By: Zach Gaines
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Tonight at 8 P.M. The Crimson Tide (17-10, 7-7) have a chance to capture just their third road victory of the season against Vanderbilt (14-12, 6-8 SEC) inside Memorial Gymnasium.
Alabama is coming off of a hard-fought game in Lexington where their defensive woes got the best of them. Vanderbilt on the other hand is coming off a gritty 72-67 win over Texas A&M with 24 coming from Scottie Pippen Jr. If Alabama wants any chance of winning this game, they must shut down Pippen.
When you look at it, a good amount of Vanderbilt’s offensive production came from Scottie Pippen Jr this year. This season Pippen has showcased his offensive abilities by being the SEC’s highest leading scorer (19.5 PPG) and averaging four assists a game. After facing other top scorers like JD Notae and Iverson Molinar over the past couple of weeks, Oats understands now more than ever the importance of shutting down Scottie Pippen Jr.
“Pippen Knows how to get to the free-throw line a lot. Can get hot from three. Attacks the rim. Finishes at the rim. He’s good in transition. We’re going to have to rotate a few different guys on him. Whoever’s on him has to make sure they stay in front of him and not give up open threes and do all that without fouling. He’s got a knack for picking up fouls and getting to the free-throw line. He’s talented. High IQ player. They run good stuff for him. Put him in a lot of different situations,” said Nate Oats.
When it comes to defeating Vanderbilt, shutting down Pippen is just one piece of the puzzle. To put it simply, Alabama is going to have to actually play some aggressive defense if they want to win tonight. Over the past couple of games, you see far too often Alabama gets dominated inside the paint, and sometimes even some players not giving maximum effort. Something has got to change if your the Crimson Tide, and now that March is creeping up the team understands where their priorities lie.
“We’re not playing you if you’re not playing defense. Period. We’ll figure the offense out. If you’re not gonna play defense as well as you can, we’re not gonna play you. If we put you in and you don’t play defense, we’re going to take you out for a long time,” said Oats
“Max effort on the defensive end no matter how the offense is going. We just gotta have guys playing hard on defense regardless of if the offense is on fire or not.” Keon Ellis responded when asked what the focus of this team is.
In order to complete the puzzle, Alabama will have to actually start hitting open shots and limit the turnovers. When the Crimson Tide does all three of those things on a consistent basis, they are one of the toughest teams to beat in the whole country. To put it in perspective, the Crimson Tide are 5-1 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent. So do with that what you will.
Vanderbilt’s offense does have some capable scorers of beating many teams, but that isn’t the story of this Commodore’s team. According to KenPom, Vanderbilt is No. 113 in offensive efficiency and No. 45 in defensive efficiency. They also have a top 3 point defense in the country, only allowing teams to score on 30% of their attempts (Alabama has converted on 31% of their attempts this season). Putting even more pressure on Alabama.
Ultimately, Alabama controls its own destiny when it comes to tonight’s game. If they put up a similar performance to what they did in the first half versus Kentucky, it will be a blowout. If Alabama comes out like they did the first time versus Kentucky, the game will come down to the wire.
Once again, we are in for a treat ladies and gentlemen.