Quick hitters for Friday before a blockbuster weekend:
• Alabama won't have senior point guard Ronald Steele for Saturday's game at Auburn. Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said Friday that Steele is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis on his left foot. Steele sat out last season with knee injuries. He declared for the NBA draft but then returned. This could be a crushing blow to the Tide. Steele had started to resemble his old self when he scored 23 points, dished out 10 assists and had two steals in an 11-point win over Georgia Tech.
But the coaching staff said Steele started to complain that his foot was sore. He still had 10 points, four assists and just one turnover in the loss at Clemson. He played 36 minutes in the SEC-opening win over LSU but was 2-of-10 for five points, two assists and three turnovers -- easily his worst game of the season. Gottfried held him out of the road game at Mississippi State, an 83-74 loss to the rival Bulldogs.
In his absence, Mikhail Torrance scored 20 points with two assists and zero turnovers in 22 minutes, and Brandon Hollinger scored seven points and had two assists and two turnovers in 31 minutes. Gottfried said Torrance and Hollinger will share the point guard duties for the foreseeable future.
"I still think we'll be OK," Gottfried said.
The Tide were counting on Steele's being healthy this season, especially if they were going to make a comeback and be competitive in the SEC. Now at 11-5 and 1-1 in the SEC, Alabama heads to Auburn on Saturday, with Ole Miss and Kentucky next week at home.
Alabama played poorly early in the season in losses to Mercer and Oregon (in Maui) but then won nine of 10 games, with the only loss being to Texas A&M in overtime at home. So there was still hope, especially after giving Clemson fits for 40 minutes in a loss in South Carolina. But the season is still fragile without Steele, and a lot of it will be determined by how the Tide does this week with the next three games. The SEC West is wide open, but it's likely open only to those who are at full strength.
• Northwestern's loss Thursday had to be crushing. The Wildcats were ahead for most of the game against Purdue but couldn't close out the Boilermakers in the final few seconds. The loss describes the Bill Carmody era: close, but just not good enough to finish off a key game. Northwestern fell to 0-4 in the Big Ten, 8-6 overall and likely to continue the longest drought of a high-major conference team never making the NCAAs. Meanwhile, Purdue desperately needed the win to get to 2-2. A 1-3 start could have been devastating for the Boilermakers' chances of catching Michigan State.
• Start including Tubby Smith of Minnesota in all coach-of-the-year conversations. Smith's Gophers won in overtime at Wisconsin on Thursday behind Lawrence Westbrook's 29 points. The Gophers are 4-1 in the Big Ten and 16-1 overall. Amazing.
• Butler continues to roll. The Bulldogs are 15-1 overall and 6-0 in the Horizon after beating Loyola. Brad Stevens should also be in any coach-of-the-year discussions.
• Connecticut gets plenty of kudos for sweeping a three-game Big East road trip to West Virginia, Cincinnati and St. John's.
• Northeastern's Bill Coen continues to do his part to set up a showdown of undefeated CAA teams Wednesday night in Boston after winning at Delaware on Thursday. The Huskies (11-5, 6-0) play at Hofstra on Saturday, while George Mason (13-3, 6-0) plays host to James Madison on Saturday.
• UCLA's Darren Collison said the right thing about not overlooking Arizona before a huge game against Arizona State on Saturday. But USC diminished somewhat the Bruins-Sun Devils matchup as the game of the Pac-10 season. The Trojans crushed the Sun Devils in the second half to win 61-49 and send ASU to its second loss in the Pac-10. Collison is making a play to unseat favorite Pac-10 player-of-the-year candidate James Harden of ASU. Collison has a remarkable 23-to-5 assist-to-turnover ratio in the first four Pac-10 games. He also is 22 of 24 at the free-throw line. The real mega-matchup now in the Pac-10 is looking more like UCLA-Cal on Jan. 29 in Westwood and Feb. 28 in Berkeley. The Bears will try to stay unbeaten in the Pac-10 when they travel to Stanford on Saturday for Mike Montgomery's return to Maples Pavilion.
• UCLA's scoring options are getting more varied with the development of Nikola Dragovic. He scored 15 points against Arizona and can make game-changing 3s. He had two 3s against the Wildcats.
• Oregon State coach Craig Robinson suffered a tough loss Thursday night when the Beavers couldn't close out Washington State in regulation and lost to the Cougars in overtime 61-57 in Corvallis. Robinson has a busy week, with a home game against Washington, which easily beat Oregon on Thursday; practice Sunday; and then a trip to Washington, D.C., on Monday for his brother-in-law's inauguration. Robinson will be in D.C. on Monday night and Tuesday before flying Wednesday to meet the team in Berkeley for Thursday's game against the Bears. Robinson wanted to hold practice Sunday so he could put in the plan for Cal. He's giving the team Monday off and will have an assistant lead practice Tuesday. He said he will meet up with the team in time for practice Wednesday.
• Bradley is hardly the Chicago Bears. But the Braves are mimicking the 1985 Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle. The Braves recorded this video (now on YouTube) at their October preseason gala. The MVC shuffle video is being sold for $20, with the proceeds going to the Danny Dahlquist Memorial Scholarship fund at Bradley University. Dahlquist was a redshirt freshman on the Bradley soccer team who was killed in a house fire before the start of the 2007-08 season. His scholarship was endowed last year. Here is the video.
Bradley, by the way, is off to a hot start in the Missouri Valley; the team is better at playing hoops better than at singing or dancing. The Braves are 5-1 in the Valley; 11-6 overall; tied with Northern Iowa for first; and a game ahead of Illinois State, Creighton and Drake.