guard Winsome Frazier, center Marcus Campbell, forward Lawrence Roberts, forward Shane Power.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "In practice, I'm known as the crazy one and they call me the animal. I'm always the one diving on the floor for loose balls and trying to give the team a lot of energy." -- Guard Dietric Slater, who didn't have a point but handed out three assists and came up with three steals in just 16 minutes against South Alabama
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Saturday, Dec. 11; at New Orleans, Monday, Dec. 13; at Xavier, Saturday, Dec. 18; vs. Florida A&M, Monday, Dec. 20.
KEYS: The Bulldogs, who trailed Arizona by a double-digit margin in the second half before rallying, need to avoid falling behind early. That also was a factor in their loss to Syracuse. They also need to find another answer to go along with Lawrence Roberts and Winsome Frazier, their only double-figure scorers.
ROSTER REPORT: Lawrence Roberts drew Arizona's attention and managed only seven points in the four-point loss to the Wildcats. He didn't even get a shot through the first seven minutes. He was coming off a 19-point, 13-rebound effort in the victory over South Alabama.