Scouting Report: Alabama
"Beef: It's What's For Dinner." That advertising slogan made an impression on the American public in prior decades. Right now, "Defense: It's What's For Basketball" is Vanderbilt's slogan. The Commodores played one game in the high 50s on Tuesday night against Tennessee, and unless they shoot the ball particularly well on Saturday against Alabama, they're going to be stuck in the 50s yet again.
Let's not pretend Alabama is particularly different from Vanderbilt. The Crimson Tide give great effort on the court but find it hard to score with any consistency. The Tide's last four game scores are as follows: 50-49 (win), 59-55 (win), 54-53 (loss), and 59-56 (win). The three wins in that sequence came at home, the one loss on the road, also to Tennessee. (Vanderbilt would like to have the Vols' one-point victory luck; then again, just one made bunny would have turned the trick for VU in Knoxville.) There's little reason to expect anything other than a 59-57 kind of game, a game Vanderbilt has played many times this season.
Alabama, after making the NCAA tournament last season, is headed for the NIT, barring a remarkable rally over the next six weeks. The Crimson Tide were awful in non-conference play, losing to Mercer, Tulane and Dayton, among other teams. Alabama missed a chance to grab a quality SEC win against Missouri, which means the Tide must run the table to have a good chance at an at-large berth. If they fail to – at the very least – win one of their two games with Ole Miss and Florida in early March, they'll have a barren resume on Selection Sunday.
ALABAMA STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Two-point field goal shooting percentage: 48.8. National rank: 111 (out of 345).
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 35.4. National rank: 103.
Possessions per 40 minutes: 63.3. National rank: 322.
Assists per game: 11.6. National rank: 263.
Rebounding percentage: 50.4. National rank: 200.
Blocked shots per game: 5. National rank: 36.
Center – Moussa Gueye – Junior, 7-0, 255 2012-13: 1.5 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, 1.7 blocked shots per game
Gueye has played in all 20 games for Alabama this season, but his minutes (currently 14.7 per game) are higher than they would have been because center Carl Engstrom was knocked out for the season with injuries suffered in early December. Gueye is very unpolished and has a place on the floor only because of his size on defense. If he's not giving Alabama head coach Anthony Grant anything at the defensive end of the floor or on the glass, Gueye shouldn't be stealing minutes from someone else.
Guard – Levi Randolph – Sophomore, 6-5, 205; 2012-13: 8.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.2 steals per game
Randolph hits 38.3 percent of his threes, and like his teammates in the Alabama backcourt, he is not a volume shooter. Alabama's guard-heavy lineup requires that its guards provide adequate rebounding help. They all pitch in when they can, but collectively, they're not able to do enough on the backboard to give the Tide the extra lift the team needs.
Guard – Rodney Cooper – Sophomore, 6-6, 215; 2012-13: 10.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Cooper is a big guard who will most likely defend the opposing team's small forward when he's on the floor. When Alabama goes with this one-center, four-guard starting five, Cooper will be asked to guard the opposing team's power forward. His offensive numbers are not the product of three-point shooting; Cooper hits just 29.2 percent of his long-distance attempts. Frankly, he shouldn't be shooting threes, instead using his size and agility to get to the rim. What hurts Cooper is that he hits just 63.9 percent of his foul shots. That weakness has to be addressed if he wants to become a much more effective player.
Guard – Trevor Lacey – Sophomore, 6-3, 215; 2012-13: 12.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.6 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game
Lacey hits 41.8 percent of his threes, but he averages fewer than 4.6 attempts per game. He rebounds particularly well for his size, however, making a significant contribution to the Tide at both ends of the floor. Lacey has a compact, muscular body that enables him to compete for loose balls in the paint. Vanderbilt will have to match his energy level. Like Cooper, though, Lacey leaves a lot of points at the not-so-charitable charity stripe, making under 69 percent of his foul shots.
Guard – Trevor Releford – Junior, 6-0, 195; 2012-13: 15.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 steals per game
This is Alabama's most complete player. Though lacking size, Releford is especially quick. He has attempted only 58 threes this season, but he has made 44.8 percent of them. Releford's scoring average is where it is because he knows how to hit foul shots, a prerequisite for a high-workload guard. Releford converts 85.4 percent of his free throws, meaning that if Vanderbilt has a 56-55 lead with 30 seconds left (which might very well be the case), the Commodores must make sure that Lacey or Cooper beats them from the line, not Releford. It will be important to defend Releford without fouling; Vanderbilt can take more chances against the rest of Alabama's backcourt.
In what is an eight-man rotation due to Engstrom's injury, Grant relies on three primary reserves: Forwards Nick Jacobs and Devonta Pollard plus guard Andrew Steele. Jacobs averages 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Pollard averages 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Steele is a formidable pickpocket on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per contest. Redshirt freshman guard Retin Obasohan might be called on to provide reinforcements at times, but this team's abundance of guards means that Obasohan is definitely ninth in this rotation, a player who will be used sparingly.
Keys to the Game
1) Win the 50-50s… and make the putback this time. This game will likely come down to the final minute. It will likely be another defense-dominated battle. It will probably be decided by no more than two possessions. Just finish the play when it's waiting to be made – that's really the heart of the challenge for Vanderbilt. The effort is there, and has been all season; finishing plays near the rim is what this team has to learn to do.
2) Make sound defensive rotations and switches. Alabama loads the floor with guards, making opponents move their feet and demanding quick reactions. As long as Vanderbilt remains positionally sound and communicates well, the Commodores should be able to stay in front of the Crimson Tide's guards while denying clean three-point looks to Alabama.
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