The Southeast Regional has its top four seeds still playing, but one may just have a little more on the line for program pride.
Arkansas, Indiana and Kansas have all tasted Final Four success in the last four seasons with the latter two leaving with championship trophies in 1987 and 1988.Alabama has been different. The Crimson Tide has been successful reaching this round of 16 for the fifth time in the last seven years.
"I'd thought you'd never ask," Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson said Wednesday as the media began asking about the inability to reach the regional finals. "I'm very proud the basketball program at Alabama has reached the final 16 five times but you're all anxious for the story of why we haven't gone any farther. Well, we just have never been able to pull the surprise or the upset and most of the teams we have played have been one or two seeds and they've won."
It will be the same for the Crimson Tide (23-9) this year as the No. 4 seed will face top-seeded Arkansas (33-3) on Thursday before second-seeded Indiana (29-4) meets Kansas (24-7).
The Razorbacks have managed to score at a 100 points-per-game clip this season and Nolan Richardson's team has done it with the fullcourt pressure defense.
"The main thing for us is to beat the pressure," Sanderson said. "They forced 813 turnovers this season and only committed 500 themselves and that tells you a whole lot right there. They are a seasoned team and you don't win 33 games unless you are."
Arkansas center Oliver Miller injured himself slightly Wednesday, aggravating a groin muscle, but Razorbacks officials said he would play. Sanderson could face a problem with the uncertain status of Robert Horry and James Robinson due to nagging injuries.
"James hasn't been allowed to practice very much the last three games since he injured his knee and Robert has been bothered by a groin pull all season," Sanderson said. "I'm concerned about whether they will be able to play."
Robinson leads the Crimson Tide with 16.7 points per game in a reserve role and Horry, suspended for the opening game of the SEC tournament for an "attitude problem," is the top rebounder at eight per game and will also be the inbounder against the Arkansas pressure.
"If they put on their shoes and come out, I'm not going to consider them injured," Richardson said, adding he thinks Alabama will try to slow the tempo.
"I believe Wimp will do whatever it takes and we have to anticipate they will back it out if they feel they can't run," he said. "We played some teams in the conference this season which put the ball in the deep freeze, but I don't think they'll do that. That's why you always prepare your team for what it does best."