Vanderbilt showed some of the mental toughness this team has been accused of lacking on Saturday in its 77-71 home win over LSU. The ‘Dores saw a 16-point lead fade to nothing as LSU took the lead with just over two minutes to go, but Vanderbilt rallied back with a strong late run to close out the game. Next up for the Commodores is a road game against Tennessee.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Learn from January 9
The worst aspect of the SEC schedule is that sometimes it throws up quick turnaround games where a team faces the same opponent inside of a month. Vanderbilt has an extreme case of this issue in 2018 as the ‘Dores are set to face Tennessee for the second time in two weeks on Tuesday night.
In their first meeting of the season in Nashville, the Commodores failed to defend their home court as they lost 92-86 to the Vols. Head Coach Bryce Drew knows that one of the biggest keys to turning that home loss into a road win is to learn from what happened in that game.
Sophomore Grant Williams was the man for Tennessee, scoring 37 points in a career-high performance. Drew knows that the defense in the paint has to be better on both Williams and Admiral Schofield (22 points) and he knows that the Commodores were able to team apart the Vols perimeter defense as Vanderbilt shot 42-percent from three-point range.
Using this knowledge and applying it to a game plan for Tuesday night will be key.
Forget about January 9
The flip side of learning from the defeat against Tennessee is that two weeks is a long time in the world of college basketball. Both Vanderbilt and Tennessee have played three games since they last met, using new plays, new lineups, and generally mixing things around to keep a fresh identity.
Vanderbilt – for example – is coming off of a big win over LSU in a game that they could easily have lost if they hadn’t dug in late and refused to be beaten. Tennessee dropped a game midweek against Missouri where they only scored 55 points.
As much as Drew can learn and prepare his team from the initial meeting between the two ball clubs, there is also a lot of unknowns entering the game. This may well not be the same high scoring affair the two had in Nashville, so the ‘Dores need to be prepared to win whatever type of game breaks out in Knoxville.
React better to changing defenses
Vanderbilt should have run will Wade’s LSU squad out of the building on Saturday night. Up 46-30 after a good run to start the second half, the ‘Dores were up by 16 points with just 16 minutes remaining. This was the time to put the pressure on and push the lead to 20 points. Instead, the Tigers changed their defensive system and the Commodores failed to handle it.
LSU went full court press on the Commodores and the result was a pair of back-to-back steals and dunks. A 20-10 run got LSU back into the game, right at the point that Vandy should have dropped the hammer. This is not a Vanderbilt team that is used to playing from the from this season, but if they want to win as many games as their talent suggests, then they need to be better about reading and playing against shifting defensive structures.