The Alabama Crimson Tide were playing without John Petty this past Wednesday against the Vanderbilt Commodores… but that’s no excuse. They were playing Vanderbilt, at home, on Senior Night.
By Matt Zemek
Not having Petty should matter against Kentucky and Auburn, but not against Vanderbilt, and especially not in Coleman Coliseum. Alabama played one of its worst defensive games of the year and suffered a loss which very possibly means Alabama has to win the SEC Tournament – four games in four days – to make the NCAA Tournament. At the very least, Alabama will probably have to make the SEC Tournament final, which would mean winning three games in three days, to have a realistic chance on Selection Sunday.
Well, no use lamenting that Vanderbilt loss now. Alabama has to beat Missouri on the road on Saturday. If it doesn’t, it will definitely have to be “automatic bid or bust” at the SEC Tournament. Alabama’s bubble chances would evaporate if the Tide can’t tame the Missouri Tigers. Let’s see what Bama has to do to get the job done in CoMo:
1 – Desperation
What did we talk about when John Petty went down? Desperation. That’s what Alabama displayed against South Carolina, not so much against Vanderbilt. Maybe a part of some Alabama players, subconsciously, felt they could beat Vanderbilt without maximum, all-out effort. Well, that was clearly wrong. Alabama can’t be anything less than totally focused, totally dedicated, and totally committed on each defensive possession. Alabama did force 18 turnovers against Vanderbilt, and yes, Vandy’s Saben Lee did have a magnificent game with 38 points on 6-of-7 3-point shooting, but it wasn’t just Lee who excelled. Vanderbilt shot over 50 percent as a team and over 50 percent on 3-pointers. Alabama wasn’t merely the victim of an elite player’s big night (though Lee IS an elite player, to be clear); Alabama was way too scattered and unresponsive on defense in general. That can’t recur versus Missouri, or – for that matter – against anyone else.
2 – Guarding the 3-point line
Vanderbilt was 15 of 28 on threes against Alabama. Take away Saben Lee’s 6-of-7 line, and VU was still 9 of 21, which isn’t tremendous, but isn’t all that bad, either. A 9-of-21 shooting line is still 43 percent, which is way higher than any team’s 3-point percentage should be. That’s bad defense – not just against Lee, but the whole Vanderbilt team. Missouri does not have an explosive offense, but if Alabama can’t substantially raise its level of 3-point defense, it might not matter.
3 – Defensive rebounding
Missouri didn’t do a lot right in its recent loss to Ole Miss earlier in the week, but it did grab 13 offensive rebounds. Alabama needs to shut off extra possessions and make sure Missouri can’t score a big number on Saturday.