‘Dores head west once again in search of berth in NIT semis

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Vanderbilt’s NIT adventure continues Tuesday following a 92-77 shootout win over South Dakota State, as the ‘Dores now head out west again to face the 2nd seeded Stanford Cardinal. What must the Commodores improve upon if they are to earn a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semis? Read on to find out.

–       After taking a slim lead early on against South Dakota State on Friday night, Vanderbilt allowed the Jackrabbits to get back into the game via the three pointer. SDSU shot 10-22 from three against VU, but the ‘Dores made a whopping 12-21 themselves to break the game open in the final ten minutes. If this year’s NIT is to serve as any type of legitimate preparation for a potential NCAA appearance next season, then Vanderbilt simply needs to show a better effort on defense. Pressure-filled games often have to be won on the defensive end, and the lackluster perimeter showing against SDSU needs to be corrected in time for Tuesday’s game in Palo Alto, or Vandy won’t get a chance to play on the big stage in New York. Stanford shoots 38% from three and, unlike SDSU, has the athletes to take Wade Baldwin and company off the dribble as well.

–       Having said that, Stanford’s perimeter defense is weak itself, as the Cardinal allows opponents to shoot nearly 38% from deep. Stanford uses its superior defensive rebounding to put together a defense that ranks slightly better than Vandy’s in efficiency, but the Cardinal isn’t particularly well-coached and doesn’t play very tough. I’d be surprised if Stanford is able to bully VU inside in this game, which bodes well for the ‘Dores since losses to UGA and LSU among others were a product of the Commodores getting beat up in the paint.

–       Senior guards Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown lead the Cardinal and present a backcourt with as much talent as nearly any in the country. Randle, however, has taken a step back this year with his shooting, and both have struggled inside the three point line. Senior center Stefan Nastic has good size and produces offensively, but foul trouble and a lack of toughness have been problems for him. Wade Baldwin will have to do his best to force Randle into bad decisions, as Randle will get his shots up no matter what. Jeff Roberson, meanwhile, may see an increased role in this game if Matthew Fisher-Davis struggles to defend Brown (a strong possibility). Stanford shot 49 free throws in their second round win over Rhode Island, so VU may have to win this one without getting a fair whistle.

–       Neither of these teams have defended the three ball well recently, so the group that contests perimeter jumpers more effectively could likely come out the winner in this game. Stanford doesn’t force many turnovers (272nd in the NCAA), so if VU makes its shots this will be, at minimum, a close game. Stanford doesn’t have the depth of the Commodores and has underachieved all year, but they’re playing at home trying to extend the careers of three players who took the team to the Sweet Sixteen last year. Vandy has to bring it if they’re to win, but this opportunity represents a good model of a Round of 32 NCAA situation where the winner moves on to a bigger, more signfinicant destination next week. I’ll take the Commodores in a fairly close one, and they’ll probably have to knock down their free throws late in the game to advance.

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