The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Five on Five: Can Vanderbilt keep the momentum going against No. 4 Alabama?

Can the Commodores make it back-to-back wins over top-15 opponents on Tuesday night? The Sports staff dives in.
Tyrin+Lawrence+finishes+a+dunk+on+January+14%2C+2023+against+the+Arkansas+Razorbacks+at+Memorial+Gymasium+%28Nikita+Rohila%2FHustler+Multimedia%29.
Nikita Rohila
Tyrin Lawrence finishes a dunk on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).

Vanderbilt (9-8, 2-2) is coming off a monumental win over then-No. 15 Arkansas (12-5, 1-4) on Saturday, giving the Commodores their second SEC win of the season and second straight win over the Razorbacks. Arkansas marked the Commodores’ first win over a top-15 team since 2017. 

As Vanderbilt looks to start a winning streak of its own, the team will welcome one of the best and hottest teams in the nation to Memorial Gymnasium on Tuesday night when they face off against Alabama (15-2, 5-0) at 7:30 p.m. CST. To preview the contest, The Vanderbilt Hustler Sports staff dove into the biggest questions heading into the Commodores’ matchup with the Crimson Tide.

1. How can Vanderbilt sustain its success after an offensive explosion in the second half against Arkansas? 

Bryce Smith, Sports Editor: Getting to the rim and taking (and making) open threes. Vanderbilt was fantastic offensively in the second half against Arkansas — specifically because of the team’s focus on taking these types of efficient shots. On Saturday, Vanderbilt proved how valuable both threes and layups can be to its offensive package: 61 of Vanderbilt’s 63 second-half points came via the long ball, in the paint or, notably, at the free throw line. 

I emphasized the points at the free throw line because that’s a positive byproduct of getting to the rim — Vanderbilt shot 23 foul shots in the second half and pressed Arkansas’ back line at the goal. 

Taking efficient shots is good for any basketball offense — just ask the seven-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors — but it especially plays to the strengths of the Commodores’ roster construction. Vanderbilt’s roster is comprised of slashing wings and bigs — like Jordan Wright, Tyrin Lawrence and Liam Robbins — combined with sharpshooters like Myles Stute, Trey Thomas and Colin Smith. Allowing these players to play to their strengths, while simultaneously putting pressure on defenses from deep and at the cup, has enabled Vanderbilt to rate as the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency in conference play, per KenPom. Saturday’s second-half was a blueprint for that type of success. Thoughts? 

Vanderbilt fed off a noisy home crowd on on January 14, 2023 at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).
Vanderbilt fed off a noisy home crowd on Jan. 14, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium. (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia)

Jonah Barbin, Sports Copy Editor: The Commodores attempted a whooping 36 free throws to Arkansas’s 24. This was the most free throw attempts Vanderbilt has had since its victory over South Carolina on Jan. 3. The notable difference between the two games, though, is the extent to which the team capitalized upon said attempts. On the team’s 35 free throw attempts against the Gamecocks, Vanderbilt only converted on 65.7% of their trips to the charity stripe, while the Commodores shot 80.6% from the line against the Razorbacks. It’s no coincidence that Vanderbilt’s two SEC wins have come when the team has had 30+ free throw attempts, and its more sizable win came when it had a 15% higher conversion rate on those attempts. If Vanderbilt can continue this aggressive, get-to-the-bucket-at-all-costs brand of basketball, the team can compete in this incredibly tough conference. It is also quite encouraging to see that stars Myles Stute and Liam Robbins were a combined 13-13 from the stripe. Fair warning to the rest of the SEC: Don’t get into foul trouble with the Commodores.

2. Is it time for Liam Robbins and Jordan Wright to be in the starting lineup or has bringing them off the bench worked well enough? 

Frankie Sheehy, Deputy Sports Editor: While Robbins and Wright are the Commodores’ top two scoring leaders, neither is consistently starting. As we discussed on this week’s Live from West End podcast, giving younger players like Colin Smith starts helps build their confidence and experience level. With that said, it’s probably time to make the switch and put the Robbins-Wright duo in from the start. Alabama demonstrated in its 59-22 first half against LSU that they can bury teams early if they’re allowed to get off to a hot start. Vanderbilt’s main strength in these first few conference games has been its ability to keep games close against anybody, but the team shouldn’t take that trend for granted. If the Commodores don’t start the game on Tuesday with the same sort of energy and dynamism that they had in the second half against Arkansas, they could be stuck in a real hole against a team that doesn’t relinquish many leads. Stackhouse will still have a deep bench to shake things up and give this duo a rest when needed or if they get into early foul trouble like Robbins did on Saturday. Guys like Smith and Lee Dort will still get plenty of minutes, but preventing the Tide from jumping out to an early double-digit lead is too important to take chances. Starting Robbins and Wright may be necessary to establish that strong presence on both sides of the ball and keep the Commodores in the game.

Aiden Rutman, Deputy Sports Editor: I teeter back and forth on this one. I love the idea of getting guys like Colin Smith — and maybe Lee Dort and/or Noah Shelby soon — experience as a starter. Beyond the confidence and maturity that they might gain for the rest of this season, it will do wonders for them in the future, when the time comes for them to be top contributors on the team. Additionally, I like having Robbins and Wright come off the bench from a momentum perspective. There’s something to be said about having the pair come in after five minutes and swinging the momentum of the game in Vanderbilt’s favor. That said, where there is team momentum, there is also player momentum. Both Robbins and Wright have shown incredible flashes — both in their careers and this year alone — of scoring and post-domination. Both have also struggled throughout the season to get into a groove during games. We’ve seen it all season. Wright can be dominant when he has an attacking mentality. Robbins can control the paint with his size and athleticism. Yet, both have moments of the game where they disappear. I think both could benefit from being out on the court to start the game. I think both are ready to be injected into the starting lineup.

