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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Vanderbilt

An emotionally exhausted Alabama team begins a tricky two-game road trip

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been sitting here for a few minutes trying to come up with the best way to start this article. By now, we all know about the absolutely horrific news from this weekend - there’s nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been said. I just want to take this opportunity to ask that everyone try to keep everyone who was affected by this senseless crime in their thoughts and prayers. If you want to take action, the mother of the victim, Jamea Harris, has set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for the beautiful baby boy that survives her. Love your people while you can.

Now, I’ll focus on basketball. Which is what the 4th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (15-2, 5-0 SEC; Kenpom: 4; T-Rank: 4; NET: 3) will attempt to do just 48 hours removed from learning about the events from Saturday night. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in the players’ shoes right now, but hopefully a return to the court to play the game they love will help bring them some solace. Or a much-needed distraction, at the very least.

Alabama has a tricky week ahead of them, with back-to-back road trips to places that have not been kind to Tide Hoops over the years. Anyone who has followed Alabama basketball for the better part of the last decade knows of the horror stories of playing in that wretched arena in Nashville - Memorial Gymnasium. Many favored Tide teams have fallen in that God-forbidden place, and Alabama does indeed find itself as a 9-point favorite tonight against the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-8, 2-2 SEC; Kenpom: 88; T-Rank: 89; NET: 90), who are fresh off of a home upset against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Can Nate Oats and his team overcome some serious emotional and mental adversity and survive a trip to the house of horrors that is Memorial Gym?

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 5’11 Ezra Manjon (8.4 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.1 RPG, 105.2 DRtg)

GUARD 6’4 Tyrin Lawrence (10.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 104.5 DRtg)

WING 6’6 Jordan Wright (10.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 102.6 DRtg)

WING 6’7 Myles Stute (10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 103.3 DRtg)

POST 7’0 Liam Robbins (13.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 95.8 DRtg)

Off the Bench

GUARD 5’11 Trey Thomas (7.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 108.1 DRtg)

GUARD 6’3 Noah Shelby (5.1 PPG, 110.8 DRtg)

GUARD 6’4 Emmanual Ansong (2.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 106.1 DRtg)

WING 6’8 Colin Smith (4.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 107.0 DRtg)

POST 6’10 Quentin Millora-Brown (3.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 104.4 DRtg)

Jerry Stackhouse’s fourth season hasn’t been much different than his first three, as the ‘Dores are once again looking like one of the favorites to end up playing on Sad Wednesday of the SEC Tournament. His roster doesn’t look much different from a year ago either, as Scotty Pippen Jr is about the only meaningful contributor who didn’t return from the 2022 NIT quarterfinalists.

That group is led by Jordan Wright and Myles Stute out on the wings. Both are capable scorers in different manners - Stute can really shoot (40.8%/42.6%/73.9%) whereas Wright tends to put his head down and get to the basket (42.8%/30.6%/73.3%). Both have been with the program for years and are finally getting the spotlight in their senior seasons. As is Tyrin Lawrence, a classic shooting guard who has been quite streaky this year (48.4%/31.6%/68.9%).

Liam Robbins, the transfer from Minnesota whose addition to the team last year coincided with Vandy’s hot finish to the year, is back and leading the team in scoring and rebounding. The seven-footer has the ability to shoot from distance, but he has struggled with the higher volume of attempts this season (54.8%/17.9%/77.4%). Still, he’s a dangerous player on the offensive end, and - unsurprisingly - a hell of a shot blocker on the other end (14.4% BLK%).

Vandy utilizes its bench quite a bit; they are 70th in the country in bench minutes. They’ve also had six different starting line-up combinations this season, so Stackhouse makes good use of his whole rotation. Ezra Manjon and Trey Thomas split the point guard duties. Manjon is an old-school ‘look-to-pass’ point (47.2%/8.3%/75.9%; 22.2% AST%), while Thomas looks to score more and hasn’t missed a free throw all year (36.0%/35.7%/100%). Colin Smith is another stretch-four (34.4%/34.1%/60.0%) and Quetin Millora-Brown adds good size in the post (12.7% REB%).

Three Keys to Victory

  1. The Tide’s Mental/Emotional Mindset. Alabama is a large favorite in this game for a reason. The Commodores aren’t exactly among the best teams that the Tide has played this season. Still, considering everything that these players and coaches have been through in the past 72 hours, the mental part of the game is going to weigh heavier than ever tonight. This might take Nate Oats’ absolute best coaching effort.
  2. Keep Attacking on Offense. On the court, Vanderbilt has arguably the worst defense in the SEC this year, save maybe South Carolina. Liam Robbins is the one guy on the team with a better-than-average defensive rating, and that’s mostly because he is seven-feet tall. The Tide settled for an unbelievable amount of three-point jumpers against LSU, in large part because the Tigers were just giving it to them, but I’d like to see more paint touches in this one. Alabama has been stung before when falling in love with the three-pointers. Vanderbilt can’t guard anybody on this team, so the Tide needs to attack all night.
  3. Clean-Up the Perimeter on Defense. On the flip side, Vandy has been heating up on offense as of late. They are actually 1st in the SEC in Offensive Efficiency since conference play started up. They dropped 63 points in the second half alone against Arkansas on Saturday. It’s safe to say that they are feeling themselves on the offensive end right now, and that is in large part due to the great equalizer - the three-point line. The Tide needs to utilize its elite length to bother and chase their shooters off of the arc, and without fouling. Because Vandy has been getting to the line and making them count recently too.

Vanderbilt is hardly the toughest opponent that the Tide has played to date, but this might be the most difficult game of the year so far for Alabama. Hopefully, the guys are able to start feeling like themselves again when the ball hits the court for pregame warm-ups tonight. I know in times of tragedy being able to get back to normal operations can go a long way in starting the healing process. Basketball is hardly the most important thing to consider right now, but it’s something that they all love. Hopefully, it can bring them some peace.

The game will tip-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network. Let’s tune in and give this team as much support as we can.