Tennessee/Vanderbilt is one of my favorite basketball games every year. I dislike everything about Vanderbilt’s athletics department, and few things bring my Volunteers loving heart more joy than beating them, no matter the sport. Last year, Vanderbilt suffered one of the worst seasons in program history, fired then-Head Coach Bryce Drew, and this year things only looked marginally better as the season began under former NBA Veteran Jerry Stackhouse. Now, adding in the recent injury to Aaron Nesmith, the Commodores’ (and one of the SEC’s) best players, it looks like this season may end just as badly, if not worse, for Vandy. And that’s beautiful. But let’s take a look at this year’s Commodores team, some program history, recap a little of the U.T.-UGA game from Wednesday and see what we can take from it moving forward, and then give a final prediction!
Little Brother, the Opponent
- Location: Nashville, Tennessee
- Mascot: Commodores
- Conference: SEC
- Coach: Jerry Stackhouse (1st season)
- 2019-2020 Record: 8-8 (0-3 SEC)
- 2018-2019 Record: 9-23 (0-18 SEC)
- Last Game Against Tennessee: 2/19/2019: Vanderbilt dropped their 13th straight SEC game at TBA en route to an 0-18 conference record- Tennessee 58, Vanderbilt 46.
- Notable Former Basketball Player: Will Perdue-1988 SEC Player of the Year, 4x NBA Champion with the Chicago Bulls (3) and San Antonio Spurs (1)
Vanderbilt on the Floor
While for the next UT/Vandy preview in February I may be talking about Aaron Nesmith, recently the SEC’s leading scorer (23.0 ppg.) suffered a foot injury and is likely out for the remainder of the season. Vanderbilt does have a couple of other talented players, so we will look at them a little in depth.
The first player I want to look at is Saben Lee. The Junior Point Guard has been one of the only true bright spots on this year’s and last year’s teams (aside from Nesmith). Lee has been a serviceable point guard for first year coach Jerry Stackhouse, averaging 15.8 points and 5.1 assists per game this season. Oddly, Lee doesn’t always come out in the starting lineup (only started 2 games this season), but is the team’s leader in minutes per game. Look for Lee to be the barometer of Vanderbilt’s success or lack-thereof against the Vols. He is super quick and can get to the rim to score himself, but can also break down the defenses on penetration and then kick it to an open shooter.
The other remaining bright spot for the ‘dores is the son of one of the best basketball players of all time. Scottie Pippen, Jr. has been productive for Vandy since he stepped on campus. Averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.1 boards per game, Little Scottie is full of potential, a lot of it is untapped, though. He has no skill that he is going to be able to use to just simply torch the Vols, but he is a good basketball player and will likely get his against U.T. who struggles on defense at times.
What We Can Take From the Loss in Athens
Georgia really did a good job of exposing most of Tennessee’s weaknesses in one 40-minute contest (I say most because the Vols only had 10 turnovers). The Bulldogs attacked our undersized post-players and scored/drew fouls. They held the Vols to only 23% from 3. Finally, they broke down our perimeter D shooting 43% from deep. I would venture to say that if a team wanted to get a good look at how to completely put Tennessee down, they could watch the film of this game and conjure up a pretty good gameplan.
One new thing all of us Vol fans welcomed was 7-foot center Uros Plavsic. Plavsic got to see his first regular-season action after the NCAA granted his waiver after an appeal process that lasted the entire first half of the season. Now, he didn’t set the world on fire by no stretch, connecting on just 2 of his 6 field goal attempts and 1 of his 3 free throws for 5 total points in 17 minutes of action. He also only grabbed three boards. However, Uros is going to be a work in progress. I can’t tell much about him from the UGA game other than the fact he is big and that he gets around well. However, I believe this Vanderbilt game could be a good one for him to really get some good conference experience.
Memorial Gym is a very weird place to play, but Tennessee has a three game winning streak against the Commodores in Nashville. Vandy also doesn’t have a lot of depth nor productive players outside of Lee and Pippen available for this game. Furthermore, Vandy is coming off of a 20 point shellacking at the hands of Arkansas.
To get a solid advantage in this one, Tennessee will need to put their best on/ball defender (Josiah-Jordan James, in my opinion) on Saben Lee, and their best off-ball defender on Pippen, Jr. (Jordan Bowden, again, in my opinion). If we can hold both to fourteen or under, or not give up a combined 28 points, which ever one, we will have effectively shut down the Vanderbilt offense.
This is one of the rare occasions that I believe that the Vols (even without Plavsic) are more talented, and perhaps of equal or greater size to, than the opposing team’s front line. This is only compounded by the fact that Vanderbilt will likely be without Senior Forward Clevon Brown. Brown was averaging 9.0 points and 6.0 boards a game prior to a knee injury he suffered in December. He was their biggest down-low threat, and wasn’t that much of a talent in the first place.
Because Tennessee has good defenders (how they will play is another matter), and should win the down-low matchups, I think the Vols win this one in Nashville 64-52. Furthermore, I anticipate seeing Plavsic on the floor more, especially against an inferior front-line. John Fulkerson will start, and should have a good game, himself, but Rick Barnes should be able to ensure Plavsic will see some minutes that do not even carve into Fulky’s. Finally, don’t be surprised to see Barnes break out a bit of zone-defense in this game.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. As I have said many times, Tennessee is a team that has to take care of business in every game they should win. Without Nesmith and Brown playing for Vandy, this is one of those games. The Vols and Vanderbilt have played some ugly games in the recent past, so don’t be shocked if this is another one of those victories that just didn’t feel like a win in the end.
For minute to minute news concerning all aspects of all Volunteer sports, be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues on Twitter (@More_Issues), as well as listening to the podcast on any of the various podcast platforms! Trust me, Landon and Caleb won’t let you down If you’re looking for quality Big Orange talk with a laid-back attitude. Until we meet again, this is Dakota Robertson saying see ya later and Go Vols!
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