Mizzou enters this game on a 12 game losing streak as you are well aware and the Tigers are heading into the seventh circle of hell that is Memorial Coliseum in Nashville on the campus of Vanderbilt University. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Can Mizzou end this streak and make this Mizzou fan's dream come true?
Presenting the Vanderbilt Commodores
location: Nashville, Tennessee
By HHKB Chris: Ok, let's get this out of the way right now. If you're reading this and have been a part of Rock M Nation for the past few years, then you know that I hate HATE hate Vanderbilt's Home Court. Hate it so much I spent time researching why it is wrong WRONG wrong. If you need a refresher, check it here.
Anyway, it's the worst and horrible and awful and it just makes me wanna lose it. Again, look at it! It's a complete and total waste of space and design. Any architect or marine biologist in today's world would be laughed right out of any meeting if they brought this forward.
But that's not why we're here, we're here to talk about Vandy and to let you get to know them a tid bit better.
Vandy like the other SEC school in the state has a human as their mascot, though they don't stem confusion by also having a dog as the mascot. So that's a bonus for you the reader and mascot enjoyer.
You see Vanderbilt's mascot is a Commodore! The Commodore is a rank lower than Admiral but higher than Captain in the British Royal Navy and doesn't exist in this country. That would be silly in itself, to be named after a defunct position, but that is not why Vandy has a commodore as a mascot (and no it's not because there is no navy or large enough body of water from which to launch this fictitious navy from), the reason is that Cornelius Vanderbilt (wealthy tycoon from back in the day) had that as a nickname.
His nickname was "Commodore." How does that happen? Well apparently it was because he had a lot of energy. So for all you parents out there, you want to call Junior "Commodore" after the tyke's had his fruit loops, go right ahead. This should really help people get over the fact that Dr. Dre made himself a Doctor without going to an accredited school that focused on the fine art of rap and hip hop. Isn't this all a bit much Cornelius? The school's already named after you, did you also have to go ahead and name the mascot after yourself? Sounds like a typical Lloyd Braun move!
These are the Commodores:
If Cornelius were alive today I bet he would really rethink the whole court thing, don't you? Now Cornelius Vanderbilt is a famous guy, but are there other famous people attended this school? Of course! I don't care for Vandy's court, that's not new, that upsets me, but I found another reason to get upset. You see readers, Vanderbilt also brought us Skip Bayless.
C'mon Vanderbilt, do something right please. This is your fault? You did this? Do you know what you have wrought on the country? I can't stand him and wish someone would just punch him out. Preferably Richard Sherman.
Dierks Bentley was a transfer student from Vermont to Vanderbilt where he finished his education, so I imagine he would be hated by many Mizzou fans and if they didn't like his music they would be blaming Frank Haith for it. It's your fault we're not in the NCAAs this March Dierks, YOURS!
Finally, Amy Grant also went to Vandy. You know her if you are either a) into Christmas music and/or b) Christian music, or c) like me you thought she was Andy McDowell from Green Card with Gerard Depardieu. It's clear that Vandy has a rich musical history in their alumni and it's clear that I have no idea who either of those people are or what their music sounds like.
The question I have for you though is, are you heading down to Nashville for this game? If you are, are you bringing kindling? I kid! I hear Nashville can be a blast, they call it Nashvegas now because apparently what happens in Nashvegas stays in Nashvegas, or something and of course PAAAAARTYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!! Well if you're going down there I suggest you load up on booze at The Gold Rush, it's apparently chill with a good menu and not crappy in the sense that it's a dive. If you're not heading down, as I assume you are snowed in somewhere and you're burning your possessions to stay warm, the game will be airing live on SEC Network, so watch it, stream it, do what you must to view it because we need to win it. The players need it, you need it, hell, the world needs it!
About Their Basketball Team
By Sam Snelling: Early in the preseason rankings, the voters and myself didn't get too much right about the coming season. We all over valued Missouri by a LOT, over valued Florida by enough, and under valued Ole Miss. But one thing that most got right was Vanderbilt. Vandy came into the season with a strong recruiting class, but not much experience after a relatively rough season a year ago. So the voters picked Vandy to finish 12th, and right now they're tied for 11th in the SEC with Auburn and South Carolina at 4-9 in league play. They still rate pretty highly in the Sagarin/KenPom/BPI world due to their propensity for losing close games, but they're still losing, the sign of a young team.
