What a year it has been for Alabama basketball. With just four scheduled games remaining in conference play (there’s a possibility that the Texas A&M game could get rescheduled for two weeks from today, though it seems unlikely at this point), the Crimson Tide is in position to clinch at least a share of its first SEC regular season title since 2002 with a win over the Vanderbilt Commodores (6-11, 2-9 SEC, NET: 130, Kenpom: 115) today. Arkansas and LSU are the only two remaining teams that are three games back in the loss column in the current standings. Thus, a win over the ‘Dores would make it to where the Tide’s worst case scenario (losing out against Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Auburn) would keep them at an equal amount of losses as either Arkansas or LSU’s best case scenario (winning out), and Arkansas and LSU play each other next Saturday, so only one could potentially do this. Even then, neither team would have as many conference wins as Alabama, so the SEC could still make the Tide the lone champion.
It’s kind of confusing, I know, but that’s the world we are living in with COVID. Just trust me on this, a win today makes the 2021 Alabama Crimson Tide (17-5, 12-1 SEC, NET: 7, Kenpom: 8) your regular season SEC Champs.
Regardless of the conference success, Alabama debuted in the NCAA Tournament’s initial top rankings as a 2-seed last Saturday. That would tie for the highest the Tide has ever been seeded in the Big Dance, once again with that 2002 squad. The level of success this season has been off the charts compared to the past decade plus, and Greg Byrne wasted no time locking up Nate Oats with a nice contract extension yesterday. A well deserved one, indeed.
Turning back to today’s game - it’s Senior Day in Tuscaloosa! No, it’s not the final home game of the year (Auburn comes to town for the finale in March), but I guess the team decided to go with a less intense match-up to honor the seniors for all of the hard work they have put in over the years, particularly Herbert Jones, John Petty, and Alex Reese. These three guys came in together in the same highly rated 2017 recruiting class - along with Collin Sexton and Galin Smith - and have ridden a roller coaster ride the past four seasons. One that has seen an NCAA Tournament appearance, a coaching change, COVID, and now, a potential SEC Championship. It’s been a wild ride, but the Alabama program is absolutely in a better place because of this senior class, and we are grateful for their efforts.
Also, don’t forget about The Fight for Literacy initiative, which ends its campaign in Tuscaloosa today with the game. We’ve raised a very modest amount thus far, so any and all contributions will go a long way.
POINT 6’1 Scotty Pippen (20.3 PPG, 5.2 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 Maxwell Evans (7.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’5 Jordan Wright (8.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG)
POST 6’8 Clevon Brown (3.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG)
POST 6’9 Dylan Disu (14.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG)
Former NBA superstar, Jerry Stackhouse, inherited an absolute dumpster fire of a mess when he took over in Nashville last season. The Commodores were coming off an 0-18 conference finish, as Vandy did just about nothing right in 2019. However, despite their record and poor metrics, Stackhouse has definitely injected some juice into this roster. They are significantly more dangerous than they were even just a year ago, when Vanderbilt came into Tuscaloosa about the same time last February and stunned the Tide behind the play of Tide Killer, Saben Lee.
Thankfully, Lee is no longer around. However, his back-court running mate from last year, Scotty Pippen, is. Yes, that Scottie Pippen. Unlike pops, Pippen plays the point guard position. But like his dad, he’s made a serious impact on his team, as he is second in the entire SEC in both points per game and assists per game. He’s absolutely deserving of an all-conference selection, and he may not be alone on his team. Fellow sophomore, Dylan Disu, is having a fantastic year in the low block for the ‘Dores. He leads the SEC in rebounds per game, and is third in the league in FG% at 50% exactly. Their numbers are even more impressive when you look at how efficient they have been (Pippen: 43.6%/37.1%/81.0%, 38.6% AST%; Disu: 50.0%/36.5%/73.4%, 16.3% REB%, 4.4% BLK%, 2.1% STL%, 9.9% AST%).
Those two can seriously ball, but the trouble for Vanderbilt has been finding a consistent supporting cast for them. Maxwell Evans and Jordan Wright have started most of the season in the back-court. Evans is a bit more high volume with his shots (42.4%/37.3%/55.6%), but Wright is more efficient (50.5%/50.0%/71.4%). Either one is capable of getting hot. Clevon Brown is a fifth year senior holding it down in the paint. He’s a very solid player, but he won’t overwhelm opponents in any given area of the game. He’s got good size and is a willing rebounder though.
Off the Bench
GUARD 5’11 Trey Thomas (5.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.9 APG)
GUARD 6’1 Isaac McBride (3.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.0 APG)
GUARD 6’5 Braelee Albert (0.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.8 APG)
GUARD 6’6 D.J. Harvey (6.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
WING 6’7 Myles Stute (4.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
POST 6’10 Quentin Malora-Brown (3.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
POST Ejike Obinna (2.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
Vanderbilt plays more guys than anybody in the SEC. Mostly because Stackhouse is really trying to figure out a rotation still. When you’re basically starting at square one, you are looking for any answers you can find. Most of bench are underclassmen that Stackhouse has brought into the program, with the exception of D.J. Harvey and Ejike Obinna. Harvey is a transfer from Notre Dame, who serves as the traditional scoring sixth man (36.2%/36.5%/100%). He is actually the only former blue-chip recruit on the roster. Trey Thomas and Myles Stute are two freshmen that have carved out decent roles in the rotation thus far. Both can score from long-range (Thomas: 34.4%; Stute: 34.1%), and Stackhouse will definitely give them the green light.
Three Keys to Victory
- Contain Pippen and Disu. Considering how bad Vanderbilt has been over the years, it is hard to believe that this 6-11 team has a pair of All-SEC players on it. But, it is true. And they happen to play the two positions Alabama isn’t extremely well-equipped to defend: the one and the five. Of course, this is relatively speaking for the 2nd-rated defense in the country, but it’s still something to note. Pippen initiates just about everything on offense, so Alabama would be wise to force him to give up the ball and prevent him from getting in a rhythm. Disu is a force in the paint, but he can also stretch the floor and run the court. This guy has modern day NBA written all over him. With no Jordan Bruner or Juwan Gary again today, the Tide’s “bigs” are going to have their hands full defending him. Might just be best to throw Herb at him and let him lock the big man up.
- Run Them off the Perimeter. Nate Oats is rightfully getting all of the headlines for the Tide’s style of play, but Stackhouse is letting his guys run and shoot as well. The ‘Dores are 28th in the country in three point attempts and third in the SEC in 3P% at 35.6%. Want to get upset by this scrappy Commodore team? Let them jack up shots from the arc. Just ask Mississippi State how that turned out for them last week (Vanderbilt shot 13/30 from downtown and ran the Bulldogs out of their own building, 72-51).
- Fouls and Free Throws. Vanderbilt is also quite good from the charity stripe at 73.4%. The last thing Alabama wants to do is bail these guys out and let them get freebies all night. Additionally, while their depth may not be a strength, they do have numbers, so expect them to rotate plenty of guys in to play aggressively on the defensive end. Discipline on both ends will be key to taking care of business today.
There’s a lot of good things going on with Tide Hoops in 2021, and today is no different, provided that Alabama can take care of business against an amped up underdog today. As mentioned, a win would clinch at least a share of the conference crown. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Senior Day, as well as Nate Oats’ contract extension.
The game tips-off at noon CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.