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January 17, 2007

GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. No. 10 Alabama

QUICK FACTS

• Line: Alabama by 1.5
• RPI (Ken Pomeroy): Alabama 12; Vanderbilt 115
• SOS: Alabama 51; Vanderbilt 120
• Sagarin: 21/Alabama-87.17; 89/Vanderbilt-77.87
• Tip-off: 7 P.M. CT
• Series Info: 124th meeting; Alabama leads the all-time series 63-60; Alabama leads 42-18 in Tuscaloosa; Vanderbilt leads 37-18 in Nashville and 5-3 at neutral sites.
• Last Year's Meeting: Alabama won 77-74 in overtime in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 8.
• Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (133-102) and his 14th year overall (256-165); Mark Gottfried is in his ninth year at Alabama (175-98) and his 12th year overall (243-122).
• Rankings: Alabama is No. 10 in AP poll and No. 9 in ESPN/USA Today.
• Radio: Vanderbilt-ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM); Sirius Radio: Channel 147.


STARTING LINEUPS

Vanderbilt

3 - Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (8.0 ppg, 4.1 apg)

32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (14.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (15.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.9 apg)

20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (11.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg)

41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (10.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

Alabama
22 - Ronald Steele, G, 6-3, 185, Jr., Birmingham, Ala. (10.5 ppg, 3.8 apg)

1 - Mykal Riley, G, 6-6, 185, Jr., Pine Bluff, Ark. (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

12 - Alonzo Gee, F, 6-6, 215, So., Palm Beach, Fla. (14.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg)

35 - Richard Hendrix, F, 6-8, 265, So., Athens, Ala. (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg)

33 - Jermareo Davidson, C, 6-10, 230, Sr., Atlanta, Ga. (13.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg)


SCOUTING ALABAMA
When your team is 14-2, and ranked No. 10 nationally, you'd think life would be pretty good. But that's not necessarily the case for Alabama and head coach Mark Gottfried.

Alabama started off the season running roughshod through the compeition. With a 7-0 record, the league's best point guard, and perhaps the most formiddable frontline in America, Tide fans were already talking about an SEC title and a run to the Final Four.

But Alabama then lost at Notre Dame 99-85, which was the best team they'd played to date. Rumblings of discontent among certain players began to wear on the team's unity.

On November 12, Jermario Davidson was a passenger in a tragic automobile accident that killed his girlfriend. In addition, five days earlier, Davidson's brother was critically injured in a car accident. Davidson withdrew from school on December 8 to regroup, marking a month that rocked a team that was supposed to simply walk to the SEC West title.

Davidson returned to school for the start of the spring semester, and things have slowly gotten back to normal in Tuscaloosa. Gottfried benefitted from a schedule that -- like all SEC preconference schedules -- was heavily padded with directional payday opponents. But the rocky start to the season made fans and media wonder whether this was going to be the season they had expected.

Those questions seem to linger. On New Year's Day, Alabama beat a talented Oklahoma team 70-55. But in its next game, the Tide were blown off the court by Arkansas in the SEC opener, 88-61. Whispers were getting louder in Tuscaloosa.

Last Saturday, the Tide seemed to quiet those whispers with a hard-fought 10-point win over SEC West rival LSU. Alabama is now a leg up on Glen Davis and Company, but may be fighting a surprising Arkansas club for the SEC West crown.

You don't have to be Ken Pomeroy to see why hopes have been high for this Alabama team. With all five starters averaging double figures, including superstars Ron Steele, Davidson and Richard Hendrix, this is a team that certainly has all of the raw materials to put a scare into any team in the nation.

Statistically, the Tide is a scouting report nightmare. Alabama is the only team in the SEC that ranks in the top three in both shooting percentage (48 percent), and field goal percentage defense (37 percent) -- helping Bama to the third best scoring margin in the conference (+14.4). They also hold opponents to a frightening 27 percent from three, and are the league's best defensive rebounding team.

A group with such gaudy team statistics would have to have some pretty impressive players, and that is certainly true of Alabama. Steele, who picked UA over Vandy out of high school, is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for Gottfried. Steele is tall, physical and wiley, and has firmly established himself as the league's most feared point guard. The junior, who was the high school teammate of DeMarre Carroll, is the league's second-best 3-point shooter at 49 percent, and is also fifth in the league in assist/turover ratio (1.96).

Helping keep the pressure off of Steele is the SEC's best frontcourt. Hendrix, who was also recruited by Vandy out of high school, teams with Davidson to provide a massive physical presence that some NBA teams would have a difficult time matching up with.

Davidson and Hendrix rank first and fifth in defensive rebounding, and wing Gee is sixth in offensive rebounding. Hendrix is dropping 61 percent of his shots, while Gee is shooting 54 percent.

