The Vanderbilt Commodores concluded regular season SEC competition with a 70-65 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday, in Memorial Gymnasium. The Vols were trailing 50-39 about halfway through the second half, but from that point they outscored the Commodores 31-15. It was a close game to the end, and the Vanderbilt team showed little effect of the one-sided loss to Kentucky three days previously. Matt Freije poured in 25 points, but no other Commodore reached double-digit scoring.
Vanderbilt has now lost nine consecutive games, the most since the 1984-85 season, when they had available only six scholarship players and lost eleven in a row. They have a 10-17 overall record, and finished 3-13 (18.8%) in conference play. This is their poorest conference record since they joined the newly-formed SEC in 1932. Should they lose to Alabama and finish 10-18, it will be the poorest overall season's record since they went 3-10 in 1945-46. A win over Alabama would ensure them of a slightly better overall record than in 1976-77 (10-16) and 1977-78 (10-17).
The Alabama Crimson Tide comes into this game with an overall record of 17-10, and 7-9 in conference play. After winning eleven of their first twelve games, including victories over Oklahoma, Ohio State, Providence, and Xavier, they were very disappointing in SEC competition. On January 11, they were upset 70-69 by Vanderbilt in Nashville, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicates. Ranked as the number one team in the country early in the season, Alabama will probably need to win the SEC tournament to make the Big Dance.
The two leading players for the Tide are 6-8 senior Erwin Dudley and 6-1 sophomore Maurice Williams. The powerful Dudley averaged 15.0 ppg and 9.7 rebounds, definitely not a bad season, but somewhat below the level expected. He will probably have to settle for second team all-SEC honors. Williams, who was SEC freshman of the year in 2001-02, scored 15.7 ppg and made 39.9% of his three point attempts, however his assists/turnover ratio was just 4.0 to 3.1, certainly worse than had been expected.
One of the problems that Alabama had was to integrate highly-touted 6-7 freshman Kennedy Winston into the team after he missed the first twelve games. He is now settled into a starting role on the wing and is averaging 11.6 ppg, 4.5 rebounds, and is shooting 38.8% from three-point territory. Winston is a very talented player, and fills the slot occupied by Rod Grizzard before Grizzard decided to turn professional prematurely.
6-9 senior Kenny Walker teams up at the post with Dudley. With 9.4 ppg, and and average of 5.5 rebounds, he is a solid, but unspectular performer.
The starter at shooting guard is 6-0 junior Antoine Pettway. Although he contributes 6.1 ppg and makes 41% of his three-point attempts, Pettway has not had as good a season as had been hoped. However, he did supplant 6-2 senior Terrance Meade in the starting lineup. Meade. who scored 4.3 ppg, was an excellent freshman who has contributed less and less with each passing year.
Several other players could see action. 6-3 sophomore Earnest Shelton scores 4.9 ppg, but his outside shooting has been off this season (32.3%). 6-4 junior Emmett Thomas, a transfer from South Alabama, started before Winston became available and averages 6.0 ppg. 6-6 freshman Lucky Williams, a defensive specialist, has been available for only the last nine games. Others who see some action are 6-7 junior Reggie Rambo, 6-3 junior Demetrius Smith, 6-9 freshman Evan Brock, and 6-8 freshman Chuck Davis.
It would seem that Alabama has all of the pieces necessary to have had a far more successful season than they achieved. They may actually be better next year, when Dudley, Walker, and Meade are no longer available and some of the younger players get more minutes.
Vanderbilt will have a better chance to upset the Tide than they would have had in their originally-scheduled game with LSU. But Alabama will be out to avenge their earlier loss and they still have a lot of size, depth, and potential. This is likely to be a close game, ending in a victory for Alabama by three to eight points.