By Nick Cole, Gannett Tennessee
When Vanderbilt hosts Tennessee at Memorial Gym on Wednesday night, containing Vols guard Jordan McRae likely will be at the top of the Commodores' to-do list. That's because the success of McRae, who scored 26 points in each of the Vols' wins last week, has been a leading indicator for how Tennessee (14-7, 5-3) will fare in the first half of the Southeastern Conference season.
In the Vols' five conference wins, McRae has averaged 25.2 points. In their three losses, his scoring average plummets to 10.3.
"I think that they feed off his energy," Vanderbilt junior Dai-Jon Parker said. "He's really athletic and he can pick his spots on the floor. He's a pretty good free-throw shooter, and he always has that tenacity about him."
The Commodores (12-8, 4-4) have been successful in limiting McRae, holding him to 10.5 points in last year's two meetings and an average of just 6 points in four games overall. But Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings recognizes that McRae, who is tied for third in the conference in scoring (19.2 points), has taken his offensive game to a different level in his senior season.
"He's certainly a very prolific scorer and a guy that can score in bunches," Stallings said. "He's a guy that's capable of a 25-point night any time he goes out there, and those guys are dangerous for us."
Widely considered as the team's best defender, Parker likely will draw the assignment of guarding McRae when the Commodores elect to play man-to-man defense.
"I'm not trying to stop him," Parker said. "I'm just trying to contain him for as long as I can, and hopefully my teammates will have my back behind me."
The Commodores could opt to use a zone defense as they did in Saturday's win over Mississippi State, forcing McRae to settle for jump shots rather than driving to the rim.
It also would help Vanderbilt address Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, who have become increasingly effective in the low post. Stallings said that while he believes man-to-man defense is still the Commodores' defensive strength, he is open to continuing to use the zone if it gives the team its best chance to win.
McRae has taken to shooting from the outside when the zone has been presented to him in recent games, knocking down 11 of 18 3-point shot attempts in wins over Ole Miss and Alabama.