Vanderbilt did a lot of things right against Tennessee but still came out on the wrong end of the 92-84 score. Things are not about to get any easier either as John Calipari brings the No. 21 Kentucky Wildcats to Nashville on Saturday afternoon.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Defend the paint
It has been a massive struggle for Vanderbilt to keep the opposition big men from lighting up the scoreboard over the last couple of games. After Chris Silva went of four 27 points as South Carolina beat the Commodores, things got much worse against Tennessee.
Power forward Grant Williams was the big issue as he dominated inside. He scored a career-high 37 points and he was assisted in the paint by Admiral Schofield tying his own career-high with 22 points.
At this point, Vanderbilt has no answers for this kind of bruising player around the basket. With Luke Kornet and all his experience gone, the Commodores are playing Djery Baptiste and Clevon Brown down low. With one start combined before the year, they are trying to learn on the fly and having a tough time doing so.
It might get worse before it gets better. Kentucky has the most size of any team in the SEC with four players listed at 6-foot-9 or taller.
Keep Scoring the Basketball
The most interesting aspect of the Tennessee game is that it is one the Commodores could easily have won, especially if they had more production and size in the paint.
Vandy scored a season-high 84 points and – as Bryce Drew pointed out after the contest – if you score 84 points, you should be winning the game. Saben Lee is continuing to develop quicker than most expected and he had 21 points in the defeat. Jeff Roberson added 19 points in a typical do-everything performance, while Riley LaChance added another 16 points.
If Vandy can score at that pace then they will trouble a Kentucky team that is prone to having bad games out of nowhere. This isn’t going to be a squad that wins defensive battles, so concentrating on a high volume scoring game will give Vandy its best chance to win.
Take the easy points
Vanderbilt is a streaky team when it comes to scoring. If the three-ball is falling then they can build a lead – or run down a deficit – in a hurry, but if they are cold from beyond the arc then the Commodores are in trouble. This is again due to their lack of presence inside and their inability to push the ball into the post and take high percentage shots.
As a result, Vanderbilt has to be near perfect from the free throw line to keep the score ticking over when they are missing the long ball. Against Tennessee, the Commodores were 15-of-22 at the charity stripe. That means they left seven gimme points on the floor. In a game where they lost by eight, making more of these shots could have proven to be the difference between a potential win and the eventual loss.