Alabama Basketball Can't Afford to let the Venue be a Factor at Vanderbilt

Alabama Athletics

Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Deathtrap.

That’s what Memorial Coliseum has been to Alabama men’s basketball over the years, a place that usually defies the Crimson Tide.

Alabama managed to defeat Vanderbilt there last season, 77-67 on Feb. 9, but the Commodores are 42-21 at home in the series. Between the raised floor and the benches behind the baskets, few opposing teams can get comfortable there – or shoot well.

“If we’re going to complete in the league, we have to win road games,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said about Wednesday's matchup (8 p.m. CT)

“I think we’ve played well. We just have to close them. You have to play well, and we talk continual growth. The next step is we have to play well and win the games. Hopefully this is that next step for us.”

Excluding the Samford game at the BJCC in Birmingham, which even Oats concedes wasn’t a pure road test, Alabama’s last three road games have all been losses, albeit under difficult circumstances.

They were at Penn State, Florida and Kentucky.

All tough teams. All tough environments.

However, it looks like Alabama may have a big advantage this time. Not only are the Commodores 0-5 in league play this year (8-9 overall), but didn’t beat an SEC opponent all last season. They’ve also been decimated by injuries.

Aaron Nesmith may miss the rest of the season due to a recent foot injury. The 6-foot-6 sophomore guard was leading the SEC with 23.0 points per game, and fifth nationally in scoring. That was on top of senior forward Clevon Brown suffering a knee injury.

Vanderbilt started three freshmen (Scotty Pippen Jr., Dylan Disu and Braelee Albert) during its two games last week, a 75-55 loss at Arkansas and 66-45 defeat to Tennessee.

During the latter, the Commodores failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time since the NCAA added the line 34 years ago. The streak was snapped at 1,080 games.

Alabama (10-7, 3-2 SEC) leads the league in 3-point shooting at .358 percent, while Vanderbilt, under new coach Jerry Stackhouse, is second at .347.

“Jerry, coming from the NBA, I think he’s done a really good job schematic-wise,” Oats said. “They shoot a lot of 3s. Even when they didn’t hit one the last game they still took 25 of them. So they’re going to space the floor.”

Oats added about Stackhouse: “I study the NBA a lot. Shoot, I’ve stolen some actions already that they’ve used. He’s got a good mind offensively. He’s probably doing the best he can right now with all their injuries. They’re going to beat some teams.”

However, it’s on the defensive side that the youth and depth will probably really show.

It’s also where Alabama has arguably improved the most.

“If Missouri had shot a normal free-throw percentage, it would have been our best points-per-possession, our best defensive efficiency game of the year,” Oats said about the Crimson Tide’s 88-74 home win on Saturday, when the Tigers were a perfect 31-for-31 from the line. “So I think our defense is getting better.

Alabama isn’t expecting to be missing anyone, as graduate student guard Beetle Bolden (back) has practiced all week.

With a victory, Alabama will enjoy its first three-game winning streak against Vanderbilt sine 1984-87.

A loss, though, would seriously damage Alabama’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Having won eight of out of its last 11 games, Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology ESPN lists the Crimson Tide as one of the first four teams out – which is lot better than what anyone thought a few weeks ago.

“I think it’s still too early,” Oats said. “My guess is that we’re not in one right now, based on our non-conference schedule. I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do to play ourselves into some of that. Right now I don’t know how much good it would do to tell our guys they’re not in.

“We’ve just got to get better.”