Vandy's Last Game
After failing to shoot 30.0 percent or better in any of their first six conference games, the Commodores snapped out of their long range slump in a big way at Auburn. Jermaine Beal turned in a Foster-esque 7-of-8 performance from beyond the arc, and Brad Tinsley chipped in three more triples as Vanderbilt converted 58.8 percent of its three-point attempts. A.J. Ogilvy contributed 14 points to the winning effort, and Jeff Taylor matched that total and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Though Vanderbilt allowed Auburn to shoot 50.0 percent from the floor, most of the damage was done by Rasheem Barrett, who scored a career-high 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting. The Commodores neutralized the Tigers' hot shooting by outrebounding the hosts by 13 and giving up just five offensive boards in the game. Similar glasswork will be necessary against an Alabama squad that boasts more athleticism than Auburn despite being similarly undersized.
The Crimson Tide's season has taken a turn for the worse over the past two weeks. First, point guard Ronald Steele decided to skip the rest of his final season in Tuscaloosa due to lingering injuries that have plagued him over the past couple of years. A week later, Mark Gottfried resigned after 11 seasons as Alabama's head coach, leaving assistant Phillip Pearson in charge as interim coach.
After a surprising win over LSU – now the league's hottest team – Alabama has struggled to stay afloat in the SEC. The Tide (13-8, 3-4) ended a stretch in which they had lost four out of five games with a home win over cellar-dweller Georgia on Saturday. The team enters Thursday's contest 0-3 in conference road games.
The Crimson Tide ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in both scoring offense and defense. Steele's departure robs the Tide of its third-leading scorer and top assist man, leaving what was a balanced offensive team without its best facilitator. Other players have picked up the scoring slack a bit, but Alabama has clearly missed the one-time All-American candidate.
Alonzo Gee – Senior, 6-6, 219 lbs. – One of the premier swingmen and athletes in the SEC, Gee leads the Crimson Tide in both scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). The senior is Alabama's best inside-outside threat, possessing the size and strength to score in the paint as well as the range and quickness to be effective from the perimeter. Gee can monopolize the ball at times, as evidenced by the fact that he commits nearly twice as many turnovers as assists, and at 44.0 percent from the floor (33.3 percent on three-pointers), he can be a streaky shooter. When he plays under control, however, he can light up the scoreboard; just ask Georgia, whom he dissected by converting six of his eight field goal attempts and all three of his attempts from beyond the arc en route to as efficient a 20-point game as you'll see.
Senario Hillman – Sophomore, 6-1, 188 lbs. – Averaging just 4.3 points per game in his freshman season, Hillman provided his share of highlight reel dunks but not much else for the Crimson Tide a year ago. Fast forward one season, and Hillman has tripled his production in double the minutes and beginning to show SEC fans why he was tabbed a Parade All-American in high school. The jumping jack guard is averaging 13.3 points per game, good for second on the team. Though he hasn't found the touch on his three-point shot yet – he's shooting 23.3 percent from long range – Hillman remains a threat to score from the perimeter as well as off the dribble. Averaging 2.0 steals per game, the sophomore is also Alabama's best perimeter defender due to his explosive athleticism.
JaMychal Green – Freshman, 6-9, 225 lbs. – After struggling to put up the numbers he's capable of during the non-conference slate, highly touted freshman JaMychal Green has found a rhythm in SEC play. The McDonald's All-American is averaging 14.3 points over the last six games, including a 24-point outburst at Arkansas. A monster in the paint, Green is shooting a team-high 55.0 percent from the floor on the season. He plays bigger than the 6-9 at which he is listed, leading the team in offensive rebounds and ranking second in overall rebounding at 7.0 boards per game. Green has made his presence felt on defense as well, averaging 1.5 blocks per contest.
Mikhail Torrance – Junior, 6-5, 210 lbs. – The departure of Steele forced Torrance into a more prominent role as both a scorer and a distributor. The junior combo guard received inconsistent playing time early in the season but has averaged 29.2 minutes per game since Steele left the team. Over that stretch Torrance has averaged 14.1 points and 3.0 assists per contest, solid numbers that would look even better if not for a zero-point, one-assist effort in a home loss to Kentucky. Though he's a capable three-point shooter, Torrance is at his best when slashing to the basket; he is a good finisher and can also hurt opponents by getting to the free throw line, where he shoots 84.6 percent.
Justin Knox – Sophomore, 6-9, 240 lbs. – Alabama's de facto center, Knox is a big-bodied forward by nature who can rebound well and has a nice touch around the basket. Averaging 6.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, Knox has the potential to eventually put up double-doubles from time to time. Shooting 53.3 percent from the floor, the sophomore is capable of tossing in ten points or more if opponents focus too much energy on Green.
A deep Crimson Tide bench allows the athletic starters to play more aggressively, though it's hard to maintain a high tempo without a true point guard. Guards Anthony Brock, Andrew Steele and Brandon Hollinger add depth in the backcourt. Brock, a 5-9 junior college transfer, is shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc. Steele, the younger brother of the departed Alabama point guard, is averaging 3.2 points and 0.9 assists per game. Hollinger finds himself in a bench role after being a consistent starter throughout his career; he brings some much-needed experience to a young team.
Yamene Coleman and Demetrius Jemison bolster the Alabama frontcourt. Standing 6-9, Coleman shares the distinction of being the Tide's tallest player, and he offers another big body to defend against the likes of A.J. Ogilvy. Jemison, a 6-7, 234-pound forward, serves much the same purpose, as he averages just 2.2 points and 2.6 boards in 11.7 minutes per game.
Keys to the Game
Pack It In – Alabama is by far the conference's least proficient team from three-point range. The Crimson Tide averages nearly two fewer triples per game than any other SEC team, and their 30.1 percent from long distance is easily the league's worst. However, the Tide is also among the nation's lowest in terms of frequency of three-point attempts; only a quarter of the team's field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. Against a team full of slashers that also boasts a soon-to-be elite big man, the Commodores would be wise to force Alabama to beat them from the perimeter. Double teams on Green and aggressive help defense should limit the Tide's chances inside; factor in Alabama's low assist rate (worst in the conference), and Vanderbilt should be able to stifle the ‘Bama attack.
Inside Out – Despite the Commodores' success from three-point land against Auburn, a newfound love affair with the trifecta could hurt the hosts against a quick, athletic Alabama defense. The ‘Dores should ride A.J. Ogilvy as far as he'll take them in the first half in hopes that he can establish an inside game to open up better perimeter shots. Attacking JaMychal Green on the inside early could also pay dividends, as the Tide has no other big man possessing anything close to his kind of offensive ability.
Prediction: All signs point to a Vanderbilt victory on Thursday: The ‘Dores are coming off of their most impressive conference game, they should have renewed confidence from the perimeter, and Alabama has struggled mightily on the road thus far. However, the Commodores cannot afford to give Alonzo Gee the same opportunities they gave Auburn's swingman, Rasheem Barrett, as Gee is capable of a 30-point game himself. Barring a Gee takeover or a banner night from the outside for the Tide, look for the ‘Dores to take one step closer to .500 in the SEC. Final Score: Vanderbilt 70, Alabama 65.