After four long months grinding through the toughest schedule in all of college basketball, tournament time is finally here for the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-12, 9-9 SEC, NET: 27; Kenpom: 22). It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for Alabama, but none of that matters now. Last March’s star, Jahvon Quinerly, said it best:
New season.— JQ (@RealJahvonQ) March 9, 2022
It is indeed a new season, as March is what people truly remember. And last March, Tide Hoops made a serious impact, winning its first SEC Tournament title since 1991 and making it back to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2004.
Now, this year’s Tide team has been quite different than the group that writ its name in Crimson flame last season, but that doesn’t mean this year’s unit couldn’t do something similar - the chapter of the 2022 team has yet to be finished. We know that they are capable. But can they put it together at just the right time, and do so for multiple games in a row? That’s something that we haven’t seen this team do all season.
Either way, we’ll find out soon enough. Alabama opens up SEC Tournament play a day earlier this year, as the Tide earned the 6-seed in Tampa. The guys will face off with a team they beat just a couple of weeks back - the Vanderbilt Commodores (16-15, 7-11 SEC; NET: 71; Kenpom: 69). Vandy kicked off the tournament last night by routing the hapless Georgia Bulldogs to the tune of 86-51 - the fifth largest margin of victory in SEC Tournament history. It’s safe to say that the ‘Dores are playing their best basketball right now, so they will be a dangerous opponent tonight.
From Last Time
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 be 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.
For the full Breakdown from the last match-up, click here
I don’t like to toot my own horn often, but I think I nailed this section last meeting. After an ugly first half, where Alabama had more turnovers than made shots, the Tide came out and played an inspiring first fifteen minutes of the second stanza - which pushed ‘Bama out to a 10-point, 66-56 lead. Jahvon Quinerly had one of his best games in a Tide uniform - scoring 19 points on 6/12 shooting and dishing out three assists, Alabama was getting after it on the glass, playing tough defense - and then the Scotty Pippen show took over.
I know the great Scottie Pippen named his son after himself, but he might as well named him after James Harden the way Junior started flopping around, baiting for fouls in the last few minutes of the game. Pippen shot 12 free throws in the last four minutes and change. The Tide helped out by regressing to their first half ways of turning the ball over a few times, and the ‘Dores nearly came from behind and stole one. It was an infuriating twenty minutes of real time.
So, Stop Turning the Ball Over and Put a Bubble Around Pippen - Got It
That would go a long way in securing a victory tonight, for sure. There are two key differences between this match-up and the last one. Number one, it is not being played in that hell-hole of a gym - big win there. However, Vanderbilt will have Rodney Chatman available tonight. Chatman is a graduate transfer from Dayton who can play the point guard role as primary ball-handler quite well, which allows Pippen to operate more off-ball. Whenever Pippen has that fluidity, he really tries to let it fly from the perimeter (33.5% 3P%). It certainly doesn’t hurt the Commodores that Chatman can really shoot it too (40.3%/39.5%/78.9%).
This is a significantly more dangerous offense with Chatman on the floor. Last night, Vandy shot 16/41 from the arc, as they just poured it on Georgia. When you add Liam Robbins - a big seven-footer who missed most of the season - as well, suddenly Jerry Stackhouse’s team becomes quite explosive. Alabama will be getting the very best version of Vanderbilt tonight, so the fellas better come ready to play. It’s going to be a three-point shooting bonanza.
Yikes, Not to Get Ahead Here, but What if the Tide Wins?
The winner of tonight’s game will get the best team in the conference - the #5 Kentucky Wildcats - in the Quarterfinals on Friday. Due to Auburn playing the easiest schedule in the SEC and Tennessee having a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Wildcats for beating Auburn, Alabama and Vandy have the misfortunate of drawing Kentucky as the 3-seed. Which is honestly perfect. In the last five SEC Tournaments, Alabama’s run has ended at the hands of the Wildcats in four of them - the one outlier, of course, being the Tide’s championship last season, when Kentucky was eliminated by Mississippi State before Alabama began play. The Tide, of course, were swept by the ‘Cats in their prior two meetings this season - a defensive battle in Tuscaloosa and a shootout in Lexington. It’ll take Alabama’s absolute best to beat a fully healthy Kentucky team in Tampa.
Of course, none of that will matter if Alabama can’t earn a victory tonight. Vanderbilt is a really dangerous team right now. Not only are they fully healthy for the first time this season, but they are playing every game as though it is their last. It’s been a crazy, up-and-down ride for Tide Hoops all season, but Alabama is going to have to stretch this last peak out quite a bit if Nate Oats and company want to cut down some nets again.
The game tips-off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Mississippi State - South Carolina game, or about 7:00 PM CST. It will be televised on the SEC Network. Alabama is a 5.5-point favorite.