There have been bad losses this season for Vanderbilt, but the 83-81 loss at Kentucky midweek was much more on the frustrating side of things. This was a game that the Commodores could easily have won with a couple more breaks, but it was just not to be. Now the ‘Dores face No. 11 Auburn – who knew the Tigers were ranked that highly? – on Saturday night.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Stop beating yourself
The last stretch of four games might have been among the best this season. While the ‘Dores have only gone 2-2 during that stretch, both losses were on the road to ranked teams and – importantly – Vanderbilt had a chance to win both those games. The problem is that it is always something else getting in the Commodores way.
Against Tennessee, it was a lack of three-point shooting that killed the Commodores as they put up 62 points in a five-point loss. Against Kentucky, it was a combination of bad fouls down the stretch, followed by missed free throws in overtime. This is a team that can – and should – be winning more games; Vanderbilt just has to stop finding ways to beat itself.
Play a scrappy game
Auburn is 20-2 and has a two-game lead in the SEC. This is despite their leading rebounder being a 6-foot-3 transfer student from Presbyterian College and their tallest starter checking in at just 6-foot-7. Compared to the players and recruits picked up by other SEC schools the Tigers shouldn’t have a prayer of being in first place in the league with around a month remaining on the schedule.
The reason they are there is that Bruce Pearl has coached his team to play in a scrappy manner that allows them to compete whenever they are outsized and seemingly outgunned. This won’t be the case against a Vanderbilt team that also lacks size inside, so it will be interesting to see if the ‘Dores can match tempo with Auburn and give the Tigers a little of their own medicine on Saturday night.
Prepare for a three-point battle
This is a game where the Commodores could really use the sharp-shooting skills of the injured Matthew Fisher-Davis. One of the ways that Auburn has been able to beat teams that dramatically outsize and out-athlete them is by living on the long ball. Normally this is a strategy that falls apart over time, but Auburn is averaging 85.7 points per game – a mark that puts them on pace to be the highest scoring team in the league since Kentucky in 1996 – while attempting and making more three-pointers than anyone else in the SEC.
There is no reason to think that the Tigers will go off-script against the Commodores, so Vanderbilt should prepare for an aerial bombardment and – importantly – be ready to dish out one of its own in return. The ‘Dores have enough sharpshooters of their own to keep this interesting, but a strong perimeter defense is a must when playing this particular Auburn squad.