3 Keys For Vanderbilt To Upset Rival Tennessee

The Vanderbilt Commodores (11-12, 4-6) play host to their rival Tennessee Volunteers (19-4, 8-2) Wednesday night (6:00 pm CT on SEC Network) in Memorial Gym. Both teams are coming off a bounce-back win in conference play and look to add on to those wins. Vanderbilt won a tight contest last Saturday against an Ole Miss team in the midst of a lost season. The game was used as somewhat of a measuring stick for the Commodores to see just how far they would fall after their miserable performance against Alabama last week. The game was a little closer than it should have been but a win is a win and Vandy will take all the wins they can get right now. For Tennessee, they are looking to answer some questions on the offensive end of the floor. Defensively they lead the country only giving up 54.6 points per game and can just suffocate you with pressure. When their struggles arise, it is from an offensive standpoint with some inconsistencies shooting the basketball. They rebounded from their loss to Florida by beating Auburn 46-43 in a game where points were hard to come by. When Tennessee scores 71 points or more they are undefeated on the year, so this could be a key number to look for in this game because the Vanderbilt defense has provided almost no resistance to opposing offenses on the season. Here are three things I am looking for Vanderbilt to do to have some success against a very tough Tennessee team. 

Limit Offensive Rebounds

This feels like a broken record in the sense that in almost every game this team has played over the last few weeks one key has been to limit the opponents on the offensive glass. Part of that has been because they are playing teams who are in the top 20 in the country in offensive rebounds per game and Tennessee is one of those teams. They are 3rd in the country with 12.1 per game and it comes from a slew of players. Nobody on their team averages more than 5.3  total rebounds per game but they have four players who average at least 5.0 per game. It is a team effort and Rick Barnes has gotten his guys to buy into grabbing rebounds on both ends of the floor. One reason that it will be so big for Vanderbilt to limit Tennessee’s offensive rebounds is because of the Volunteers’ recent shooting woes. When facing a team who is shooting 20% from three-point range over their last three games and just 39% from the floor on the road all season, you definitely do not want to give them any extra opportunities. In the last matchup between these two teams, Tennessee snagged 12 offensive rebounds which are right on par with their average. Vanderbilt will need all five guys boxing out on the defensive end to hold Tennessee to one attempt per possession. If they can do that, they will give themselves a great chance against a struggling team offensively.

Play Your Best Guys

The inconsistency has been a gripe of mine since game one of the season. Every night it seems a different combination of players play a different amount of minutes and there is no telling who it will be each night. Bryce Smith, of @VUHustlerSports, tweeted out a graphic from @CBBAnalytics on Twitter today, showing Vanderbilt’s lineup of Manjon-Lawrence-Wright-Stute-Robbins is the 8th most efficient lineup in the country. In all of the college basketball! One of the biggest problems? They have played the third least minutes of all combinations in the top 20. One reason for that has been some injuries to Robbins and Wright who have both missed multiple games this season, but when all five of those guys are healthy there is no reason that combo should not see the majority of minutes each game. In their most recent game against Ole Miss the rotation was condensed down a little and it worked but Trey Thomas continues to see too many minutes. Trey is a guy who has been a solid shooter and Stackhouse loves to draw up plays to get him open looks. The problem is he has not shot the ball well for most of the season (30% from 3pt range), and it hasn’t really gotten much better. He is very inconsistent and provides little to the team when he isn’t knocking down shots. Freshman Noah Shelby needs to be cutting into his minutes from here on out. He is shooting the same percentage and is a bigger guard who can provide for you than Thomas outside of his shooting. 

Be The More Physical Team

This matchup between these two teams has been a little chippy in recent years, most notable last season when Stute, Plavsic, and Vescovi were all assessed technical fouls in a little shoving match after Vescovi caught the worst an inadvertent Stute elbow. Stute has shown he is not one to back down from a little controversy and even likes to let Tennessee’s bench know after he knocks down some shots. Tennessee is a big physical team, and it shows in their rebounding numbers that I highlighted earlier. For Vandy, they need to match that physicality on both ends of the floor and show they are willing to not back down from anyone. I don’t mean they need to be so physical that it turns into a free throw shooting contest because Tennessee has an edge in that department, but more so just be physical down low with their big guys and prove it is going to be a fight all night in Memorial. Tennessee has multiple guys with size, regularly playing five guys 6’8 or taller. This could be a game where Coach Stackhouse decides to run some lineups with Robbins and Millora-Brown together to help with the size and rebounding. Either way, Tennessee will try to make this game very physical, and Vanderbilt cannot shy away from that. 


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