Alabama, the 10th-ranked team in the country by the Associated Press, and number nine in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, got the weekend off after defeating LSU at home 71-61 last week. weekend. The Crimson Tide 14-2 overall and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference, while Vanderbilt is 11-6 overall, 1-2 SEC. The game tips at 7 p.m. Central Time Wednesday night. There is no live television broadcast of the game (Sirius channel 147 will have the Alabama radio broadcast).
The last time Alabama beat Vanderbilt in Memorial Gymnasium was in 1990 under Wimp Sanderson. Alabama had success there in years prior, however, winning three in a row from Vandy from 85-87 in addition to the 1990 win. Vanderbilt's home court sports a unique setup in college athletics, with team benches located on opposite baselines behind each respective goal and with the scorer's table and press row are level with the playing surface.
"It's different, there's no question about it," Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said. "But it's part of the way it's set up and you just deal with it. We're not going to make a big deal out of that."
"Vanderbilt is a very good team," he said. "We know that. And I think the way that they are playing this year with the four perimeter players—they are really trying to stretch the floor out. It's a tough place to play. And our guys are excited about that type of a challenge that we're looking at."
Alabama's biggest challenge might not be the floor setup, or the atmosphere, or even Vanderbilt's perimeter players, but the concerns of Ron Steele's diminished capacity for playmaking due to a pair of injuries – knee tendonitis and a sprained ankle – that has kept him from having the all-star year many prognosticators expected. Gottfried said Monday that the week off helped Steele in some ways, but might hinder him in others.
I think anytime you rest (an injury) it helps," he said. "The Catch-22 for us is he needs rest but he needs work and conditioning because he's missed so much practice already. So it puts us in a little bit of a tough spot as far as wanting for him to take time off yet at the same time trying to get him more work to get him back in shape. And that's been the most difficult thing over the last five or six weeks."
Steele is barely averaging double figures at 10.5 points per game. His 4.6 assists per game is sixth best in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama has spread the points evenly this season, with Richard Hendrix the Tide's leading score at 14.9 points per game, Alonzo Gee at 14.8, Jermareo Davidson at 13.9 and Mykal Riley at 12.3.
Alabama's Southeastern Conference season began with a blowout loss to Arkansas, and the LSU win came at least in part to the Bengal Tigers having a horrific shooting night. Gottfried said, "When you're coaching, you can look at your team and there's always a long laundry list of things you want to get better at. Our transition defense was very good against LSU, not very good at Arkansas. Our execution offensively or even defensively—our defensive rebounding—that's a long list of things. We just tried to address as many of it as we can in our practices this past week."
Wednesday night's game marks the 125th meeting between the Crimson Tide and the Commodores in a series Alabama leads 65-59. The first time these two teams played was in Nashville in 1924 and Alabama left with a 26-25 win.