TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Ole Miss and Alabama are two teams trying to find out just who they are. They might know a little more about themselves late tonight.
Today at 5 p.m. the Rebels meet the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa to open the Southeastern Conference season for both squads. The game is televised by FoxSportsNet and SUN networks.
Alabama is 7-5 so far, and all its losses are to marquee names and solid programs – Memphis, Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, and Temple.
None of its wins have been against what one might call great teams. The Tide squeaked out a win in its last game, a 61-57 victory in Tuscaloosa against Birmingham Southern.
"We're still trying to figure our team out and learn about our team," said Mark Gottfried, in his eighth season as head coach of his alma mater. "Who's going to score from the perimeter? How are we going to play defensively game in and game out? We're still trying to figure it all out."
So is Rod Barnes, who like Gottfried is in his eighth season as head coach at his alma mater. The Rebels are 10-3 heading into today's action.
"We've been up and down," Barnes said. "We've played five to seven minutes of good basketball, and then like young teams, we'll have four or five minutes of not very good basketball. We need 35 to 40 minutes of really good basketball. We're deep, and we'll probably play at least 11 guys in the first half against Alabama. That's what we've done to get where we are today. But we just have not been consistent and that's hurt us in some games so far."
The Rebels have won four straight, including last Tuesday night's 65-59 win against Western Carolina in Oxford. But today is one of those tough road games in SEC play, and Barnes said he hopes his team is ready to compete.
"We need to play well," he said. "We start on the road (in the SEC) for the ninth time in the last 11 years. We need to get off to a good start. A victory would be great, and that's what we want. But we also need to gain confidence in our play. At 10-3 we've accomplished some things. Playing well and being competitive would be a huge accomplishment for our team and would help us as we start the conference season."
Barnes says with so many new players on his squad that it will take some time for them to adjust to the wars of the SEC.
"We do have an upside of being a very good basketball team," he said. "Are we playing as well right now as even what we did last year? I'm not sure yet. We weren't as talented last year, and this year's team has great potential. But at this particular point, I do not feel that good about where we are. As the season goes on, I'm certain I will feel better that we'll be able to compete with all the teams in our league."
Gottfried says he is impressed with what he sees from Ole Miss this season.
"They have much more talent and quickness," the former Alabama player said. "Rod has done a good job with them. They are bringing in a team that will compete hard and one that's improving all the time."
Barnes said he believes the Rebels will be able to matchup with Bama better on the boards this time around, a problem for them in recent seasons against the Tide.
"I do feel better about it (rebounding)," said the former Rebel player. "We have some size, but we're not a team that blocks out as we're capable of yet. With the youth, we aren't hitting the glass as we should at this particular time. We do have the size and strength, and we should matchup better with them this year."
Gottfried is pleased to be starting the SEC season at home. However three of the five losses his team has suffered this season have come inside the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum's 15,000 seats. Still the Alabama mentor says he is glad his team played such a tough non-conference schedule.
"I just wish we had played the same schedule and won a few more games," he quipped. "I don't want to play a soft schedule. Our players don't want that either. We could have been say 10-2 instead of 7-5, but we want to play a national schedule. It makes our team better in the long run."
Now it's SEC time, and both teams hope they are ready. The 16-game war begins today.
"We're excited about conference play," Barnes said. "It's time for us to play even better than we have. We're looking forward to it."
Complete game notes from Kyle Campbell of UM athletics media relations are on the Spirit message board and can also be found at olemisssports.com.
Rebs at Bama for SEC opener at 5 p.m. today
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