The Crimson Tide basketball team will play its first home SEC game of the 2010 season tonight when it hosts a very good Vanderbilt team at 8:00pm at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
Both teams will be playing their second of 16 SEC games. Alabama won its SEC opener on the road against defending SEC champions LSU 66-49 on Saturday. The Tide is currently 11-4 (1-0) on the year and while we still have a lot to prove in terms of winning against top level teams, we are in a decent position to steal an NCAA tournament berth if we can finish above .500 in SEC play and get some big wins along the way in what is definitely a rebuilding year for the program (think 2007/Coach Saban=2010/Coach Grant).
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt won its SEC opener at home against Florida 95-87 on Saturday. The Dores are 12-3 (1-0) on the year and are currently projected to make the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past four seasons. Coach Kevin Stallings has consistently placed the Dores in the top half of the SEC for most of the last decade, and I expect that to be no different this season.
Vandy has four players averaging double-figures in socring. Leading the way is sophomore wing player Jeff Taylor. He is extremely athletic and can make plays rebounding, defending, and scoring. Junior center A.J. Ogilvy is Vandy's biggest "name" player and at 6'11" could present some problems for the relatively undersized Alabama front line. Alabama's problems with stopping Vanderbilt in recent years have stemmed primarily from failing to defend the 3-point shooters of the Commodores, and once again they have plenty of them. Senior point guard Jermaine Beal is the second-leading scorer and, as Alabama should know well from recent meetings, is a threat to pull up and knock down 3s. He is averaging right at 2 made 3s per game this year. Finally, freshman sixth-man John Jenkins (probably the first five-star recruit in Vanderbilt history for either major sport) rounds out the double-digit scorers for the Dores. He will be a fantastic player for years to come in the SEC if he stays, but for now our biggest concern is his deadly shooting from 3-point range. He is currently averaging 2.5 made 3s per game and is doing so at a stellar 47% shooting. Starting sophomore guard Brad Tinsley is also a 3-point threat, as are bench players Lance Goulbourne and Darshawn McClellan. The last starter is sophomore forward Andre Walker, who will join Ogilvy in the post along with reserves Ezeli Festus and Steve Tchiengang.
The key to Alabama winning this important matchup will be 3-point shooting--on both ends of the floor. I've already discussed Vanderbilt's 3-point threats above and our past failures to stop them. It goes without saying that we need to close down space on the perimeter and limit their opportunities there. However, it will be equally important that we capitalize on our own opportunities from the arc. Anyone who has watched us play this year knows that our team revolves around the playmaking ability of two players: senior point guard Mikhail Torrance and sophomore forward JaMychael Green. If one or both of them are limited, we are in for a long night, but that can be said of virtually every game we will play from here on. To beat good teams like Vanderbilt though, we also need our sharpshooters, namely senior guard Anthony Brock and junior guard Charvez Davis, to knock down open looks from the arc. They didn't do that against LSU, but they didn't have to since LSU couldn't handle our pressure defense. I expect this Vanderbilt team, led by a senior point guard and quite a bit more athletic than your typical Vandy team, to have no such problems, so we will need some points from the 3-point line.
The secondary keys to winning the game are scoring in transition and low-post defense. Transition scoring is another key for just about every game for us. We aren't a great half-court offensive team due to our lack of perimeter playmakers, so socring in transition when we have the chance is key not just for this game but throughout the season. Junior guard Senario Hillman and freshman wing man Tony Mitchell thrive in these situations, and they need to do so tonight for us to be especially dangerous. Finally, post defenders like junior center Justin Knox and junior forward Chris Hines must step up to defend and rebound at a high level. If we rely on Green to do this, he is likely to get in foul trouble, which would be devastating since he actually had a good deal of success last year against Ogilvy.
A win here would be huge. Let's get a big crowd a pull the Tide to 2-0 in the SEC. Roll Tide!