Alabama vs. Vanderbilt: Thursday's Preview

    
January 18th, 2012

With the SEC making the move away from two divisions, games such as the one between Vanderbilt (13-4, 3-0) and Alabama (13-4, 2-1) take on added importance in the race for one of those four first-round byes in the SEC Tournament. And while both teams presently have the look of NCAA Tournament clubs, there's nothing wrong with picking up another resume-building result. Kevin Stallings' Commodores have played well of late as they've won six straight games, but the three league wins have all come at the expense of teams expected to slug it out in the lower reaches of the SEC standings. They'll definitely be tested by the Crimson Tide, who have a pair of big men capable of testing Vanderbilt from a toughness standpoint.

JaMychal Green (14.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Tony Mitchell (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) form one of the better interior tandems in the country, with Green being a physical big man who will likely have the job of banging with Vandy's Festus Ezeli in the paint. Mitchell on the other hand is arguably the best dunker in the country, and if he's allowed to get out and fill lanes on the break it's going to be a long night at Coleman Coliseum for the Commodores. Freshman Nick Jacobs is the third member of the rotation for Anthony Grant, playing 18 minutes per game, but there's a signficant drop in production when either Green or Mitchell happens to get in foul trouble. 

In addition to Ezeli the Commodores have a versatile high-flyer of their own in Jeffery Taylor (16.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg), who is also one of the better defensive players in the SEC. Taylor's shooting 54% from the field and while he isn't the marksman that John Jenkins is, Taylor has made 45% of his three-pointers this season. Lance Goulbourne (10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) has stepped up his production, which was key with Ezeli looking to shake off the rust brought on by an NCAA suspension and a knee injury. Rod Odom and Steve Tchiengang are also a part of the frontcourt rotation, and with the two teams being similar from a rebounding standpoint this matchup should be fun to watch.

The perimeter play, especially how well Vanderbilt takes care of the basketball, will go a long way in determining the outcome. The Commodores average 14.4 turnovers per game and have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.92, and with Alabama limiting opponents to a ratio of 0.70 it's imperative that Brad Tinsley (10.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) and company don't get careless with the basketball. Actually it's been Taylor who has been the worst with the ball, averaging 2.7 turnovers/game and Goulbourne (2.1) ranks second on the team so they're likely the ones to watch. In Jenkins (19.8 ppg) Vanderbilt has one of the SEC's best scorers, and Alabama will need to do their best to make him work for his looks.

And the Crimson Tide have the perimeter athletes to do so but they're young with the backcourt rotation being made up of one sophomore and four freshmen. That sophomore, Trevor Releford (12.5 ppg, 3.2 apg), runs the show and gets the job done for Alabama offensively while also leading the team with 1.6 steals per game. Freshmen Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey are averaging a combined 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and both are athletic enough to give Jenkins trouble defensively. Alabama forces 13.8 turnovers per game but the bigger sign of their defensive work is that opponents average 9.6 assists per game and shoot 36.8% from the field. Turning Jenkins into an offensive player that has to create his own shots as opposed to benefitting from off-ball screens should be a goal for Alabama. 

Also of note on Thursday night is #6 North Carolina looking to rebound from an embarrassing performance on Saturday as they take on Virginia Tech, who is in desperate need of a win as they sit 0-4 in ACC play. The Hokies were without Erick Green due to injury on Saturday against Boston College and the impact was evident. They also need consistent play from Dorenzo Hudson if Seth Greenberg's team is to not only have a shot at an NCAA bid but simply work their way back into the discussion. North Carolina didn't respond well when Florida State hit them in the mouth, so they should be motivated to not only bounce back but do so in impressive fashion. 

Charleston visits Davidson in a South Division battle in the SoCon, and the Wildcats could increase their lead to over the Cougars to three games with a win at home. De'Mon Brooks leads five Davidson players in double figures with an average of 15.6 points per game while Charleston will counter with Antwaine Wiggins. Wagner and St. Francis (NY) meet in an NEC showdown (both teams are 5-1 in league play, a game behind LIU Brooklyn), and in the Pac-12 California visits Washington. The Golden Bears no longer have the services of forward Richard Solomon, who was declared academically ineligible on Wednesday. Without him players such as David Kravish become even more important, and there may not be body parts more vital to the Pac-12 race than Harper Kamp's knees. 

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Wake Forest at (4) Duke (ESPN)
9:00 PM (8) North Carolina at Virginia Tech (ESPN)
8:00 PM (17) Virginia at Georgia Tech (ESPN3)
10:00 PM Pepperdine at (23) Saint Mary's
9:00 PM (25) Illinois at Penn State (ESPN2)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Lafayette at Holy Cross (CBS SN)
7:00 PM Boston University at New Hampshire
7:00 PM Robert Morris at Fairleigh Dickinson
7:00 PM Georgia Southern at Furman
7:00 PM Albany at Vermont
7:00 PM Hartford at Maine
7:00 PM Vanderbilt at Alabama (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Bryant at Central Connecticut State
7:00 PM Charleston at Davidson (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Tennessee-Martin at Eastern Kentucky
7:00 PM Samford at Elon
7:00 PM Mount St. Mary's at LIU Brooklyn
7:00 PM Binghamton at UMBC
7:00 PM Saint Francis (PA) at Monmouth
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at UNC-Asheville
7:00 PM Chattanooga at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM Campbell at Radford
7:00 PM Quinnipiac at Sacred Heart
7:00 PM Fairfield at Saint Peter's
7:00 PM High Point at VMI
7:00 PM Wagner at St. Francis (NY)
7:00 PM Gardner-Webb at Winthrop
7:00 PM Appalachian State at Wofford
7:00 PM Houston Baptist at NJIT
7:30 PM Siena at Loyola (MD)
8:00 PM Boston College at NC State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM IUPUI at South Dakota
8:00 PM Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas-Little Rock
8:00 PM Niagara at Canisius (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Tennessee State at Eastern Illinois
8:00 PM Valparaiso at Loyola (IL)(ESPN3)
8:00 PM Arkansas State at Middle Tennessee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Austin Peay at SIU-Edwardsville
8:00 PM Jacksonville State at Tennessee Tech
8:00 PM William & Mary at VCU (ESPNU)
8:05 PM Florida International at South Alabama
8:05 PM Western Illinois at UMKC
8:05 PM IPFW at Oral Roberts
8:05 PM Texas-Pan American at Chicago State
8:15 PM Florida Atlantic at Troy
8:30 PM Arizona State at Colorado
8:30 PM Butler at UIC (ESPN3)
8:30 PM Loyola Marymount at BYU (BYU TV)
8:30 PM Arizona at Utah
8:30 PM California at Washington
8:30 PM Denver at Louisiana-Monroe
8:30 PM USC at Oregon (CSN NW)
9:00 PM Northern Colorado at Montana
9:00 PM Oakland at Southern Utah
9:00 PM Northern Arizona at Weber State
9:05 PM Sacramento State at Montana State
10:00 PM Long Beach State at Cal Poly
10:00 PM San Francisco at Gonzaga (ESPNU)
10:00 PM Cal State Northridge at UC Santa Barbara
10:05 PM Stanford at Washington State
10:05 PM Utah State at Seattle
10:30 PM New Mexico State at San Jose State
10:30 PM UCLA at Oregon State (FSN)
11:00 PM San Diego at Portland (CSN NW)
12:00 AM Louisiana Tech at Hawaii