Following a huge week in the world of Alabama Basketball, the Crimson Tide (10-7, 3-2 SEC, Kenpom: 44 NET: 42) now find themselves smack-dab in the middle of the NCAA Tournament conversation. as we are now inside two months away from Selection Sunday. If the Tide are able to hold serve and win the games they are favored in from here on out, they would absolutely remain in that conversation come March. Which means it’s time for Alabama to do something it has really struggled to do in the past few decades now: take care of business against lesser teams.
Under the guidance of David Hobbs, Mark Gottfried, and especially Anthony Grant and Avery Johnson. Tide Hoops has often followed up successful performances that conjured up dreams of dancing in March by falling flat on their faces against a team that they had no business losing to. It’s the same reason why Alabama has very rarely strayed from their prime real estate on the NCAA Tournament bubble. And there has been no bigger benefactor from these uneven Alabama performances over the years than the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-9, 0-4 SEC, Kenpom: 173 NET: 141).
On top of that, tonight’s game will be played in the House of Horrors that is Memorial Gymnasium, a place where many Tide Hoops seasons have gone to die. In any previous recent season, I would almost certainly be chalking up an ‘L’ on the schedule tonight. Thankfully, Nate Oats has shown that he will not allow his team to not show up. Even if the shots aren’t falling, he’s still going to have his guys busting it on both ends of the court, fighting and clawing to make sure that they end up with the win. Additionally (not to toot my own horn), I personally helped lift the curse of Memorial Gym with my preview last year, so we should be good now.
Who am I kidding? This game has me sweating bullets. But, I have hope that Nate Oats’ hard-hat approach will be enough for the Tide to dig deep and take care of business tonight.
POINT 6’1 Scotty Pippen Jr (11.1 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 Saben Lee (15.7 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 Maxwell Evans (7.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 APG)
POST 6’9 Dylan Disu (5.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG)
POST 6’10 Ejike Obinna (3.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
Vanderbilt actually started off the season playing noticeably better than they had last year, as first year head coach and former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse had made some significant improvements on the roster. Unfortunately, much like last season when the ‘Dores lost eventual lottery pick Darius Garland for the year, Vandy lost their best player in sophomore wing Aaron Nesmith (23.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 BPG) a few weeks back, right at the start of conference play. Nesmith has been projected as a first-round talent for this year’s NBA Draft, and as one of the leading scorers in the SEC, was well on his way to earning first-team all-conference honors.
Since his injury, the rotation has been in flux. Scotty Pippen Jr. (whose dad played in the NBA as well, for any Auburn fans that may be reading) has been better than advertised as a true freshman. Only a three-star in the 2019 class, a lot of people were skeptical of his talents, claiming that his name was the only reason he was being recruited by any major schools at all. Pippen has shut those critics up with his high-volume scoring (38.8%/32.6%/72.3%) and ability to set his teammates up for success (28.4% AST%).
Joining Pippen in the back-court is third-year starter, Saben Lee, and junior guard, Maxwell Evans. Saben has been a pain in the side of Alabama’s (ha!) for a few years now, as he typically has his hands all over the ball on the offensive end (50.3%/32.3%/75.6%, 35.8% AST%). He’s clearly the number one priority now that Nesmith is out for the season. Evans is a capable shooter (44.2%/34.6%/60.6%), but doesn’t do much stat-padding besides that.
In the post, Vandy has been utilizing a pair of bigs since Nesmith’s and senior forward Clevon Brown’s (9.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG) injuries. Disu is a talented freshman from Texas that has the ability to score in multiple ways, which allows him to stretch out the defense, but he’s still adjusting to the college game (31.0%/27.0%/52.0%, 12.4% REB%). Obinna is a junior that provides experience and size on the inside.
GUARD 6’5 Jordan Wright (3.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 Bralee Albert (1.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
POST 6’8 Matthew Moyer (1.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG)
Due to the injuries to Nesmith and Brown, Vandy’s bench is really thin. Wright is another freshman who could be a good player someday, but he’s simply not ready to take on such a large role this early on in his career. Moyer was originally playing small minutes in relief of the other bigs, and Albert only started getting minutes after Nesmith’s recent injury.
Three Keys to Victory
- Overcome Memorial Magic. As I wrote last season:
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.
The home-court advantage for Vanderbilt is very real. Oats and Alabama like to fill it up from the three-point line, so they will need to adjust quickly to Memorial’s God-awful sight-lines if they want to play their game effectively.
2. Be Ready to Adapt. If the shots aren’t falling, the good news is that Vanderbilt is arguably the worst defensive team in the conference. Only Disu is an above-average defender, and it’s by the slimmest of margins (99.9 DRtg, 100.0 is average). Additionally, this team doesn’t rebound the ball well at all, especially since Brown got hurt back in December. The Tide should be able to score and rebound around the rim quite well in this game, so if the shots aren’t falling, the game-plan needs to adjust quickly. Vandy would probably love for Alabama to keep chasing shots.
3. Clamp Down on Pippen and Lee. Simply put, Vanderbilt doesn’t have many options on offense. If the Tide can deny these two from getting good looks and force them to defer to secondary ball-handlers, ‘Bama really shouldn’t have any trouble keeping them off the scoreboard.
Alabama is a heavy 9-point favorite in this game for a reason. The little bit of improvement Vanderbilt had shown early in the season was hampered when Brown got hurt, and then essentially lost completely when Nesmith went down. That being said, we’ve seen this show before in Nashville. If Alabama wants to make a return to the NCAA Tournament in Year One of Oats’ tenure, they will need to make sure to shut out the clownery (yes, I made that up) of Memorial Gymnasium take care of business tonight.
The game tips-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.