It’s 13 SEC losses and counting for the Commodores after a 58-46 loss to Tennessee that lacked any of the passion and drama of the first time the two schools met this season. The next spot to potentially break this epic slide is on Saturday in Tuscaloosa against Alabama.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Vanderbilt is the worst team in the SEC. Losing 13 league games on the bounce, and 14 games in a row in total, makes that a pretty cut and dry statement. What is interesting about this game, however, is that you can make a good argument (with a nod to Georgia and Arkansas) that Alabama is the second worst team in the league right now.
What is certainly true is that the Crimson Tide is playing its worst basketball of the year. Faced with a must win game this week against lowly Texas A&M and their 3-9 record in SEC play, Alabama fell apart down the stretch to lose 65-56 in College Station.
Alabama, a team on the NCAA bubble just a week or so ago, will be playing Vanderbilt at a very low ebb after being outscored by a massive 21 points over the final 12 minutes against the Aggies. The old adage is to never kick someone when they are down, but that doesn’t really apply in the dog eat dog world of college basketball.
If Vanderbilt believes, and if they can get on top of Alabama early, then anything can happen here.
Win the rebounding battle
Alabama was one of the top rebounding teams in the league when SEC play began. Those days seem forever ago at this point though, with the Crimson Tide having been outrebounded in seven of its last eight games.
The puzzling thing here is that it doesn’t seem to matter what style of team Alabama plays at this point, they still lose the battle of the boards. Texas A&M beat Alabama in this category 38-31, with no Alabama player registering more than six rebounds for the contest. Against a big team this would make some sense, but the Aggies are dramatically undersized around the rim.
If Vanderbilt can claim its share of defensive rebounds, and if the forwards can provide some second chance opportunities, then it will be part of an obvious path to victory for the ‘Dores.
Get Semi Shittu going
Shittu’s play has fallen off since league play began. There are a myriad of reasons for this, including a lack of conditioning and practice after his ACL reconstruction, but that hasn’t made the dip in form and production any easier for the player or his fans to handle.
Against Tennessee, Shittu are particularly poor. He finished 4-of-14 from the field in a game where the Commodores scored just 46 points, often taking jump shots or attempting weird finishes around the rim instead of using his bulk and power to take the ball to the hoop.
This Alabama game will be a chance for Shittu to get some redemption. That Alabama bigs have also fallen off from their early season form, meaning that Shittu will be going up against players devoid of confidence. If he can get off the mark early, then we could see a whole different performance from a player who the ‘Dores desperately need more from.