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Thursday’s slate and what to watch

Alabama boasts the SEC’s top defense. Good thing. Stopping Vanderbilt’s offense in Nashville isn’t easy.

Anthony Grant’s team (15-7 overall, 7-1 in SEC play) has already bested last year’s SEC win total and should coast to the West division title. But they’re actually slated to lose tonight for two reasons: Winning on the road is hard, and winning at Vandy is even more difficult.

The Commodores (16-6) have posted an offensive efficiency below 104.6 at home just twice this season, a reflection of their shooting (53.3 eFG%) and ability to get to the free-throw line (47.6 FTrate). That’s a stern test for any defense. (9 p.m., ESPN2).

(All times ET)

Connecticut at St. John’s, 7 p.m. (ESPN): The Huskies (18-4, 6-4) narrowly avoided a three game losing streak when it edged Seton Hall on Saturday. That’s not a promising sign for their trip to MSG, where the Johnnies (13-9, 5-5) have beaten Duke, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Of course, St. John’s also lost to St. Bonaventure at home, but that was back in early Dec. I’m willing to overlook it.

Illinois at Minnesota, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN): The Illini (15-8, 5-5) are slipping toward the bubble. Again. In order to avoid last season’s NIT fate, they’ll probably need to finish 5-3 in their last eight games. (4-4 might work, but 5-3 is doable.) That means winning at Minnesota (16-7, 5-6) another team that’s watching its NCAA tournament hopes slip away. Loser here will be sweating.

Cal at Washington, 9 p.m. (FCS): Speaking of losing streaks, the Huskies (15-7, 7-4) are trying to regain their form after dropping three in a row. Lorenzo Romar says the team needs to refocus its defensive efforts. Having the Bears (13-10, 6-5) visit is a good start.

Wright State at Butler, 7 p.m. (ESPU): The Bulldogs (16-9, 8-5) won’t have senior center Matt Howard tonight, making the odds of their receiving a bye in the Horizon League tournament next month even more slim. Wright State (17-9, 10-4) is thinking the same thing.

Maine at Hartford, 7 p.m.
Connecticut vs. St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, 7 p.m.
North Dakota at N.J. Tech, 7:30 p.m.
Albany, N.Y. vs. Boston U. at Madison Square Garden, 9:35 p.m.

Samford at Appalachian St., 7 p.m.
Lipscomb at Campbell, 7 p.m.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Fla. International, 7 p.m.
Georgia Southern at Furman, 7 p.m.
Florida St. at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
Radford at Liberty, 7 p.m.
Coastal Carolina at Presbyterian, 7 p.m.
High Point at VMI, 7 p.m.
Chattanooga at W. Carolina, 7 p.m.
Charleston Southern at Winthrop, 7 p.m.
SE Missouri at E. Kentucky, 7:30 p.m.
Florida Gulf Coast at Kennesaw St., 7:30 p.m.
Stetson at Mercer, 7:30 p.m.
E. Illinois at Morehead St., 7:45 p.m.
Morris at Savannah St., 8 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at W. Kentucky, 8 p.m.
Troy at South Alabama, 8:05 p.m.
Arkansas St. at Louisiana-Monroe, 8:30 p.m.
Tennessee Tech at Murray St., 8:30 p.m.
Jacksonville St. at Tenn.-Martin, 8:30 p.m.
Alabama at Vanderbilt, 9 p.m.

Wright St. at Butler, 7 p.m.
Penn St. at Michigan St., 7 p.m.
Wis.-Green Bay at Ill.-Chicago, 8 p.m.
Wis.-Milwaukee at Loyola of Chicago, 8 p.m.
W. Illinois at N. Dakota St., 8 p.m.
IUPUI at S. Dakota St., 8 p.m.
Oral Roberts at UMKC, 8:05 p.m.
Detroit at Valparaiso, 8:05 p.m.
South Dakota at Chicago St., 8:30 p.m.
Illinois at Minnesota, 9 p.m.

North Texas at Ark.-Little Rock, 8:30 p.m.

Florida Atlantic at Denver, 9 p.m.
Sacramento St. at Montana, 9 p.m.
Centenary at S. Utah, 9 p.m.
California at Washington, 9 p.m.
N. Arizona at Weber St., 9 p.m.
Fresno St. at Boise St., 9:05 p.m.
N. Colorado at Montana St., 9:05 p.m.
Portland at Pepperdine, 10 p.m.
Long Beach St. at UC Davis, 10 p.m.
Cal Poly at UC Irvine, 10 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara at UC Riverside, 10 p.m.
Stanford at Washington St., 10 p.m.
CS Northridge at Cal St.-Fullerton, 10:05 p.m.
Idaho St. at Portland St., 10:05 p.m.
San Diego at San Francisco, 10:30 p.m.
Oregon at UCLA, 10:30 p.m.
Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount, 11 p.m.
Saint Mary’s, Calif. at Santa Clara, 11 p.m.
Oregon St. at Southern Cal, 11 p.m.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.