MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama coach Mark Gottfried is doing his best to keep his high-flying team's feet planted on the ground.
"There's been some locker room talk that we're practicing like we've lost all six of our games," guard Doc Martin said.
Actually, the Crimson Tide (6-0) are off to their best start in four seasons and winning by an average of 29.7 points. They've shot up to No. 18 nationally after a nearly three-year absence from the rankings, and freshman sensation Gerald Wallace is already leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring.
Gottfried also is well aware that his team hasn't played the strongest of competition. The first seven opponents, including North Texas Saturday night in South Alabama's Coors Classic, were a combined 10-33 through Wednesday and none had a winning record.
"Obviously, our players understand the schedule in January and February is a little different than it's been here for us so far," Gottfried said Thursday.
Alabama has beaten up on teams like Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-7) and Grambling (0-3). The Tide's biggest win so far was a 29-point victory over an inexperienced, 2-5 Louisville team.
"When we scheduled Louisville, we thought it would be a tremendous challenge for us, and it ended up being a pretty wide margin for us," Gottfried said.
Now, the Tide must adjust to life without the leadership and inside presence of senior center Jeremy Hays. Hays decided to quit the team last week because of constant pain from a benign tumor in his right leg that hasn't subsided after six months of treatment.
He had seen limited action this season.
"He's a guy we look to off the court (and) on the court. He's a great teammate," forward Sam Haginas said. "Even though he was injured, he was a great leader all around. His presence made a difference, and we're going to really miss him."
In the meantime, Wallace has been creating a stir with his rim-rocking dunks and instant production off the bench. He was named SEC player of the week Monday and is averaging 20.3 points per game despite playing less than 25 minutes.
Wallace leads the team with 14 steals and is second in blocks (nine) and rebounds per game (7.5).
He's merely the most prominent player in the Tide's youth movement.
Sophomores Rod Grizzard (16.5 ppg), Terrance Meade (13.8) and Erwin Dudley (13.0) are also scoring in double figures.
Gottfried's high expectations have worn off on the players.
"That's the sign of a good coach," Martin said. "He doesn't settle for being ranked just 18th, he wants to be on top.
"When the head coach feels that way, the attitude kind of filters down to the players."
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