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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Vanderbilt

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Previewing Alabama’s upcoming loss to the winless Commodores

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In the preview of the Georgia game Wednesday night, I decreed this week as survive-and-advance week for the Crimson Tide (14-8, 5-4 SEC). With Alabama currently being mocked as an NCAA Tournament team by just about every bracketologist out there, the Tide just needs to stay afloat and keep their resume as is in order to make the field come March. Well, following the explosive offensive outing against the Bulldogs, where Tevin Mack and Kira Lewis both went for career highs in scoring, Alabama finds themselves only a game away from surviving this mine-infested week against the bottom of the SEC.

Next up is the hapless Vanderbilt Commodores (9-13, 0-9 SEC). The ‘Dores came into the season with some decently high expectations, but after the loss of superstar freshman point guard Darius Garland, who is almost certainly going to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft this June, Vandy fell apart.

Third year coach Bryce Drew has started to come under some heat in Nashville, as there was a lot of promise for his tenure there after making a run to the NCAA Tournament in his first season two years ago. Now, Vanderbilt is still looking for their first win of 2019, having last won against UNC-Asheville on New Year’s Eve.

Yep, this Commodore team has been pretty terrible. From getting blown out, to finding creative ways of losing late, Vandy simply can’t win a basketball game anymore. This is a wonderful opportunity for Alabam....

...wait...

/glances at schedule

...it’s in Nashville?

Oh, no. No no no no no no.

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 6’2 Saben Lee (13.5 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.5 RPG, 0.9 SPG)

GUARD 6’6 Aaron Nesmith (10.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG)

WING 6’7 Matt Ryan (9.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.0 APG)

WING 6’8 Joe Toye (8.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG)

POST 6’10 Simi Shittu (12.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.0 APG)

The Bench

GUARD 6’2 Maxwell Evans (4.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.3 APG)

WING 6’8 Matthew Moyer (3.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG)

WING 6’8 Clevon Brown (3.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG)

POST 6’10 Yanni Wetzell (5.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG)

In case you haven’t been following Alabama basketball for long, the Tide doesn’t win in Memorial Gymnasium. Vanderbilt has beaten Alabama every time the Tide have come to town since 1991, with the exception of an ugly Anthony Grant-led win in 2013. It doesn’t matter how strong the Tide’s team may be, or how terrible Vanderbilt’s is, we simply don’t win there. Ever.

So, I’ll go ahead and tell you that part of Vanderbilt’s problems this year is their inability to figure out the rotation. Besides Lee, who is honestly playing out-of-position as the primary ball-handler, and Shittu, the other stud freshman that Drew was able to land in the 2018 class, the ‘Dores can’t figure out who should be starting. They’ve had nine different starting line-ups this season.

I’ll tell you that the Commodores have awful chemistry on the offensive end. That Lee is the only one on the roster with an AST% above 20.0%, and that everyone else struggles to move the ball effectively and set their teammates up for good shots. And that Lee offsets a lot of his ball distribution with his 2.5 turnovers a game.

I’ll tell you that nobody on this team can consistently knock down a shot. That the Commodores are dead-last in the SEC in FG% and that the Tide will want to coerce Vandy into playing iso-ball and taking jump shots off of the dribble.

I’ll tell you that Vanderbilt is also a very poor defensive team. That not a single player on the roster has a DRtg in the double-digits. That only bad, bad Clevon Brown averages over a block or a steal per game.

And none of it will matter.

None of it will prevent Matt Ryan from knocking down six three-pointers tonight. Or stop Lee from dropping 21 points and 7 assists in his best game of the season. None of it will make a difference when the Crimson Tide go all night watching shot-after-shot clunk off of the rim in that God-forsaken gym.

Three Reasons Why We Lose

  1. Memorial Magic. Again, Alabama doesn’t win in Memorial Gymnasium. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. It didn’t matter last season when a similarly bad Vanderbilt team knocked down 10 three-pointers and had the game-winning lay-up come from a near steal that just happened to bounce right to their back-up post Djery Baptiste for his only shot attempt of the game. It didn’t matter when the ‘Dores shot 50% from down-town in an easy win over an NCAA Tournament-bound Alabama team in 2012. It didn’t matter when Alabama came up a game short of the SEC Championship and a likely spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2011 when Tim Higgins called JaMychal Green out of bounds on the baseline, despite clear evidence that he wasn’t on Alabama’s final possession of the game. The gym is an embarrassment to the game. The court is elevated above half of the crowd, like some sort of gladiator arena. The benches are located on the baseline underneath the goals, preventing the coaching staff from having any sort of decent angle, let alone an ability to communicate with their team on the opposite end. The sight-lines for shooters are funky. It’s an abomination, and it absolutely affects the Tide every time they visit.
  2. Vanderbilt is Due. As bad as the Commodores have been recently, they aren’t completely awful. They have capable players. Shittu could be in the NBA one day. Lee is a proven commodity that torched Alabama last season. Ryan and Toye are both capable shooters. Vandy is due for a win, and Alabama’s up-and-down play makes the Tide a prime candidate for this conference record correction.
  3. Alabama Won the Last Game. Take a look at Alabama’s schedule so far in 2019: win, loss, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win. The only thing the Tide can consistently do is be inconsistent. Hell, the Tide aren’t even rebounding consistently well anymore. A loss is next up on the trend-line.

We’ve seen this show before. The Crimson Tide are headed to Nashville with a ton weighing in the balance against a bad Vanderbilt team with nothing to play for. Maybe the Crimson Tide can take care of business tonight. Maybe John Petty can get hot in that cesspool of a gym and get the Tide out of there with a ‘W’. Maybe Lewis and Mack string together back-to-back big-time performances. Alabama is a significantly better team that should win this game.

But if history means anything, that won’t happen. Alabama will lose to a suddenly-hot Vanderbilt team tonight with some sort of controversial play that seals it for the ‘Dores. The Tide will go from solidly in the tournament to everybody’s ‘First Four Out’ section come Sunday morning. Tis tradition.

The game will tip-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network, if you are a glutton for pain and misery like yours truly.