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The 2015 SEC Tournament gets underway Wednesday night before UT-VU Round III at 6 pm Thursday night. Both Vandy and Tennessee held practice at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville Wednesday afternoon, as the two teams looked ahead to Thursday’s SEC 2nd round matchup.
– Despite Tennessee’s very poor defensive rebounding numbers (286th nationally in defensive rebound %), the Commodores only came up with one offensive rebound in their win in Knoxville. Vandy forward James Siakam suggested that rebounding will be a point of emphasis for the team in this game, as “last game they outrebounded us by a lot. It’s been our focus; we want to do a better job rebounding and I’m pretty certain (the rebounding margin) is not gonna be like last game.” It’s clear that, even having won the last matchup between these two teams, the ‘Dores are set on showing increased toughness this time around against a short yet bulky Volunteer front line.
– The Vols have utilized their matchup zone and full court press with strong results this season, forcing opponents into turnovers on 23% of possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy. UT ranks 17th in the NCAA in defensive turnover % and second in the SEC, as first year head coach Donnie Tyndall has already put his stamp on the Volunteers basketball program. ‘Dores guard Riley LaChance hailed the Vols’ physicality and suggested that taking care of the ball would be key, as “(limiting turnovers) is important every game, but definitely against them. They thrive off that, so absolutely it’s important.” Vandy’s starters (with Shelton Mitchell and Luke Kornet subbing in) scrimmaged against a zone for about 15 minutes, while coach Kevin Stallings provided input on where to move the ball depending on how the defense reacts. Vandy wants to make sure they won’t go into any offensive lulls this time in an elimination game.
– Confidence was a buzzword today for everyone regarding Vanderbilt. Siakam, LaChance, and Stallings all alluded to the confidence the team’s shooters have right now, while Big Bamba lauded the freshmen’s work ethic, saying, “they worked their behind off to get where they are, and their confidence is through the roof.” All of VU’s shot lights out in practice, so it’s doubtful that an unfamiliar shooting background will cause problems. If the previous two matchups between these teams are any indication, Vandy’s guards will have plenty of open looks from three once again Thursday night.
– One matchup to watch may be James Siakam and Luke Kornet of Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee’s Armani Moore at the 4. Moore stands at only 6’5” but is listed at 215 pounds and, in person, seems to weigh significantly more than that. The power forward leads the Vols with a 6.1 block percentage and has a well-rounded game with his ability to rebound, pass, and get to the free throw line. Moore shot the ball well from three during Tennessee’s practice, but shot 0-3 from behind the arc against Vandy this season. Although Moore won’t necessarily be matched up with Kornet and Siakam the whole game, Kornet must challenge Moore from the three point line and keep the UT junior forward off the offensive glass.
– Vanderbilt held a fairly high intensity practice that included a short scrimmage while Tennessee went with more of a shootaround, but both teams looked loose after their respective practices. Various ‘Dores and Vols attempted to distract their teammates during post-practice interview sessions, in what turned out to be a more entertaining development than one would have expected. James Siakam could only restrain himself from laughing for so long before he cracked, as Nate Watkins popped up behind a reporter and pretended to pick his nose for a solid four or five seconds. Damian Jones and Shelton Mitchell also walked by making some weird faces at Bamba, and UT’s Josh Richardson was messing around with Armani Moore toward the end of the latter’s media session. Neither team seemed overly serious, but expect that to change the second each group hits the court Thursday night. “We have to come ready to go,” said Siakam.
– These two teams have headed in opposite directions since Tennessee’s shocking win over Vandy at Memorial Gym in February. The Commodores have since won six of seven, while the Volunteers have lost six of seven. Conventional wisdom suggests that this should be a comfortable win for Vanderbilt, and Ken Pomeroy echoes this sentiment in giving VU a 77% chance to win. This has been an exceedingly weird series this season, however, and anything can happen in March. If Vanderbilt shoots the ball relatively well, they should win. If not, then the ‘Dores will be in for a dogfight.
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