The Commodores closed out their non-conference season with a couple of big – and needed – victories over Houston Baptist and Alcorn State. Vanderbilt’s average margin of victory over the two games was 37 points, giving this team a jolt of confidence and showing the scoring output that they are capable of when things are ticking over nicely. Now it is time to jump into the SEC schedule with the first game being on the road at Florida.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Get off to a fast start
The story of Florida’s non-conference schedule has been as interesting as Vanderbilt’s in its own way. The Gators roared off to a hot start, picking up wins over Stanford and No. 17 Gonzaga, going 5-0 to start the year, and scoring 108 points or more in four of those five wins.
Since that start though, the Gators have gone 3-4. A three-point loss to No. 1 Duke and a six-point win over No. 17 Clemson look nice, but there is also a pair of ugly losses to Florida State and Loyola Chicago in that mix.
This is a team that is down in confidence. While Vandy found an answer to their scoring struggles over the last two games, Florida never really got started against James Madison or Incarnate Word, winning by an average of just 12 points, If Vandy can get hot early it will be interesting to see if the Gators can react.
Dominate from three-point range
It is no coincidence that the uptick in the Commodores fortunes over the past two games has directly coincided with their sudden ability to hit the three-point shot consistently. We have talked on these pages before about how the Commodores lack a true inside threat, but if they are making 17 of 35 three-balls as they did against Alcorn State, it doesn’t matter what is going on down low.
It was the second straight game where the Commodores have hit a season-high in three-pointers and this 5-7 Vanderbilt team would be over 500 if they had been hitting open shots at this sort of clip earlier in their non-con schedule.
Admittedly the Commodores have been using a smaller and more shooter heavy lineup over the last couple of games. This is a strategy that Bryce Drew won’t lean on that often in SEC play, but it would be nice to see it tried out against Florida when Vandy is having point’s scoring issues.
Stop Jalen Hudson
Florida is at its best when Jalen Hudson is playing well. The Gators rely on the junior guard to do much of their scoring and they play him big minutes to help achieve that goal.
Hudson has had five outings this year where he has scored 23 points or more, including 35 in the crazy triple-overtime win over Gonzaga. There is not a shot available that Hudson won’t try to take and he is a compilation scorer who gets his points by putting up as many shots as possible per game.
Hudson has been quieter over the last five games, putting up more than 20 points just once in that span. If Vanderbilt can frustrate his scoring and keep the 18.2 ppg scorer at four or five points below his average then they will have a much greater chance of winning in Gainesville.