3 Keys to watch as the Commodores travel to Athens

The Vanderbilt Commodores (9-9, 2-3) travel to Athens, Georgia to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (13-5, 3-2) on Saturday at 12pm CT. Vanderbilt, coming off its 3rd SEC loss at the hands of #4 Alabama, looks to rebound against a Georgia team that is unbeaten on their home court. This is a Georgia team that has had a turnaround from the season before under coach Mike White’s first year leading the Bulldogs program. Georgia finished 6-26 in the 2021-2022 season and just 1-17 in conference play. This year has been a much different story, they have started off 13-5 on the year with a 3-2 conference record. They are 10-0 at home on the season led by their leading scorer Terry Roberts (a Senior transfer from Bradley). Here are the 3 keys to hone in on for Vanderbilt to come away with a victory on Saturday:

  • Finding more rhythm without Liam Robbins
    • As we learned about an hour before tip-off against Alabama last Tuesday night, Vanderbilt’s best big man Liam Robbins will be sidelined 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain he sustained in practice on Monday. This is crushing news to a team coming off a huge win at home against a ranked Arkansas team last Saturday and could have really used that momentum to make some noise down the stretch in SEC play. The offense definitely missed him at times as they struggled inside with Alabama’s length. Quentin Millora-Brown stayed in his usual starting role Tuesday against Alabama, but it was the two freshmen Lee Dort and Malik Dia who saw a bigger uptick in minutes. Dort played 16 min and finished with 5 pts, 5 rebounds, and 1 block. Dia played only 6 minutes with 5 pts, 3 rebounds, and went 1-2 from 3 pt. range. Dort is a little more polished and a better rim protector, while Dia can stretch the floor and make some shots from outside. One of the two will need to step up and grab ahold of that backup center role and play some big minutes for the Commodores if they want to continue making noise in the SEC.
  • The shooters have to keep shooting
    • It was no secret that Vanderbilt struggled offensively against the Crimson Tide and their two best 3-point shooters were no exception to that. Myles Stute who started the year on fire from deep has cooled off recently only shooting roughly 20% from 3 over the team’s last 5 games. That is way down from his season average of 41.5%. He went 1-5 in the Alabama game with his only make coming in the final minutes with the game already seemingly out of reach. Trey Thomas is no exception to that as he has only shot 28% from deep over his last 5 games as well. His season average is only 33.8%, but he is a much better shooter than his percentages would indicate. He was 0-4 from deep in the Alabama game. Both guys missing a couple wide-open attempts too. Bad shooting games will happen, but with Robbins out, for the next few weeks, Vanderbilt will need these guys to start knocking down shots if they want to have some success. Don’t discount freshman Noah Shelby either. He’s only shooting 30% from 3-point range on the year but he has the green light and the confidence to shoot at any time (i.e. the game at Tennessee). The Commodores could use him getting hot from deep on Saturday.
  • Containing the Bulldogs’ top 2 guards
    • Georgia’s offense is led by their top 2 guards Terry Roberts (16 ppg) and Kario Oquendo (13.5 ppg). Even with Vanderbilt’s recent shooting struggles from their top 2 shooters, they are still in the top 5 of SEC offensive rating according to a graphic @CBBAnalytics posted on Twitter. Defensively is where the Commodores have struggled. According to the same graphic they are in the bottom two of the defensive rating. They are 176th in the country giving up 70 points per game. This has to be a focus going into Athens facing an offense that is led by their strong guards. Down the final stretch of the game, I fully expect Stackhouse to put Jordan Wright to Oquendo and Ezra Manjon on Roberts. Manjon has done a solid job on point guards this year. He gave Zakai Zeigler some trouble in the Tennessee game picking him up at half-court and pressuring the ball. Those could be the two matchups that Vanderbilt needs to win to help suppress Georgia’s offense.

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(The graphic referenced above courtesy of @CBBAnalytics)

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