Alabama (8-5, 1-0 SEC) will try to keep the positive momentum rolling following their 68-58 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs Tuesday night as they return home for the first time in 2017. Meeting the Tide in Coleman Coliseum will be the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-6, 2-0 SEC), fresh off of a blowout win of their own over the Auburn Tigers this week. The 2016-17 season started off pretty rough for the Commodores and first year coach Bryce Drew, but they have found their groove thus far in SEC play, averaging 88.0 PPG and winning by a margin of 13.0 PPG in their first two conference games. They are starting to click at the right time under their new coach, and they will provide Avery Johnson’s team with a stern test Saturday evening.
- PG 6’4 Payton Willis (7.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.6 SPG)
- SG 6’2 Riley LaChance (9.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.6 SPG)
- 3G 6’5 Matthew Fisher-Davis (17.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.6 SPG)
- WF 6’6 Jeff Roberson (10.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG)
- C 7’0 Luke Kornet (12.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.0 BPG)
The Commodores have a very experienced starting five, as everyone outside of Willis is an upperclassmen who has been around for a while. So even though Bryce Drew will be hitting the road in SEC play for only the second time ever, he can lean on a plethora of veteran players who can help negate Alabama’s home court advantage.
Leading that core group is guard Fisher-Davis, who is having a breakout season offensively. He is one of the few high-volume shooters (11.8 FGA per game) in the SEC in the 40/40/80 club (44.2% FG%, 43.6% 3P%, 82.4% FT%), and he is coming off his best performance of the season: a 33-point outing against Auburn. However, with an assist-to-turnover ratio below 1.0, a DRtg of 105.5, and a RB% 6.6%, Fisher-Davis is a bit of a one-trick pony.
Vanderbilt has played both Willis and LaChance extensively at the point, but neither has been a perfect fit. LaChance has a fantastic assist-to-turnover ratio (4.3 APG to 1.5 TOPG), but he is a natural scorer (54.2% FG%, 58.8% 3P%, 88.9% FT%) and prefers to play off-ball. Willis has been a solid player in his own right, but as a true freshmen, he has been known to turn the ball over (2.3 TOPG). He’s a nice scorer (51.5% FG%, 36.8% 3P%), but he’s got some developing to do before he can become an all-around point guard.
In the front-court, Roberson and Kornet are both still somehow eligible. Roberson, the do-it-all forward, has been the best defender (100.0 DRtg, yeah they have struggled to defend) and rebounder (14.1% RB%) on the team. His offense leaves a bit to be desired (36.2% FG%, 29.8% 3P%, 75.0% FT%), but his length can give defenders fits as he uses his frame to dish out a decent amount of assists for a wing player. Kornet has the rare ability to stretch the floor from the center position (31.1% 3P%), but like that one tall guy at the rec, he spends way too much time taking jump shots outside of the paint for someone who is seven feet tall, and it shows (38.4% FG%, 11.9% RB%). He has been quite the shot blocker this season though.
- 6’4 G Nolan Cressler (6.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.6 SPG)
- 6’3 G Camron Justice (1.7 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- 6’7 F Joe Toye (4.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.1 APG)
- 6’8 F Clevon Brown (2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.5 BPG)
- 6’10 C Djery Baptiste (2.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.5 BPG)
The ‘Dores became infamous for the amount of attrition their roster experienced over the last 3-4 years, and it has hurt the depth on this team in a significant way (it was also a major factor in letting long time coach Kevin Stallings go). Vandy only has eleven total players, and the quality of the bench is a bit lacking as well.
Cressler began the season as the starter and gives Vanderbilt a solid sixth man. He’s another guard who can shoot (51.5% FG%, 52.2% 3P%), and he is top five on the team in both RB% and DRtg. Toye is a long wing player who can get to the rim and battle for boards on the glass. Justice is a young sophomore with a good amount of developing left to do, and Brown and Baptiste aren’t much more than big, physical bodies who can spell Kornet in the post.
What to Watch For
- Home Court Advantage. It has been quite a while since Alabama last played a significant home game in Tuscaloosa, so it will be interesting to see what the turnout is like, especially since it is the SEC home opener and students are returning to campus.
Three Keys To Victory
- Contest the Jump-shot. Vanderbilt may have a new coach, but they still live and die by the jump-shot. The ‘Dores are 7-1 when they have an Effective FG% over 50.0%, and 1-5 when they fail to meet that mark. They don’t weather the storm of a poor shooting night very well. Fortunately for Alabama, the Tide lives for poor shooting nights! All kidding aside, Alabama needs to challenge Vanderbilt’s jumpers early and often in this game; they simply can’t afford to let the Commodores get good looks.
- Attack the Basket in the Half-court. Vanderbilt’s biggest problem this season has been their lack of defense (100th in the country according to Kenpom, compared to their 47th ranked offense). Their guards aren’t athletic or quick enough to defend guys like Avery Johnson Jr., Dazon Ingram, and Braxton Key, and their front-court is full of guys who prefer to play away from the basket, which causes some obvious issues. Alabama needs to let Vanderbilt do the jump-shooting; the Tide need to take advantage of their size, speed, and physicality.
- Stay Away from the Free Throw Line. The one thing Alabama doesn’t want in this game is for it to turn into a free throw shooting contest, because the Tide will lose that battle badly. Vanderbilt is shooting 77.0% from the line this season, 10th best in the nation. Alabama, well, doesn’t knock down anywhere close to that amount, to put it lightly. Contest those jumpers, but be smart about it.
Vanderbilt’s overall record may not look great, and they’ve had some poor outings to be sure, but they’ve played a pretty tough schedule and are starting to hit their stride as conference play is starting to get going. Alabama will have their hands full in Tuscaloosa Saturday night. Bryce Drew’s old team, Valparaiso, already gave ‘Bama an “L” earlier this season, the Tide can’t really afford another one.
The game tips-off at 6:00 PM CST Saturday and will be televised on ESPNU.