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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.

Vanderbilt faces off against Alabama to begin SEC play

The Commodores will face the Crimson Tide in Nashville to begin their conference schedule.
Ophelia Lu
Tyrin Lawrence shoots during Vanderbilt’s game against San Francisco, as photographed on Dec. 6, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)

The last time Vanderbilt played Alabama was in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Jan. 31, 2023. It was a blowout, as the Vanderbilt Commodores lost 101-44 to the then No. 4 ranked Crimson Tide. It was an embarrassment for head coach Jerry Stackhouse and the third largest loss in program history. The Commodores would have to wait until 2024 to meet Alabama again. 

That time has come and Vanderbilt will open its SEC schedule this season against Alabama on Saturday, Jan. 6. Stackhouse will get an opportunity for redemption after last year’s disappointing performance. 

Vanderbilt comes into this matchup after a disappointing show in the nonconference portion of its schedule. The Commodores finished 2023 with a 5-8 record, which places them last in the SEC. After such a promising 2022-23 season, Vanderbilt has been unable to replicate the same magic this season. Vanderbilt is currently ranked No. 207 in KenPom, with all five of its wins against weak opponents. The Commodores have yet to beat a formidable opponent and with the strength of the SEC this season, things aren’t going to get any easier. 

On the other hand, Alabama has played a difficult nonconference schedule. While the Crimson Tide currently sit at an 8-5 record, they have played several ranked opponents and still managed to emerge from their nonconference schedule in a good spot. Alabama began the season in the top-25 of the AP Poll, but have since become unranked after three consecutive losses to ranked opponents in December. However, Alabama is still ranked No. 6 in KenPom and is a far better team than its record shows. 

Alabama has multiple threats, both from beyond the arc and in the paint. Mark Sears and Aaron Estrada lead the Crimson Tide’s backcourt, averaging 19.3 and 13.8 points per game, respectively. They are veteran ball handlers who can drive and shoot the deep ball. Sears is shooting an astonishing 46% from beyond the arc while Estrada is shooting 39% from deep. Both of these players can get downhill quickly, and Vanderbilt guards Tyrin Lawrence and Ezra Manjon will need to lock down Sears and Estrada to slow down this Alabama offense. 

In the paint, Alabama starting center Grant Nelson will pose issues for Vanderbilt. Standing at 6’11”, Nelson will have a size advantage over Ven-Allen Lubin and Carter Lang, both players who have started at the five spot for Vanderbilt this season. The status of Lubin is unknown after he sat out against Dartmouth on Dec. 31, but Stackhouse is hopeful he will make his return for the Alabama game. If Lubin remains out, it could be a rough day for Vanderbilt in the paint as Lang, a freshman, will be facing a veteran center who has averaged 14.2 points per game this season. 

Offensively, Vanderbilt will need to get production out of Lawrence and Manjon. Both of these players have shown some inconsistency this season, but strong performances against Dartmouth on Dec. 30 provide some hope that they could break out in SEC play. Manjon dropped 23 points and Lawrence poured in 22 of his own against Dartmouth to lead the Commodores to a convincing 16-point win. 

However, Manjon and Lawrence won’t be able to beat this strong Alabama team on their own. Vanderbilt will need Evan Taylor and Jason Rivera-Torres to get hot from three and shoot a high percentage from the mid-range. Similarly, Lubin and Lang will need to hold their own in the paint and find open players on the perimeter.  

With their backs already against the wall, the Commodores need to start playing their best basketball before it’s too late. SEC play has arrived, and Vanderbilt should view this as the beginning of a new chapter. Vanderbilt will need a herculean effort to pull off the upset and beat Alabama. Perhaps an unlikely win over the Crimson Tide could spark a run in SEC play and reignite some memorial magic. 

Vanderbilt will face off against Alabama at 2:30 p.m. CST on Saturday, Jan. 6. 

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About the Contributors
Henry Oelhafen
Henry Oelhafen, Sports Copy Editor
Henry Oelhafen (‘26) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in business. Henry grew up as a Vanderbilt sports fan and loves to talk about both professional and amateur golf. In addition to writing, he loves to play golf with friends, hike and try new restaurants. He can be reached at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Director
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
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