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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2007
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Vanderbilt's home-court advantage
Gym's odd setup uncomfortable
for some visitors

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

Memorial Gym in Nashville is basketball mixed with Broadway.

No, Alabama guard Ronald Steele isn't going to break into a routine from "Bye Bye Birdie" when the Crimson Tide plays at Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 7 p.m., but he will be up on a platform, literally.

"(Memorial Gym) is one of college basketball's unique settings. When teams have to sit on the baselines, coaches on baselines, it changes comfort zones," said Joe Biddle, columnist for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. "It's kind of like you're on stage when you're playing there."

Memorial Gym, Vandy's home stadium since 1952, is considered by many to be the Fenway Park of college basketball — not so much because it is old, classic and maybe in need of some renovation, but mostly for the oddities that the gym presents.

The floor of the gym is raised, which presents the odd illusion that the crowd in the first several rows is looking up at the players.

Then you have the baskets, which have two beams holding them up, unlike the one beam, which is how it is in most college arenas today.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the coaches don't roam the sidelines, but the baselines. The team's benches are underneath the baskets.

So in the first half, Alabama will shoot at the basket opposite from its bench, meaning Steele will hear head coach Mark Gottfried yelling out offensive plays from behind him. And in the second half, Steele will be able to easily see his coach.

"It was kind of weird my freshman year. Looking to the sides and him not being there," Steele said. "It's a weird setup. I don't think there's another place like it. It kind of throws you off."

That weird setup has played into Vandy's hands, mostly against the Crimson Tide.

Gottfried has never beaten the Commodores in four tries as a coach at Memorial Gym. The last time Alabama won at Vandy was Feb. 2, 1990. The Commodores are 644-183 all-time at the home site.

So what makes Memorial such a hard place to play? Is it the setup? Is it the team? Maybe a little bit of both?

"They usually run the Princeton offense," Steele said. "In the SEC, you don't face that as much."

By Princeton offense, Steele means a series of plays in which a players runs underneath the defense toward the basket, normally going unnoticed to get an uncontested layup.

Besides Vandy's different style of offense, the gym itself can be intimidating to those who aren't familiar with it.

"Opponents come in and can feel somewhat unnerved," Vanderbilt senior guard Dan Cage said.

"Our team gets used to it pretty quickly, and other teams struggle when they come in. It's unique and it's something I've grown accustomed."

When asked about the Tide's problems at Memorial Gym, Gottfried didn't want to comment about his 0-4 coaching record there, referring to it as just another game.

But he never lost at Memorial as an Alabama player, going 3-0.

"It's different. There is no question about it," Gottfried said. "But it's part of the way you set up, and you just deal with it."

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