Scouting Report: Alabama

A magical season at Memorial Gym ended in fairy tale fashion on Wednesday night. Shan Foster scored a career-high 42 points, including a last-second three-pointer, to propel the Commodores to a win over Mississippi State. Having reached 10 conference wins for the second straight year, the ‘Dores now look to improve their NCAA seeding as they travel to Tuscaloosa to face a struggling Alabama team.

Vandy's Last Game

Just two games after scoring 32 points to beat top-ranked Tennessee and only a few days after becoming Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer in Fayetteville, Foster delivered a performance to top them all against the Bulldogs.  The senior drained nine straight three-pointers – each more difficult and dramatic than the one before – en route to 33 points in the second half and overtime.  A.J. Ogilvy added 16 points for the Commodores, and Alex Gordon chipped in 14 in his last game in Memorial.

Vanderbilt won despite shooting just 39.5 percent as a team while allowing Mississippi State to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor.   Jamont Gordon led the Bulldogs with 24 points, while big men Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnado terrorized the Commodores in the paint, adding 22 and 16, respectively.  Ultimately, the hosts' ball control and outside shooting won the day, as Vanderbilt assisted 20 of its field goals and made 15 three-pointers to MSU's four.  On the road, a repeat shooting performance may be too much to ask, so the Commodores will have to tighten up their interior defense against an athletic Alabama squad.

Alabama's Year-to-Date

The Crimson Tide (15-15, 4-11) saw its chances at winning the SEC West go down with star point guard Ronald Steele when the senior decided to take a medical redshirt due to offseason knee surgeries.  Despite boasting a slew of talented players, Mark Gottfried's squad hasn't been able to overcome the loss of its floor general.  The Tide has lost seven of its last ten and lacks a significant win, most recently dropping a pair of nail-biters to Mississippi State and LSU.   The team has won its last three home games, though, and will be eager to pick up a quality victory on Saturday.

Starting Lineup

With Steele confined to the bench, the Alabama attack centers around junior Richard Hendrix.  The 6-9 forward is the league's most dominant force in the post, averaging a double-double both on the season and in conference play.  In SEC games, Hendrix has averaged 16.6 points and 10.0 rebounds, the latter good for second in the conference.  At 255 pounds, Hendrix has the strength to post up against any player in the nation, yet he doesn't sacrifice much athleticism to get that strength.  A fantastic finisher, the junior is shooting 57.1 percent in SEC play.  He's gone to the free throw line a whopping 185 times this season, second in the conference only to A.J. Ogilvy's 198 attempts.  Like most of his teammates, though, Hendrix struggles from the charity stripe, shooting just 52.4 percent from the line this season.  Armed with deft footwork and a soft touch around the basket, his free throw shooting is the biggest weakness in his offensive arsenal.  Hendrix poses a threat to the Commodores on the offensive glass, where he grabs an average of 3.79 boards per game.

While junior Alonzo Gee has increased his scoring a bit from last season, his efficiency has fallen off.  The 6-6 athletic swingman is shooting 41.8 percent from the floor this season, down from 46.4 percent a year ago.  Gee's perimeter shooting has suffered a bit as well.  He's shooting just 29.9 percent from downtown, and he's connected on just one of his last 18 three-point attempts.  The junior helps the Tide in many ways beyond scoring, however.  His 5.7 rebounds per game in SEC play are good for second on the team, and his elite athleticism makes him dangerous on the offensive glass.  Gee is perhaps Alabama's best perimeter defender, averaging just over a steal per game.  Better shot selection and improved ball handling would make Gee a surefire first team All-SEC candidate, but for now he plays second fiddle to Hendrix.

The lone senior in the Tide's starting lineup is 6-6 guard Mykal Riley.  Alabama's best outside shooter, Riley's 43 three-pointers in SEC play are tops on the team and good for fifth in the league.  He's hitting threes at a 39.8 percent clip in conference games, and he has knocked down 24 out of his last 52 shots from three-point range.  As he showed in a 28-point effort against South Carolina, Riley has the ability to torch a team from beyond the arc.  He went 8-of-10 from downtown against the Gamecocks in one of five SEC games in which he's hit at least four trifectas.  The junior college transfer gives the Tide size at the two; he can shoot over smaller defenders and can lock down an opposing scorer.  Jermaine Beal will most likely be the first to defend Riley and cannot allow him any space to squeeze off an outside shot.

