File photo - Alabama coach Anthony Grant shouts to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
The Southeastern Conference will reach the midway mark of its league schedule in men's basketball this weekend, and the team with the best SEC record could be Alabama.
Anthony Grant's second Crimson Tide team is 5-1 in league play, which includes a win over Kentucky, and is the only team with only one league loss. The Tide went 6-10 in the SEC last year and did not perform well earlier this season, specifically at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they lost to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter's.
Alabama (13-7 overall) began its SEC schedule ranked 214th in the Ratings Percentage Index but had climbed to 113th as of Monday.
"Our guys understand our roles better, and with the experiences we had in November and December, I think we learned a lot," Grant said. "The success we've had of late has given our team some confidence as far as what we're capable of doing."
Alabama is one of five SEC teams in ESPN's new projected NCAA tournament bracket, slipping in as a 12 seed to join Kentucky (3 seed), Florida (5), Vanderbilt (6) and Tennessee (7). Georgia had been in the mock bracket before losing last week to Florida and Kentucky and is now ESPN's "first team out."
No shoes, no problem
Auburn 6-foot-10 sophomore center Rob Chubb forgot to pack his size-16 shoes for last Saturday's game at South Carolina. A teammate had an extra pair of size-14 1/2 shoes that he wore in warmups before South Carolina's staff came up with some 16s.
Chubb then went out and scored a career-high 18 points as Auburn stunned the Gamecocks 79-64 for its first league victory.
"If I had known that he didn't bring his shoes before that game, he wouldn't have started," Tigers coach Tony Barbee said. "I might not have played him. My assistant coaches did a good job of keeping that away from me."
Always looking ahead
Tennessee assistant Tony Jones is 4-2 while filling in for Bruce Pearl during Pearl's eight-game suspension and can clinch a winning interim mark Thursday when the Vols visit Auburn.
So what has Pearl been doing on a typical game day?
"I'm more like an assistant coach, and I'm doing the advanced scouting on the next opponent," Pearl said. "For example, this past Saturday, I was watching Auburn and Alabama tape, because whatever I could do for Ole Miss was done when the team pulled away.
"During the course of the game, I will take notes. I'm usually taking more notes at the beginning of games, because at the end I'm a fan screaming at the television."
As part of the SEC's enhanced television contract with ESPN that began last season, there will be times when teams have to play on a Thursday night and then Saturday. Vanderbilt won at Mississippi State last Thursday but fell flat at home two days later against Arkansas.
"It's something that everybody in the league but Kentucky has to do," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said.
Kentucky is the only East Division team that doesn't face the Thursday-Saturday predicament, but Arkansas and LSU don't have to deal with it among West teams. Auburn, Florida and Vandy have that combo twice this season.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...