Big Game Breakdown: Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee

The Black & Gold Standard is an all-new VandyRadio Blog featuring general commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following every Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball game. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage (along with, on occasion, Max Herz and Dan Helinek) will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball throughout the season as the team chases a postseason berth for the first time since 2012. Check out the Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the young ‘Dores fight through the 2014-15 schedule.

In a matchup between two programs potentially heading in opposite directions, Vanderbilt men’s basketball faces off against Tennessee Wednesday night at Memorial Gym in the 185th all time meeting between the two. Vandy enters the game at just 13-10 and 3-7 in the SEC with one of the youngest teams in the country. The Volunteers, on the other hand, hold a 13-9 overall record and are 5-5 in conference play, but the threat of NCAA sanctions against head coach Donnie Tyndall hangs over the program. Let’s take a look at how the two teams match up, with all numbers coming courtesy of KenPom.com.

–       The ‘Dores currently hold a KenPom ranking of #49 while the Vols are ranked #99, suggesting that Tennessee’s superior SEC record is a result of a much weaker schedule so far. Looking at the teams’ respective schedules, this holds up as VU has played six of their nine SEC games against projected NCAA tournament teams while UT has played only four of their ten conference games against this same group. Tennessee has actually racked up three SEC road wins this season, albeit over bottom-feeders Mississippi State, Missouri, and South Carolina, so the Volunteers have proven they can win similar games to this one.

–       Tyndall’s matchup zone and full court pressure schemes have drawn considerable praise over the years, and UT’s defense is ranked as the 12th best in the nation at creating turnovers. Vandy’s turnover woes this season are well-known, as the Commodores are just 290th in the country at protecting the ball. Tennessee is just an average shooting team, so VU will have to limit their turnovers so as to prevent the Vols from getting easy baskets in transition.

–       Despite a lack of traditional size, Tennessee’s defense actually has put up a block percent of 13.6, good for 36th in the NCAA. One of UT’s biggest weaknesses on defense is that they do not defend the three point line well, so Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis could get lots of open looks as Tennessee turns their attention to Damian Jones in the post. Tennessee also does a very poor job on the defensive boards (298th nationally) and gives up lots of free throws (293rd). It might be wise for Vandy coach Kevin Stallings to establish Jones in the post early in the game in an attempt to get UT into foul trouble and go after the Vols’ lack of frontcourt depth, especially considering Damian’s elite ability to draw fouls (31st).

–       When UT is on offense, VU needs to make a concerted effort to box out and aggressively pursue defensive rebounds. Tennessee rebounds almost 37% of their missed shots (21st) and Vandy’s defensive rebounding issues have cost them games in the past. The Volunteers rarely turn the ball over and the Commodores are very poor at coming up with steals, so Vanderbilt will have to do the bulk of its offensive work in the halfcourt. This makes good ball movement and crisp execution all the more important, but shot making hasn’t been an issue for the ‘Dores this year. If VU can limit its turnovers there should be plenty of open shots available.

–       KenPom.com lists Vandy’s win probability at 77%, and the fact that both teams play with a slow pace suggests the game will be played in the 50s or low 60s. I’ll take Vanderbilt 69-56 with the shooting of LaChance and Fisher-Davis being the difference; Slim Shady is going to have a big game.

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