Since the start of conference play the 'Dores have struggled to string together wins, at one point losing seven straight. They've beaten Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and dropped Alabama on the road. But their clear strength is playing at home, where they have a clear advantage.
Vanderbilts roster is littered with youth in much the same way that Missouri's is. Damian Jones is the Commodores best player, he's a 6'10 Sophomore Center who averages 14.8 poing and 6.6 rebounds per game. They also rely on the shooting ability of Freshman Riley LaChance who hits on almost 40% of his 3 point attempts and is the teams second leading scorer. In fact James Siakam is the teams only upperclassmen contributor at about 9 ppg in 23 minutes. There are a couple juniors who get a few minutes here and there, but the Sophomores Jones and Luke Kornet, and Freshmen LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Wade Baldwin IV, Jeff Roberson and Shelton Mitchell play almost ALL of the minutes after Siakam.
Mitchell and Roberson have been held out of competition lately with some concussion like symptoms, at this point their status is still unknown.
Now for a closer look at their basketball team, let's chat with somebody who knows them best...
Q&A With ANCHOR OF GOLD
Thanks to Commodore Tom, from AnchorOfGold.com, for taking some time to answer our questions for him about the Commodores. The folks at AOG do a good job of writing about Vandy, and they've got a great sense of humor also. I mean, you kind of have to if you're a Vandy sports fan here recently (minus baseball, they're REALLY good at baseball).
RockMNation: Vandy had a great non-con season followed up by a rough start to the first half of the SEC season and have since turned it around, to what would you equate the recent success of the team?
Commodore Tom: Probably the biggest difference, if we're being honest, has been the competition. Vandy's SEC schedule was ridiculously front-loaded; after the conference opener against Auburn, Vandy played Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi State, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia (again), and Texas A&M. So that might have been six games against NCAA teams (plus a rather inexplicable loss in Starkville.) But also, Vandy has been attacking the basket and getting to the foul line more often. Stallings teams are frequently known for having a bunch of shooters, but the offense has generally been a lot better when Vandy can get Damian Jones and James Siakam involved on the low block. Those two have combined to attempt 60 free throws over the last four games -- after having 69 in the first eight games of SEC play.
RMN: Vandy has had some tough luck the past two seasons with roster turnover, has Stallings righted the ship for the foreseeable future, also, do you see Damian Jones sticking around after this season?
Commodore Tom: It seems that way. A lot of the roster turnover has been a bit of a fluke, with three players (Kedren Johnson, Dai-Jon Parker, and Eric McClellan) getting dismissed from the program, and at least two of those were dismissed by the university. There was another player (Kevin Bright) who went pro in Germany to be closer to his ailing mother, and another (Sheldon Jeter) had a solid freshman year and then transferred to Pitt with allegations of tampering (never proven, but somebody found out that Pitt fans were discussing the possibility of Jeter transferring there before he had announced he was leaving the program.) That stuff happens, but to have all of it happen in basically the same year is a bit unusual. Obviously we don't know anything for sure, but the current crop of players seem to be content at Vanderbilt and there are no rumors of players being unhappy.
I do see Damian Jones sticking around another year. He's appearing as a first-round pick in some mocks, but he's also an engineering major and from everything I've heard is genuinely interested in getting an education, so that leans toward putting off the NBA for another year.
RMN: Speaking of Jones, aside from him, who should Mizzou fans have their eyes on as potential killers of our basketball hopes and dreams today?
Commodore Tom: As I alluded to in the first answer, James Siakam has come on strong over the last few games. The only senior in Vandy's eight-man rotation, he's a lunch-pail guy who provides good rebounding and defense, but he can also provide some scoring punch to complement Jones down low. Riley LaChance looks like everybody's stereotype of a Vandy player, but he's capable of scoring in bunches like when he went for 26 in back-to-back games in December. Luke Kornet is a 7-footer who can shoot threes and is developing an inside game; he was 6'3" entering his senior year of high school so he's behind the curve in terms of post play, but he's getting better.
RMN: If Mizzou is going to get an upset in today's game, what's it going to take?
Commodore Tom: It's going to take Mizzou hitting jump shots and -- not to knock Mizzou -- Vandy beating themselves. Vandy has the personnel to neutralize Johnathan Williams; if he's the only real offensive threat in this game, James Siakam and Damian Jones will make his life miserable. So Mizzou's guards will have to step up and knock down jumpers to take the pressure off Williams inside.
