KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee and Vanderbilt will square off for the second time this season on Wednesday. This is a make-up game from an earlier date that was postponed. While Vanderbilt isn't the toughest opponent that the Vols have faced this year, this game, to me, is much more about the Vols themselves than their opponent.
After a rough stretch of roller coaster up and down basketball, it's time for Tennessee to take a long look in the mirror. Teams aim to be peaking as they go into March each year, and Tennessee looks weeks removed from playing their best ball. The good news is there's time to get some things fixed before tournament play. The bad news is that the time that remains is quickly expiring. If the Vols want to reach their full potential at the end of the year, they've got to transform from the Jekyll and Hyde team they have become of late. This team needs more consistency in their veterans.
The Commodores enter Wednesday's game with just six wins on the year. They have lost two straight and come into Wednesday's game with an SEC record of just 2-10. The Commodores are coached by Jerry Stackhouse.
Vandy on Offense:
Fans may remember that Vandy's best option on offense is guard Scotty Pippen Jr. That's certainly still the case, but sophomore Dylan Disu (6'9") has emerged as a very valuable player of late. He averaged a double-double last week and was named the SEC's Player of the Week. He scored a career-high 29 points against Kentucky, a team that Tennessee struggled with over the weekend. Disu is one of the best rebounders in the entire conference, so the Vols need to be intentional about hitting the glass to prevent him from giving the Commodores an advantage on both ends.
As a team, the Commodores average just under 74 points per game. Pippen Jr. still leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.5 points per game. He loves to play through contact as he drives towards the paint. He's not the tallest guard, but he's a strong player who doesn't mind playing physically. If Tennessee can contain him and Disu (15 points per game) then they should be alright. Other than those two, Vandy doesn't have another player who averages even nine points per game.
That doesn't mean other guys couldn't step up, though. Vandy's role players shoot the ball well from the perimeter. Tennessee teams struggle at times to defend teams who shoot well from deep. It can be a tricky balance to guard Vanderbilt. On one hand, you must focus on stopping Pippen Jr., however, if you focus all of your attention on him, he's second in the conference in assists and is willing and able to find open teammates who can make you pay from beyond the arc. Tennessee's defense will need to remain disciplined on Wednesday.
Vandy on Defense:
The Commodores are giving up 73.8 points per game on the defensive end. They can fall asleep at times and give up some easy looks. When this happens, they can get caught "chasing", or being late on defensive rotations. This leads to easy, open looks from the 3-point line. This means there will probably be some open looks from the 3-point line for Tennessee, but it will be up to the Vols to step up and hit the shots.
Tennessee should expect to see a mostly man-to-man defense on Wednesday. The Commodores aren't great in transition defense. Their defense can get lost and be turned into a bit of a scramble when teams push the tempo. This happened at times against Alabama on Saturday the Vols would be smart to try and get out and run as well.
A win on Saturday could give the Vols some much-needed confidence as they try and turn things around late in the season. A loss on the other hand could do a lot of damage. A fan base that is increasingly frustrated with the team's performance over the past few weeks could become more boisterous if the Vols lose to another inferior opponent. If Vanderbilt finds a way to win, the Vols will have a losing record in road games this year. This is a game the Vols need to win.
Tennessee will play at Vanderbilt at 9:00 PM on the SEC Network.