3. What would a win against Alabama mean for Vanderbilt in the grand scheme of the season?

Brandon Karp, Lead Sports Analyst: Victory against Alabama would represent a complete revival of Vanderbilt’s postseason aspirations, full stop. With a win, Vanderbilt would move to 3-2 in the SEC and likely find themselves in the top five in conference standings. It would also give the team its second quad 1 win of the season, a crucial stepping stone in the narrative that the team has turned things around after a disappointing start to the season. If Vanderbilt can gather some momentum before a winnable but challenging stretch of games against Georgia, Kentucky and Texas A&M, the team can further bolster its status in the SEC. Defeating Alabama would also quell nascent concerns about Stackhouse’s coaching against top SEC teams. The win against No. 15 Arkansas was impressive, but Stackhouse still lacks a signature win against a top 10 team in the country. Beating Alabama would instantly be the strongest win on Stackhouse’s resume and would take the heat off of questions about his rotations and game management. 

Tyrin Lawrence drives to the rim on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia).
Tyrin Lawrence drives to the rim on January 14, 2023 against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Memorial Gymasium (Nikita Rohila/Hustler Multimedia). (Nikita Rohila)

AR: It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of a win against Alabama. Like Brandon said — beating Arkansas is one thing. A top-15 victory is super impressive, but Alabama is arguably the hottest team in the country right now, and a win over the Crimson Tide would be Stackhouses’s best win as Vanderbilt’s coach. Beyond that, two ranked victories in a row, along with close losses to other quad 1 teams, would force the ranking committee to start looking at Vanderbilt. It might be optimistic, but if the Commodores can recreate the same magic they produced against Arkansas on Saturday, then a bid to the NCAA tournament is not completely out of the question as the team continues through SEC play. That goal starts with Alabama, though.

4. Who or what are you watching for on Alabama’s side? 

BS: Nate Oats. Alabama was seemingly on an absolute heater coming into this contest in Nashville when horrific news struck that Darius Miles, a junior forward, was arrested for capital murder on Sunday evening. It goes without saying: first and foremost, all thoughts are with those who were afflicted in the act of senseless violence. 

On the court, it will be gripping to see how Oats handles the Crimson Tide program ahead of the game. Surely, Alabama will be playing distracted on Tuesday evening and Oats — known as one of the finest coaches in all of college basketball — will have to navigate the turbulent waters for his program. The Tide are 5-0 in the SEC and beat LSU by 40 points on Saturday, 106-66, so it will be curious to see how the team is able to adjust for this matchup given all the off-the-court issues that suddenly have defined this team.

5. Brandon Miller, Alabama’s star freshman forward, has been one of the best players in the country so far. Any ideas on how to stop him? 

BK: Miller’s combination of size, ball-handling and shooting ability make him one of the most unguardable players in college basketball. Like any great offensive player, completely shutting down Miller will be impossible. The key for Vanderbilt is to find a way to isolate his scoring outbursts and disrupt his flow to the point that Alabama cannot rely on him for consistent points. I think the only obvious solution is to put Wright, Stackhouse’s proclaimed top defender, in the starting lineup and attempt to throw Miller off from the opening tip. Wright did an outstanding job limiting Anthony Black in the second half against Arkansas, and his defensive effort was highlighted as one of the primary reasons Vanderbilt won that game. Stackhouse already indicated that Wright will be matched up against Miller, but I think adding him to the starting lineup might boost Wright’s confidence as well as increasing his time guarding Miller. When Wright is off the court, Colin Smith is the next best defender for Miller. What Smith lacks in lateral mobility he makes up for with size and an imposing wingspan, which should be valuable while contesting Miller’s 3-point attempts and floater game in the paint. 

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About the Contributors
Bryce Smith
Bryce Smith, Former Sports Editor
Bryce Smith ('23) is majoring in human and organizational development in Peabody College with a minor in business. Bryce previously wrote for SBNation before joining The Hustler. Hailing from Chicago, Bryce is a die-hard Bears and Cubs fan who is also hoping that the Bulls and Blackhawks may one day rekindle their dominance. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
Aiden Rutman
Aiden Rutman, Sports Editor
Aiden Rutman (‘25) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in communication studies. He formerly produced The Hustler’s sports podcast, Live from West End. In addition to writing and podcasting, Aiden is an avid New York sports fan, and he loves playing sports, spending time outdoors and trying new foods. You can reach him at [email protected].
Brandon Karp
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
Jonah Barbin
Jonah Barbin, Sports Podcast Producer
Jonah Barbin (‘25) is majoring in human and organizational development and cinema and media studies. In addition to writing about sports, you can catch him acting, scouring the fantasy football waiver wire, playing golf and fantasizing about what Odell Beckham Jr.’s career would have been if the Giants never traded him. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nikita Rohila
Nikita Rohila, Senior Staff Photographer
Nikita Rohila ('25) is from a small town in Arkansas and is majoring in psychology and medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Deputy Social Media Director. During her free time, she enjoys roaming around the city and getting cinematic-style shots for her photography account! You can reach her at [email protected].
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