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.

Previewing Alabama: ‘Dores get another shot

Vanderbilt gets a second chance to upset the No. 4 ranked team in the country, Alabama.
Quentin Millora-Brown goes up for a block against Alabama on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium. (Miguel Beristain/Hustler Multimedia)

Less than two weeks have passed since Vanderbilt (10-11, 3-5) hosted the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide (18-3, 8-0), and the Commodores are already preparing for a rematch against one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball. Last time, the Commodores fought valiantly but failed to fully capitalize on home court advantage in a 78-66 loss to the Crimson Tide. With Alabama coming off of a shocking 93-69 defeat at the hands of unranked Oklahoma, the Commodores will hope to catch the Crimson Tide off guard and hand them their  first consecutive losses of the season. 

Vanderbilt and Alabama have each only played 3 games since their last matchup, but plenty has been revealed about each team across those games. Vanderbilt eked out a close win against Georgia to move to .500 in the SEC, but dropped their last two games to Kentucky and Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide dominated a capable Missouri team and moved up to No. 2 in the AP Poll after barely winning their ninth straight game against Mississippi St. That streak would end three days later when Alabama dropped an inconceivable 20-point loss to Oklahoma in the SEC/BIG 12 challenge. 

With back-to-back underwhelming outings from Alabama, is it possible that Vanderbilt stands a better chance at victory in round two? Let’s take a closer look at what’s been plaguing the Crimson Tide. 

Ebbing Tide

Entering their 20th game of the season against Mississippi St. (13-8, 1-7), Alabama ranked 5th nationally in point differential, outsourcing their opponents by an average of 15.1 points per game. Two games later, the Crimson Tide have fallen to No. 7 with a point differential of +12.6. Though still an impressive figure, it’s a startling drop to occur in the span of three days. So what went wrong for the Tide last week?

Simply put, Alabama forgot how to score the basketball against Mississippi St. and Oklahoma. Their scoring totals of 66 and 69 points, respectively, in their last two games were well below their season average of 82.5 points-per-game, especially considering neither of their opponents were particularly stingy on defense. Nonetheless, Alabama shot just 36.8% from the field against Mississippi St. and 37.9% against Oklahoma. The Crimson Tide also combined for 25 turnovers across the two contests, which is somehow below their per-game average on the season. The Crimson Tide rank 322nd in the nation with 14.7 turnovers per game

It’s difficult to comprehend how a team can give the ball away nearly 15 times a game and still rank in the top 10 in the nation in points per game. The answer to that paradox starts and ends with Brandon Miller, the best freshman (and maybe best player) in college basketball. Unfortunately for Alabama, Miller has disappeared in his last two games.

Miller leads the SEC in scoring with 19 points-per-game and looks like a surefire top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. But Miller contributed just 13 and 11 points against Mississippi St. and Oklahoma, and the team’s offensive performance struggled as a result. 

A 6’9 wing with elite shooting and ball-handling skills, Miller can fill any offensive role depending on his team’s needs. When he isn’t making shots or getting to the free throw line though, Alabama’s offense evaporates — and that’s exactly what happened in their last two games. Miller shot just 25% from three in those two games, and only managed a combined five free throw attempts. Without his usual offense, the Crimson Tide struggled to generate any sustained momentum. 

That isn’t to say that Alabama lacks other talented players. Mark Sears is a capable second option for the Tide with 14 points-per-game (13th in SEC). Noah Clowney has been overshadowed as a freshman by Miller, but the 6’10 youngster is averaging a highly respectable 10.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in 25 minutes of playing time. Jahvon Quinerly hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, but he’s still capable of contributing a few breathtaking plays a game. 

But the bottom line remains — when Miller’s not scoring, neither is Alabama. Which means stopping Alabama starts with stopping Brandon Miller. 

Vanderbilt’s Redemption Plan

Forcing Brandon Miller to play a third straight subpar game will be exceptionally difficult. Last time Miller faced Vanderbilt, he torched the Commodores for 30 points on 10-16 shooting from the field. Jordan Wright put forth a solid defensive effort, but Miller seemingly couldn’t miss in Memorial Gymnasium. 

It would be a mistake to replace Wright as the “Miller-Stopper” this go-around for Vanderbilt. Wright is capable of defending drives with extreme physicality, and he has the quickness to contest Miller’s shot on the wing. Even after his last few performances, Miller is on pace to finish with the best 3-point percentage of any true freshman in the history of college basketball (44.5%). 

Offensively, the Commodores will need to regroup after a poor shooting performance in their first matchup against the Crimson Tide. Vanderbilt shot just 30.7% from the field, and were especially putrid from three point range (18.2%). Suchhas been a consistent pattern this season: Vanderbilt will win games in which they shoot well from three and lose games in which they shoot poorly. The onus will fall on players like Wright, Myles Stute, and Tyrin Lawrence to step up and make shots against Alabama, or the team’s collective effort will be for naught. 

If the Commodores put forth a decent shooting performance from behind the arc, they’ll have a real chance to keep pace with the Tide on offense. Couple that with another intense defensive effort from Wright and poor shooting performance from Miller, and the defense won’t lag far behind either. It will require an almost perfect effort from Vanderbilt and a continuation of the Tide’s offensive struggles, but a win certainly isn’t out of the question. 

The Commodores and Crimson Tide will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CST at Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

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About the Contributor
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].
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