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 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)
- 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)
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.