At the bottom of the SEC East, Vanderbilt doesn't have much room for error as it opens the second half of the conference season. A visit by surging Alabama could make it difficult for the Commodores to move out of the cellar.
The No. 23 Commodores try to win their 11th straight home matchup in this series Thursday night, with the Crimson Tide looking for their first six-game win streak in league play in more than six years.
Coming off losses to Arkansas and Florida, Vanderbilt (16-6, 4-4) improved to 12-1 at Memorial Gym with a 78-60 victory over South Carolina on Saturday. The Commodores, who have as many league losses as they did last season, are tied with Kentucky and the Gamecocks for last in the division.
"We're toward the bottom of the SEC East, so every game from here on out we have to play like it's our last," junior forward Jeffery Taylor said after scoring 17 points with a career-high four 3-pointers.
The Commodores haven't lost at home to Alabama (15-7, 7-1) since 1989-90, but they'll take on a Tide team that has the top record in the SEC and can win six straight in league play for the first time since Jan. 8-30, 2005.
Alabama is among the nation's leaders in field-goal percentage defense at 36.2 and scoring defense with 57.1 points per game.
"The games we've been fortunate to win, I think the one thing that's been consistent for us is the way we've defended," said coach Anthony Grant, whose team won for the third time in four road games Saturday, 65-60 in overtime over Tennessee.
The Tide will need to be good at the defensive end against Taylor and sophomore guard John Jenkins, who is averaging an SEC-best 19.2 points overall and has gone 27 of 58 from 3-point range in the last nine games.
In the teams' last meeting, Taylor scored 13 while Jenkins added 11 points and three 3s off the bench in a 65-64 victory in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 13, 2010.
"(They have) two outstanding scorers on a consistent basis in John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, and the other pieces are awfully good as well," Grant said.
Not all of those pieces are healthy, though. Junior forward Lance Goulbourne averaged 9.2 points and 11.3 rebounds during a six-game stretch from Jan. 8-27, but an ankle injury has limited his mobility. He has four points and 11 rebounds in the last three games combined.
Taylor, the Commodores' top defender, and center Festus Ezeli could face a tough test against Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green.
Mitchell scored 23 points in a 75-61 victory over Mississippi State last Wednesday and set a career high with 24 on Saturday.
Green, averaging 16.8 points and 7.9 boards during Alabama's 10-1 surge, has averaged 10.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in three career games versus Vanderbilt.
The backcourt matchup between Brad Tinsley and the Tide's Trevor Releford should also be an intriguing one. Tinsley, the SEC leader with 4.5 assists per game, had 11 points and nine assists - a career high in league play - Saturday.
Releford was named SEC freshman of the week after averaging 14.5 points in two games and recording eight assists against Mississippi State.
"He is one of the best young guard in the league, if not the country," Grant said.
In the teams' last matchup in Nashville, Vanderbilt outscored Alabama by 12 in the second half to win 79-74 on Feb. 5, 2009.