Scouting Report: Alabama
The Commodores may finally be getting healthy enough to make a late run at the SEC East crown. With Andre Walker practicing in live situations for the first time in 2011, as well as Lance Goulbourne continuing to recover from his turned ankle, Kevin Stallings may finally be nearing the time he can use his full rotation. It could not happen soon enough for Vanderbilt. Whether Walker makes his return Thursday against Alabama remains to be seen, but this week the Dores have the chance to knock the SEC West leaders down to size and then hand John Calipari his fifth loss of the conference season on Saturday. Win both of these games, and Vanderbilt is right back in the hunt in the SEC East. That's not too shabby considering the disappointing losses the Dores have endured so far in SEC play.
It is tempting to look at Alabama's 7-1 conference record and argue that it is inflated since the Crimson Tide play in the supposedly weaker SEC West. Before Commodore fans look at Alabama as a minor interruption before taking on Kentucky, here are some thoughts to consider: The Tide has twice defeated Mississippi State, who some pundits believe has the best starting five in the conference. Coach Anthony Grant's team won in Knoxville this past weekend, something this year's edition of the Dores failed to do (even though the Vandy faithful will point out that Scotty Hopson did not play against the Tide). Of course Bama also has a two-point home win over Kentucky.
Alabama has already topped its SEC win total from last season and the credit has to be given to Grant. One of the ascendant coaches in Division I earned the Tide job based on his success at Virginia Commonwealth, highlighted by an NCAA Tournament first-round upset of Duke in 2007. Grant's run at VCU was made possible by his 10-year stint as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida, where he was the primary recruiter of the Gator teams that won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007 (the year he took the VCU job.)
Alabama's style is to push the ball in a manner similar to what Vandy fans have seen with Florida over the past decade, a style made popular by Rick Pitino at Kentucky. The Tide will pressure when they can, but depth is an issue for them.
Forward – JaMychal Green – Junior, 6-8, 228 2010-11: 15.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.1 blocks per game
Consistency is the word that best applies to Green. The junior from Montgomery, Alabama, has not scored more than 23 points in a game this year, but (apart from a four-point performance against Seton Hall) has not scored fewer than 13. In SEC play he has posted numbers that have been near his scoring average, mainly as a result of his ability to execute his go-to move, a jump hook. Green is not a threat when he plays away from the basket, but Grant does a good job of putting Green into spots on the floor where he will be successful. Defensively, Green's long arms pose problems for opposing post players, but he struggles against physical big men.
Forward – Tony Mitchell – Sophomore, 6-6, 210; 2010-11: 15.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .294 3-PT %
Mitchell did not start against Tennessee after being late to the pregame shoot-around, but still managed to play 36 minutes. He has been the star for the Tide the past two games with 23 and 24 points respectively. Only once this year has Mitchell been held below double digits. Mitchell is not strictly a scorer, though. He will rebound and run the floor well, and he may be Alabama's best defender. He causes Vanderbilt matchup problems with his length and his ability to play on the perimeter, too. Should Kevin Stallings put Jeff Taylor on him, such a move would put a bigger forward onto one of Alabama's three guards. Mitchell's ability may cause Vandy to use more zone defense, something that also helps contain Alabama's pace.
Guard – Andrew Steele – Sophomore, 6-4, 230; 2010-11: 3.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg
After missing the first 13 games of the season with knee problems and arthroscopic surgery, Steele has returned to the Tide and found his way into the starting lineup. Steele scores by driving to the basket but he has not had much success offensively. He's not one of the primary scorers on the Tide, but that does not mean he is not dangerous, particularly in fast break situations. Defensively, it figures that Steele will spend much of his time guarding Taylor, who has a three-inch height advantage on Bama's sophomore.
Guard – Charvez Davis – Senior, 6-3, 186; 2010-11: 9.1 ppg, .895 FT %
As consistent as Green is, Davis is the opposite. Nothing highlights this better than his two-game stretch in which he scored 17 points against Mississippi State, only to go scoreless the next game against Tennessee. Most of Davis's scoring comes from three-point range. Vandy needs to find Davis in transition because Bama's point guard, freshman Trevor Releford, will find him for three-point attempts early in possessions. Davis needs to consistently hit shots, though; if he doesn't, he'll allow defenses to collapse onto Bama's post players.
Guard – Trevor Releford – Freshman, 6-1, 180; 2010-11: 9.9 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.5 rpg
Grant's prized recruit from last year's recruiting class, Releford has been instrumental in Alabama's success this season. While not always flashy, he has established himself as the floor general for the Tide as all point guards should. Releford showed his potential in the Tide's second victory over Mississippi State on February 2. He scored 16 points, had eight assists against only two turnovers, and shot 50 percent from the field. Should Releford and sophomore forward Tony Mitchell remain in Tuscaloosa for one or two more seasons (and Grant continues to enjoy pronounced recruiting success), expect more hoops achievements in Alabama.
Senario Hillman is the quintessential bench guy. He is a 6-2 senior guard who comes off the bench to average eight points a game. Effective at running the floor, he struggles hitting the jump shot, making only 22 percent of his 3-pointers. Chris Hines is another senior presence, only in the frontcourt. He is a solid rebounder who averages 6.5 rebounds per game. His best scoring move is the offensive rebound. Ben Eblen, who had originally verballed to Grant when Grant was still at VCU, is the backup point guard. Eblen, though, is an ineffective scorer and has seen his minutes diminish as Releford has developed.
Keys to the Game
1) Cut down the turnovers. Alabama thrives off its defense. Vanderbilt has lost games it should have won because it often fails to protect the basketball. If the Dores are going to climb back up the ladder in the SEC East standings, they need to start cutting down on their turnover numbers, especially against teams such as Bama, Kentucky, and Tennessee, that thrive off creating turnovers.
2) Rein in Releford. While Tony Mitchell is the best player on the floor for the Crimson Tide, Trevor Releford is the key to stopping Alabama. If Vandy can contain him in transition and take away his dribble penetration, it will make Alabama stagnate on offense. When that happens, Grant does not have the playmakers on his team who can create scoring chances on their own.
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