Alabama hasn't let up on the basketball court in recent weeks, and coach Anthony Grant doesn't see the need to start now.
The Crimson Tide have secured their first Southeastern Conference West Division title since 2005 with four games remaining in the regular season. Alabama is 10-2 in league games and has swept Mississippi State, which is second in the West at 6-6.
"Our guys understand where we are as a basketball team," Grant said Monday. "Every coach in the league will tell you that the home stretch is always critical."
Alabama's sizzling success in SEC play has gone relatively unnoticed nationally, with the 18-8 Tide receiving 15 votes in the newest Associated Press poll and none in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. The Tide began league play with an 8-6 record, a ranking of 214th in the Ratings Percentage Index and without any wins against top-100 teams.
"You want your team to be playing its best leading into the month of March," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "If they're not garnering the respect that they deserve, they will certainly do so if they continue to play the way they have."
Said Grant: "We're excited about the opportunity we have in front of us, and we're excited and proud about what our team has accomplished to this point."
Alabama 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Tony Mitchell is the SEC player of the week after averaging 20 points in wins over LSU and Arkansas.
Florida could clinch at least a share of the East title with wins this week against Georgia and Kentucky, but the Gators could be without Chandler Parsons. The 6-10 senior forward, who averages 10.8 points per game and leads the team in rebounds (7.7) and minutes played (33.5), has a thigh bruise that forced him to miss Sunday's win at LSU.
"I'm not overly optimistic that he'll play," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "The last time he did anything physically was this past Friday, and he really couldn't get much done at all."
Georgia coach Mark Fox said he will prepare for Thursday in Gainesville as if Parsons will be available.
A year after going 0-8 in SEC road games, Georgia is 4-2 this season and is coming off a 69-63 win at Tennessee.
"We're just a lot better mentally than we were a year ago," Fox said. "At our first road game last year, we had guys who forgot their sneakers and just weren't prepared to take trips the right way. We've just grown up and are more mature."
The Bulldogs have been better on the road than inside Stegeman Coliseum, where they are 3-3 in conference contests.
South Carolina held its own early in the East race, defeating Vanderbilt and Florida, but the Gamecocks are 4-8 in league play and have lost five straight games. They are coming off a 90-59 loss at Kentucky, where they trailed 50-21 at halftime.
"We have tried to stay focused on continuing to play and make it about competing, and I thought we were making progress," coach Darrin Horn said. "The minute Kentucky made some shots and got a few easy baskets on Saturday, it just seemed like we made up our mind that it was going to be another one of those days. At some point, the inexperience and youth becomes just what it is.
"We just have to grow up a little bit, because we didn't give ourselves a chance to win on Saturday."
Odds and ends
The SEC still has six teams in ESPN's projected NCAA bracket with Florida (as a 3 seed), Kentucky (5), Vanderbilt (5), Tennessee (8), Alabama (10) and Georgia (10). ... Georgia, which is tied for third in the East with Kentucky at 7-5, hasn't finished with a superior league record to the Wildcats since 1990. ... Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, the league's freshman of the week, has four double-doubles in his last six games.
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 ...