Vanderbilt had a stirring comeback against Florida shut down as the Gators made their free throws down the stretch to escape with an 81-74 win in Gainesville. SEC play comes thick and fast though, and the Commodores will be back out on the court against Alabama on Tuesday night.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Keep Alabama off of the free throw line
This is a good Alabama basketball team. The Crimson Tide is 9-4 on the year and just beat No.5 Texas A&M by 22 points. This not going to be an easy game for Vanderbilt to win, even considering that Alabama is just 1-13 in Nashville since 1990.
One area that Vanderbilt will need to be conscious of is keeping Alabama off of the free throw line. While the Crimson Tide shoots just 67.3 percent from the charity stripe, they are top of SEC in free throws attempted (330) and third in free throws made (222).
A total of 22 percent of Alabama’s points have come from the foul line, so playing clean and smart defense will limit their ability to score.
Play small and stick with it
It is never good when a team has entered conference play and still has no idea what its best lineup looks like. That, though, is where Vanderbilt finds itself this year, as head coach Bryce Drew seems to be chopping an changing in every game to find a lineup that works.
The main problem is that the Vanderbilt bigs just aren’t good enough. Against Florida, Vandy was at its best when 6-foot-6 Jeff Roberson was playing at center. Roberson is a small forward by trade – and an exceptional one at that – but with the likes of Clevon Brown and Djery Baptiste just not firing, Drew is better off loading the court with shooters and seeing what happens.
In the second half against Florida the Commodores outscored the Gators 20-14 in the paint, mainly with Roberson playing as the biggest man on the court for Vandy.
Find a way to win
There is a reason why the Commodores are the highest ranked team with a losing record by many of the various analytical services. Vanderbilt has lost five games this season by three or fewer possessions, games that could easily have swung the other way with a couple of breaks, a couple of different calls, or a couple more shots falling.
The problem has been that the lack of depth within this team - especially at the forward positions – have killed Vanderbilt late in games. Players have tired as games have progressed, missing shots and making bad mental decisions. It is going to be hard for Drew to add to his rotation, but finding a way to coach a couple of close wins from this bunch is going to be important in SEC play.