VANDERBILT (13-4, 3-0 SEC) AT ALABAMA (13-4, 2-1 SEC)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./ESPN2
Location: Coleman Coliseum
RPI Ratings: Vanderbilt 31 (No. 3 SEC); Alabama 20 (No. 2 SEC).
Line: Alabama -7
Vanderbilt Players to Watch: G John Jenkins, 6-4 Jr. (19.8 ppg, 48.4% FG, 44.7% 3s); F Jeffery Taylor, 6-7 Sr. (16.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 54% FG); C Festus Ezeli, 6-1 Sr. (6.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg). Ezeli hasn’t been as effective as expected since his return from a knee injury and 10-game suspension. However, he did score nine points in 23 minutes in a 77-66 win over Georgia. That was his second-highest total of the season after a 15-point performance in his debut against Davidson.
Alabama State Players to Watch: F Tony Mitchell, 6-6 Jr. (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg); F JaMychal Green, 6-8 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 54.3% FG); G Trevor Releford, 6-0 So. (12.5 ppg, 3.2 apg, 54.3% FG). Releford has led Alabama in scoring in four of its last six games. He’s averaging 15.5 points, is shooting 68 percent from the floor, and has 18 assists and 15 steals during those six games.
Storylines: Since struggling through the first few weeks of the season, Vanderbilt has won seven in a row, including wins over Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia in its first three SEC games. Alabama had its 5-game winning streak snapped when it lost its first SEC game, 56-52 at Mississippi State on Saturday.
Keys: Alabama is surrendering the fewest points in the SEC – and eighth best in the nation – at 55.7 points per game. Rebounding could be a key. Both teams have struggled with rebounding at times. Ezeli has been saddled with foul trouble in the Commodores last two wins, including his second disqualification of the season against South Carolina last Tuesday. The Commodores are shooting 50.6 percent from the field during their 7-game winning streak and have shot better than 50 percent in four of those seven games. Vanderbilt is shooting 39 percent from the 3-point line this season, but the Commodores have made 47 percent (31-of-66) during its 3-game SEC run. Jenkins has made at least three 3-pointers in seven straight games. The Tide allow opponents to shoot just 25.7 percent from behind the 3-point arc. In the 7-game winning streak, Vandy point guard Brad Tinsley has 44 assists to just 11 turnovers. Alabama was held to a season-low 52 points in the loss to Mississippi State. The Tide made just 1-of-9 3s in the loss to the Bulldogs. They are shooting 27.1 percent from behind the arc this season. Vanderbilt guards the perimeter well. Its opponents shoot just 32.8 percent from 3-point land. The Crimson Tide are shooting 71.3 percent from the free throw line, which is second in the SEC to Kentucky’s 71.6. Alabama has won 26 of their last 27 games at Coleman Coliseum and 10 straight SEC games at home. A win tonight would give them 500 all-time at Coleman. Vandy is 3-1 in true road games this season and has won its last three at Davidson, Marquette and South Carolina. Alabama leads the all-time series 66-64.
The Bottom Line: A lot comes down to whether Jenkins and Taylor are hitting shots from the perimeter, which is tough to do against Alabama, especially in its gym. Vanderbilt is rolling after a rough start. Expect it to continue on Thursday.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 70, Alabama 64