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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Vanderbilt

Fresh off of their huge win over South Carolina, the Tide heads to dreaded Memorial Gymnasium

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Another Avery Johnson-coached Alabama game, another big time win over a quality opponent. The Little General just continues to defy the odds. The previously undefeated, nineteenth-ranked Gamecocks of South Carolina came into Tuscaloosa and got taken behind the woodshed by the Tide. The home crowd was electric, the team was firing on all cylinders, and Avery Johnson was once again coaching the heck out of this team. There was quite a celebration in the locker room after another major victory for the Tide, but there isn't a lot of time to sit around feeling good about it.

The Crimson Tide now go on the road for the next two ball games, and they are headed to two places where Alabama historically falls flat: Nashville and Auburn. First up is the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-7, 1-3 SEC), who have gotten off to a rough start to conference play. However, much like South Carolina's 15-0 record was a bit misleading, the 'Dores almost .500 start drastically undersells how good this team is. They've had a number of injury issues that have plagued them, but this is one of the better teams in the SEC.

Kevin Stallings finally had an offseason that wasn't full of unforeseen attrition, and his Commodores are looking to make their run back to the top of the conference. Alabama is going to need another great performance if they want to go on the road to Memorial Gymnasium and come away victorious.

The Roster

The Starting Line-Up

  • PG 6'3 Wade Baldwin (14.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.6 SPG)
  • SG 6'2 Riley LaChance (9.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.7 SPG)
  • 3G 6'5 Matthew Fisher-Davis (8.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • PF 7'0 Luke Kornet (9.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 3.4 BPG)
  • C 6'10 Damian Jones (13.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.6. APG, 1.8 BPG)
Vanderbilt fields one of the most interesting and impressive starting line-ups in the conference. Baldwin is a very good, young point guard. His offensive game is as effective as they come, as his 4.5 APG go along with a very impressive shooting stat line (48.3% FG%, 45.8% 3P%, 81.4% FT%). He is turning the ball over three times a game, which has hurt his efficiency a bit, but his 91.3 DRtg is very strong and usually makes up for it. LaChance is a pure scorer, though his per game numbers are down a decent bit from last season when he averaged 12.3 PPG. He's still shooting really well though (40.6% FG%, 41.2% 3P%. 82.4% FT%), so he probably needs to become a bit more assertive. As a generously listed 6'2, 190-pound guard, his defense and rebounding isn't the best in the SEC, to say the least. Fisher-Davis has been one of the best three-point (48.5%) and free throw (86.7%) shooters in the conference, but he missed the last game with an injured foot, and is questionable (as of this writing) for the game Saturday.

In the post, Vandy has the luxury of two massive, yet skilled big men. Kornet is a match-up nightmare. A seven foot stretch forward who can shoot (44.7% FG%, despite attempting over 3 three pointers a game)? Yikes. His 3.4 BPG and 86.2 DRtg makes him one of the best defenders in the SEC, and he is a strong rebounder at 15.2% RB%. Three of the Commodores' seven losses came when Kornet was injured. Jones, a legit NBA prospect, is one of the best post players in the conference. He scores at a 58.1% clip, and is right behind Kornet in DRtg (89.1) and RB% (14.5%).

The Bench
  • G 6'4 Nolan Cressler (5.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 APG)
  • G 6'3 Camron Justice (3.9 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 SPG)
  • G 6'7 Joe Toye (4.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
  • F 6'6 Jeff Roberson (8.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.7 SPG)
  • C 6'11 Josh Henderson (4.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 BPG)
Vanderbilt can run a full five-person rotation off of their bench, which, like South Carolina, gives them a nice advantage when games get physical. Cressler, the first-year transfer from Cornell, is the first guard off of the bench, and he has done a nice job in his reserve role. He's scoring at a strong 43.9% rate, and he can hit the deep ball every so often (30.2% 3P%), but his free throws need some work (55.6%). Justice and Toye are both true freshmen with some good potential. Toye's length gives him an advantage when he's playing out on the wing, and Justice has a pretty sweet stroke (42.9% FG%, 37.5% 3P%, 1.000% FT%). Neither has many assists on the year, which means either they are still learning the system or they just aren't very good passers.

In the front court, not many teams in the country boast the kind of depth Vandy does. Roberson, who's likely to start on the wing if Fisher-Davis can't go, is exactly the kind of guy a team wants coming off of the bench. At 6'6, he has the length to battle on the glass and get to the rim, but he's also shooting 46.2% from beyond the arc. Henderson is a senior leader who stands tall when he's in the game. He has a 92.5 DRtg, rebounds at an 11.4% clip, and can score decently well around the basket (45.7% 2P%).

What to Watch For

  • The Tide's Tournament Resume? Here at RBR, we've taken a cautious approach with the early success of the Avery Johnson era. But after the Tide's fourth win over a likely NCAA Tournament team, is it time to start actively monitoring Alabama's chances at making the big dance? Sure, Wichita State and Notre Dame aren't nearly as good as they were last year, and South Carolina isn't as good as their record and ranking might suggest, but the Tide have put together quite the resume. Advanced stats don't like Alabama, but the Tide's current RPI ranking, which weighs heavily in the selection committee's decision-making, is 38th, which is very much in the conversation for an at-large spot. Can Alabama make a run at this?
  • Memorial Magic. Vanderbilt's home court is where opponent's dreams really do come to die. For whatever reason, the place just invokes voodoo-like hexes over away teams. Whether it's the odd angles, the strange bench seating, or the ridiculous (and honestly, bush league) raised court, something just isn't right about that place. Avery Johnson's been working wonders at Alabama thus far, can he neutralize this strange setting?

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Defend the Perimeter. Vanderbilt has been a curious case study so far this year. The advanced stats all love the Commodores, but they currently stand at a pedestrian 9-7 overall. How about this little nugget for some clarity: the 'Dores are 14th in the country from beyond the arc at 40.2%, but they have attempted 336 three-pointers this season, 151st in the country. Now, a lot of that has to do with pace (Stallings likes to slow it down and play half-court basketball), and it also shows that they are patient and efficient with their shots. But sometimes a team can be too patient. The Crimson Tide don't want Vandy to start raining down three-pointers, otherwise this game will get out of hand quickly. Alabama will need to extend their defense out.
  2. Knock Down Threes. On the flip side of that, the Commodores are also really good at defending the perimeter themselves. Vanderbilt has given up less three-pointers than anybody else in the country save four teams. They are a really efficient defense. Alabama has become a team that relies heavily on three pointers, partly because the offensive post play just isn't there yet, and partly because Avery knows that a team that struggles to score needs to make three points on a possession more often than an average scoring team. Alabama could use another hot night from Riley Norris.
  3. Push the Tempo. As referenced above, Vanderbilt is one of the most efficient half-court teams in the country, on both ends of the court. That's a major reason why the advanced metrics all love them. Alabama is going to have to get them out of their comfort zone as much as possible. The 'Dores have a bunch of bigger players, so it would behoove the Tide to utilize their quickness in this game as much as possible. Vanderbilt doesn't force a ton of steals, so Alabama needs to let loose in this game.
Vanderbilt is a very good team that is looking to get back up off the mat after a rough start to conference play. This will be another tough task for the Tide, especially since the game will be played in that crazy gym. Avery Johnson has consistently had his team surprising opponents all season long, can he help continue the Crimson Tide's charmed year? The next few contests will go a long way in determining how Alabama's 2015-16 season will be defined. Can the Tide rise up and wash away the Commodores?

The game will tip at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.