Davidson also shoots 75 percent from the free throw line, and Hendrix shoots 65 percent -- making Alabama the only SEC team to have both its starting four and five in the top 15 in free throw percentage in the league. The duo have already scored 100 points from the foul line this season.

If Alabama has a weakness it is in discipline. This is not a terribly difficult team to scout, and -- as they proved against Arkansas -- they are prone to selfish and sloppy play. Gottfried doesn't try to outsmart you with his X's and O's; Rather, he plays a physical slowdown style that forces you to guard them man for man. Steele is obviously very talented, but he also does not respond well to physical defensive pressure -- something former Dore Jason Holwerda exploited exceptionally well.

Man for man, Alabama is without a doubt one of the biggest match-up problems Vandy could face. But, in VU's favor is the fact that Alabama hasn't won in Memorial Gym since 1991, and were it not for a fantastic play at the end of regulation, they would have lost to VU in Tuscaloosa last year. Stallings, for some reason, seems to know how to get under Gottfried's skin. He'll need to make him stark raving mad for Vandy to have a chance against Alabama tonight.


OUR TAKES

Mike Rapp
Franklin, Tenn.
VandySports.com Publisher


At the beginning of the year, this was one game that I thought Vanderbilt had a great chance at an upset. For some reason, Stallings just always seems to know how to bother Gottfried's teams, even when they have better talent.

But boy, does Alabama have better talent this year. And this is not a Vandy team that has wowed fans with their game smarts this season, let alone their consistency on either end of the court.

On paper, this is without a doubt a game where Vanderbilt could get humiliated. Neltner, Skuchas and Metcalfe had their worst defensive performance of the year in their Saturday loss at Georgia, and there is no question that Hendrix and Davidson could foul all three of them out if they aren't at the top of their defensive game.

The key for Vanderbilt to pull of another upset in Memorial is to do what they did a week ago to 16th-ranked Tennessee. Look for Vandy to play a collapsing zone on Hendrix and Davidson, and pray that Cage, Byars and Foster can run their legs off to guard the outside shot. VU proved they can beat you even if your star player is unconscious from outside (Lofton was 11-15 for 29 points).

Vandy may also full court press from wire to wire tonight, to try to negate Alabama's inside advantage. For that matter, it wouldn't surprise me if Stallings' early game plan was to turn the tables on their big men and post up Neltner and Byars to try to get one of them into early foul trouble.

Until recently, I was still leaning toward picking Vandy tonight. But after the awful defensive performance in Athens (UGa's inside players missed just four shots the entire game), you just cannot logically believe that VU will be able to do what it takes to stop Alabama's inside game. No matter how you compare these two teams, Alabama comes up far, far ahead.

Vandy has the X-factor of Memorial, which proved decisive against Tennessee. But it just won't be anywhere near enough to stop Alabama tonight.

Alabama 87, Vanderbilt 73


Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn.
VandySports.com Recruiting Analyst


Vanderbilt, again, missed a golden opportunity to turnaround their season during Saturday's loss at Athens. However, with Alabama coming into town, that opportunity might present itself once more.

Despite losing on a last second shot in Tuscaloosa last season, there has been no other "successful" program that Vanderbilt has matched up as well with than the Crimson Tide. Often, it hasn't mattered how good Alabama has been or even how bad Vanderbilt has been -- the Commodores and Coach Stallings often know how to tame the Tide.

Of course, when looking at the Tide's Davidson and Hendrix, one has to believe that Alabama has the strong advantage on the inside and that the key for the Commodores will have to be the shooting of Byars, Foster, and Cage. One "x-factor" will certainly be the health of Steele, as he is said to be still recovering from ankle and knee injuries.

The Commodores must get the real Shan Foster back..and keep the Derrick Byars we've seen in the last two games, to have a chance to win. I feel that it should be a good crowd in Memorial again and that over the years, Coach Stallings has had Alabama coach Mark Gottfried's number and even though the Commodores are 1-2 in the SEC, I have to take Vanderbilt with the previous history considered.

Vanderbilt 84, Alabama 82


Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn.
VandySports.com Publisher


Nothing spells "trouble" for Vanderbilt like Wednesday's matchup. Alabama's strengths--dribble penetration from the point, shot-blocking, rebounding, inside scoring--match up EXACTLY with Vanderbilt's weaknesses.

And that's not all the 'Tide have going for them. Gee's scoring ability further compliments Steele's talents, as well as those of Hendrix and Davidson inside. Put it all together, and you have one scary team. It's a team that could, as some preseason prognosticators predicted, make the Final Four.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is still trying to figure it all out. One minute, the Commodores are knocking off Georgia Tech and Tennessee; the next, they're losing to Auburn and Furman. Many expected an up-and-down season for Vandy, and this certainly fits the mold.

The timing on this one's not good, either, as Vandy, with road games at Kentucky and LSU immediately to follow, must win this one to have any realistic shot at a tourney bid.

