With just two weeks left to play in the 2022 regular season, the 24th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (17-10, 7-7 SEC; NET: 22; Kenpom: 20) has a lot left to be decided. Alabama is currently in a logjam in the SEC standings, tied with four other teams - LSU, Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina - for fifth place in the conference. Additionally, the Tide’s opponents tonight, the Vanderbilt Commodores (14-12, 6-8 SEC; NET: 79; Kenpom: 77), are only a game back of that cluster, as well. So, tonight’s meeting in Nashville looms large in terms of where each team will end up seeded for the SEC Tournament in a couple of weeks.
On top of that, it was revealed before Alabama’s match-up with Kentucky this past Saturday that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had Alabama under consideration for a top-four, protected seed-line for this year’s field. A loss in Lexington almost certainly didn’t drop the Tide much in the committee’s eyes, so we can reasonably infer that the committee sees Alabama as a 5-seed for the Big Dance, at this current point in time. So, a pair of 5-seeds in both postseason tournaments is quite clearly at stake for Alabama right now. As long as the Tide can take care of business against lesser opponents, that should be the expecta....
In case you are not aware, Memorial Gymnasium is Tide Hoops’ House of Horrors. Many seasons have gone to die in this archaically-built, carnival clown-house of unseemly sightlines and sound waves that rattle your shoes from fans cheering beneath the actual court. Even the benches are inverted - who puts the coaches under the basket???
It won’t help that Vandy is playing some of its best basketball in years. The ‘Dores have won four out of their last seven games, with all three losses coming on the road against the top-three teams in the SEC - Kentucky, Auburn, and Tennessee. This is going to be a terrifying game tonight.
POINT 6’1 Scotty Pippen (19.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.7 RPG, 97.3 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Jordan Wright (12.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 95.5 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Myles Stute (8.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 99.5 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Quentin Millora-Brown (5.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 97.1 DRtg)
POST 7’0 Liam Robbins (4.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 91.7 DRtg)
Jerry Stackhouse’s team has been dealing with a bit of a revolving door all season as far as the rotation is concerned, due to a number of guys battling injuries. But the back-court duo of Scotty Pippen and Jordan Wright has been the one steady constant. Pippen, who was selected as the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, has been everything Vandy fans had hoped for based on his name and pedigree. He’s an incredible offensive playmaker (42.6%/30.5%/73.3%; 30.9% AST%) who can control the flow of any game. His handling and body control are next-level. Wright has been a great side-kick for him as well, scoring (40.0%/33.0%/80.2%) and assisting (14.2% AST%) at high levels. He utilizes his size to get to the rim and is a strong rebounding guard (11.6% REB%).
With Dayton transfer, Rodney Chatman, battling a hamstring injury all season, Vandy has been a bit short-handed. But they did recently get Minnesota transfer, Liam Robbins, back from an ankle injury that left him side-lined until a few weeks ago. The seven-footer has shown serious potential since he’s returned, and has made a significant impact on this team (36.8%/20.0%/57.1%; 11.4% REB%; 11.3% BLK%). Quentin Millora-Brown had manned the starting spot at the five all season prior to Robbins’ return, and has been a steady presence for the ‘Dores. He doesn’t bring much of an offensive skill-set, but he’s a good rebounder (13.6% REB%) and rim protector (5.8% BLK%). Myles Stute is the shooter on the squad (45.2%/43.5%/78.1%).
Off the Bench
GUARD 5’11 Trey Thomas (5.7 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 RPG, 104.0 DRtg)
GUARD 6’0 Drew Weikert (1.8 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 98.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Tyrin Lawrence (3.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 97.7 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Shane Dezonie (2.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 99.3 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Jamaine Mann (5.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 93.8 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Terren Frank (2.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 99.4 DRtg)
In large part due to all of the injuries he has dealt with, Stackhouse has played a ton of guys this season. Every player listed averages double-digit minutes per game, which is pretty wild. Trey Thomas has been the scoring sixth man (34.8%/32.1%/80.0%) all year, Tyrin Lawrence has started nine games and brings a down-hill, slashing approach to his game (40.0%/18.2%/66.7%), Shane Dezonie has shot 60.0% from three - though it is a small sample size, and Terren Frank provides size and depth on the interior. Expect to see most of these guys play tonight, but how many of them make an impact remains to be seen.
Three Keys to Victory
- Contain Pippen. This is bullet point #1 for every opposing coach that plays Vanderbilt. Pippen makes this team dangerous. His usage rate is top-ten in the country, and his share of the overall shots taken for his team is 19th in college basketball, despite the fact that he has an above 30% AST%. It’s going to be really difficult for Jahvon Quinerly or J.D. Davison to stop Pippen much, so this will have to be a team effort. The bigs will need to be ready to slide early when he initiates his drives, as well as be ready to hedge hard when they run PnR. When Pippen gives the ball up, whoever is his primary defender needs to play deny defense for the rest of the possession. Get the ball out of this man’s hands.
- Free Throws. Part of containing Pippen will be playing disciplined defense, because he’s already an NBA-level pro at drawing fouls. Vandy as a whole is 6th in the country in Free Throw Rate - it’s been their best weapon on offense. The ‘Dores actually only shoot 69.0% from the line, but when you get to the charity stripe 40% of the time you get a shot off on a possession, you get a lot of freebies. And you just know the whistles are going to tweeting tonight in Memorial.
- Offensive Rebounding. Vanderbilt has size but they are not a very good rebounding team. They are almost as bad as the Tide is at giving up second chance points (227th in OREB% allowed). They are not, however, anywhere close to as good as Alabama is at generating second chance points though, where the Tide ranks 11th in the country in OREB% at 35.5%. So, this is clearly an area where Alabama needs to come up big tonight. If Vanderbilt is getting to the free throw line often, the Tide needs to counteract that efficiency by spamming extra possessions.
This is going to be a sweat tonight - I guarantee it. DraftKings Sportsbook agrees, listing Alabama as a trappy 4-point favorite* in that God-forsaken gym. The Tide needs to show up ready to play on both ends of the court tonight. If Alabama can survive Memorial Magic, the chances of a top-five finish in the SEC - as well as a 5-seed or better placement in the NCAA Tournament - go up dramatically.
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.