Starting alongside Hendrix in the frontcourt is sophomore Demetrius Jemison.  Recently, the 6-7 post man has provided a spark for a sputtering offense.  Jemison scored in double figures just three times in the Tide's first 27 games, but he's averaged 16.7 points over the last three games.  The 234-pound sophomore does nearly all of his damage around the basket, particularly on the offensive boards.  Jemison ranks second on the team with just over two offensive rebounds per game.  When he catches the ball deep in the paint, he's very difficult to stop; he's shooting a cool 49.0 percent from the floor.

Rounding out the Alabama starting lineup is point guard Rico Pickett.  The 6-3 freshman, who shares point guard duties with Brandon Hollinger, has shown flashes of brilliance in his first season in Tuscaloosa.  He leads the team in assists this season, handing out 3.3 helpers per game.  Most recently, Pickett dished out seven assists in a slim loss to Mississippi State.  When he's not distributing the ball to a teammate, the freshman is using a quick first step to get into the lane for a pull-up or to get all the way to the basket.  His struggles from the floor (36.9 percent) are common in freshman combo guards as they try to walk the fine line between facilitator and secondary scorer.

Bench

Hollinger, a 5-11, 167-pound junior, is averaging 6.4 points and 3.2 assists per game.  The point guard started 18 games last year because of Steele's injury, and he's been thrust into a prominent role on this year's squad as well.  His outside shooting allows him to slide over to shooting guard if Pickett or the offensively limited Mikhail Torrance is on the court.  Hollinger is shooting a team-best 43.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Senario Hillman adds a little excitement to the Crimson Tide.  He's played at least 20 minutes in each of the last four games, and he's averaging 10.8 points per game over that span.  The 6-1 guard can absolutely sky; his leaping ability is unparalleled in the conference, if not the nation.  Unfortunately, his shot hasn't caught up to his dunks, as Hillman is shooting just 15.8 percent.

Providing some depth in the frontcourt is 6-9 Yamene Coleman.  At just 2.2 points per game, the sophomore forward is primarily concerned with grabbing boards and defending opposing post players.  When he does get a touch in the post, Coleman will not disappoint, as he has a couple of solid post moves.

Keys to the Game

  • Hinder Hendrix:  For the most part, A.J. Ogilvy has held his own defensively against the SEC's top post players. However, Charles Rhodes – perhaps the conference's best big man not named Richard Hendrix – had his way on the inside on Wednesday.  Jarvis Varnado took some attention away from Rhodes, though, a luxury Hendrix won't have unless Jemison can continue to be an impact scorer.  Until Jemison proves that he can hurt the ‘Dores consistently, Vanderbilt should send double teams at Hendrix.  The ‘Bama big man is not the best passer, and the Tide doesn't have enough dependable outside threats to deter the Commodores from collapsing on Hendrix.  If Vanderbilt can neutralize Alabama's biggest advantage without getting Ogilvy into foul trouble or getting burned by the kick-out and three-pointer, the ‘Dores have a great shot to win in Tuscaloosa.
  • Look Low:  Clean looks from the perimeter will be few and far between for the Commodores against a big, athletic Alabama backcourt.  Riley and Gee both have the size and quickness to guard Shan Foster and Jermaine Beal, and Rico Pickett has a clear size advantage over Alex Gordon.  Consequently, the ‘Dores may not be able to find any sort of consistency from behind the arc.  To combat the eager perimeter defense, Vanderbilt needs to look for Ogilvy early and often.  If the ever-improving freshman can continue to make a big impact offensively, his touches will give the Commodore shooters an extra split second.

Prediction:  Paired with a Kentucky loss, a win on Saturday gives Vanderbilt the 2-seed in the SEC East and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament.  That alone will be enough to motivate a team coming off an emotional win on Wednesday.  As for ‘Bama, the Tide should come out fired up against a top 25 team, but considering the way this season has gone for Mark Gottfried's squad, there may be no fire left in the boys from Tuscaloosa.  If Vanderbilt can open up a good lead in the first half, it could be smooth sailing to victory.  Final score: Vanderbilt 81, Alabama 74.


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