Just about everything in my head screams "'Bama blowout," on Wednesday, except for two nagging things: Alabama NEVER seems to beat Vanderbilt in Memorial, and the 'Tide did suffer an embarassing blowout loss at Arkansas recently.

And, with every "down" cycle this season, a "pick-me-up" seems to follow. Using recent, and not-so-recent history as my guide, I'll take the 'Dores in an upset.

Vanderbilt 75, Alabama 73


Robbie Smoot
Nashville, Tenn.
VandySports.com Guest Writer


To me, this is a game where history totally contradicts paper -- meaning, history would tell you Vandy would win this game. Vandy has had great success vs Bama. To put it in perspective, Vandy has only lost once to Bama since the 02-03 season. And yes, that is correct, the 02-03 season was Vandy's three win SEC season that included the 60 point loss to Kentucky.

Vandy actually beat Bama TWICE that year (regular season and SEC tourney).

Vandy got their first SEC road win in over two years the next year, and basically pummeled Bama in Memorial the following year. And, last year, Bama escaped Tuscaloosa when they scored (well, nevermind, I will not rehash that one). Gottfried has had a miserable time in Memorial over the years, and I'm not sure he has ever won in Nashville.

On paper, however, this game is really a mismatch. Alabama has not one, but two monster big men inside that VU really has no answer for. And add to that very athletic wings, and when healthy the best point guard in the country in Ronald Steele. (Steele, however, has been playing hurt all season, and really has not shown that greatness.) The Tide did have Saturday off, so he may be improved with the extra rest, even if not at full speed.

Vandy has the advantage in coaching, as for some reason Stallings always seems to have good game plans versus Bama. Talent-wise, no question Bama has the edge. For Vandy to win, they have to limit the inside play of Alabama (not stop them, as I don't think that is possible in this game), and keep Steele from having an All American type game, as Vandy is notorious for allowing players to breakout of funks (Stukes of Georgia had been in a slump before the VU game). And, Foster and Byars really need good offensive nights the same game (not sure that has ever happened) to offset Bama's inside game.

And, if ever a team would allow it, I believe it would be Alabama, as they have shown over the years to lack the defensive intensity to shut down good offensive players.

With road games versus a hot Kentucky squad, and then to LSU, a loss tonight would mean Vandy is be staring 1-5 in the face.

I do feel Vandy will play well, and with heart. But, I just don't see how they slow Bama down inside, and eventually the rebounding eats them up, as Vandy just can't sustain a 50-60% shooting night needed to win this game. Paper wins out over History:

Alabama 88, Vanderbilt 78


Tommy Crockett
Reno, Nevada
VandySports.com Staff Writer


Alabama is 14-2; The Crimson Tide is the AP number 10 team in the nation; Richard Hendrix is the bomb, and most every single Vandy fan remembers the flirtation he had with Vanderbilt's program during his recruitment. Well, there's enough information you already know to get that out of the way.

Sure they lost to Arkansas by 27, but anybody that doesn't think this is the team to beat in the SEC-West is probably overlooking the obvious.

Alabama is balanced and Vandy struggles to achieve any kind of balance on most nights. Five of the Tide's players average in double figures and their four outstanding forwards can score at will on a weak interior.

Simply put I see this as a terrible match-up for Vanderbilt player on player. Pick your poison Vandy because besides Hendrix, Gee, Davidson and Riley can score at will against most opponents within the perimeter. The Commodores will have a huge advantage in terms of the Memorial Gym crowd which will probably far exceed the normal home court advantage between 4 and 5 points.

Alabama 85, Vanderbilt 74


Jake Lowery
Atlanta, Georgia
VandySports.com Staff Writer


The history of Alabama's visits to Memorial suggests a Vanderbilt win, but the objective facts suggest otherwise. Alabama is a top 10 team in the polls, and their strength in the post matches a Vanderbilt weakness.

The most overlooked strength of the Tide this season is their defense--while rarely stealing the ball or forcing turnovers, the Tide play a smothering passive defense which allows very few easy baskets, especially from beyond the arc. This is a style that is sure to give Vanderbilt absolute fits.

In a game where there will not be many turnovers, the key will be Vanderbilt's shooting percentage--Foster needs to recover from his 0-for-10 3pt shooting rut, Neltner needs to wake up and rediscover his mid-range jumper, and the rest of the Commodore squad needs to continue finding ways to get open.

There are weaknesses in Alabama's armour that have been exposed by Notre Dame and Arkansas. These two teams had the highest effective field goal percentages of any teams Alabama has yet faced, and were thus able to score well over one point per possession against Alabama.

While past years' history indicates Vandy can win this game, this season's history indicates that it will take 50% shooting from the field and 40% shooting from downtown against a very tough defensive team. If there was ever a time for Foster to rediscover his sharpshooting ways, it is now. But if Foster plays like he has in the last few games…

Alabama 70, Vanderbilt 68


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