If Mizzou can keep the game close, Vandy does have a tendency to beat themselves with turnovers (many of them unforced) and missed free throws. Vandy's big bugaboo this season has been an inability to close out games; against Tennessee last week, for example, Vandy allowed Tennessee to send the game into overtime by missing foul shots and one bone-headed coaching move (why do you foul up 3?) It's about what you would expect, really, from the fourth-least experienced team in the country.
RMN: I'm a self avowed disliker of Vandy's home (mostly as a joke at this point) court on a scale of 1 (not caring at all) to 10 (Frank Martin level freak out) how would the Vandy fanbase react if the NCAA required that Memorial Coliseum be brought into code?
Commodore Tom: I would say 8. If the NCAA did that, we would probably just move them to the sidelines -- a couple of feet below floor level and right in front of the student section. If we did that, pretty soon opposing coaches would be demanding we move them back. In all seriousness, that was how the benches ended up under the baskets to begin with -- because Adolph Rupp demanded they be moved from the sidelines (because he didn't like his players having to climb up onto the floor), and he got his way because Adolph Rupp. The fans would probably hate the heavy-handedness of the NCAA suddenly changing their minds after 50 years or so, but would eventually get over it.
RMN: How do you see the game going and what's your predicted score?
Commodore Tom: Vandy, 74-54. I can see a scenario where Mizzou gets hot from the field and stays in the game, but I can't really see a scenario where Mizzou is actually able to stop Vandy from doing what they want on the offensive end.
Thanks again to Tom for answering our questions, and for participating in our weekly SEC Power Rankings. Check out Tom's work and the rest of their masthead's at Anchor of Gold, it's good stuff.
We've got an interesting meeting here, even if it ends up being quite ugly. Both teams are filled with youth, and pretty good youth. Just not the kind of youth that has helped win too many games. Vandy benefitted from a much easier non-conference schedule that abused Missouri, but that allowed them time to gel a bit more and get some wins, something Mizzou just doesn't have. Still, these teams have enough similarities, that Mizzou has a chance to steal a win today, just how are they going to do that.
1) Force them to take tough shots
Mizzou isn't a great, but is a decent defensive team that has a poor defensive rating due in part to playing a LOT of really good teams. Vandy is a mostly efficient offensive team according to the stats, but they've run into more serious defensive teams in conference play and since have not been scoring with the regularity that they were early. So their offense can be disrupted, so much so that they scored just 47 points against Florida their last time out. Mizzou needs to play tough defense and not give Vandy easy open looks, because they're capable of knocking them down.
2) Get Second Chance Points
Vanderbilt isn't a great rebounding team. They're good with Siakam and Jones, but outside of those two they can be had on the glass. If Missouri makes it a key point to rebound and get second chances, they can get some easy points inside and at the line. It will also put more pressure on Jones, and he can be prone to foul trouble. If you're getting second chances, and getting easy opportunities, Jones might try to do too much on the inside and with him out of the game the 'Dores will be in trouble.
3) Play Your Pace
Vanderbilt plays at about the same pace as Missouri, but I think the Tigers need to attack early. They can find a way to control the game and the pace and force Vanderbilt oustide of their comfort zone, I feel that they can change the outcome of the last few (what are we on 12?) games.
Against Arkansas the Freshmen were doing a great job in the open court of attacking the rim. This is a key point. Perhaps the slowed pace and trying to make up for experience and inefficiencies on offense, the guys (especially the younger ones) forgot to go play basketball. In the second half things got a little looser and you saw Namon Wright, Tramaine Isabell, Jakeenan Gant, D'Angelo Allen and Montaque Gill-Caesar getting out and making plays. All of them did. They need to do that more. Keep it simple, just go play.
This team has been plagued with long offensive dry spells and it's been their downfall for most of two months. At some point they lost the ability to just go make a play. There are guys that are capable, they just need to do it. This is the kind of game that Mizzou can win because they are every bit as talented as Vanderbilt is. Vandy has the advantage of continuity with Kevin Stallings, who's been there for years. Damian Jones is a tough matchup, but no tougher than bigs that Missouri has already seen. So I guess it comes down to how much value does Strength of Schedule have over these teams? How much better would Vandy's record be with Mizzou's schedule? They've no doubt won games against teams that have beaten, and KenPom has this as a projected 13 point spread.
So Vandy isn't very good, Mizzou is bad... overall these are two teams that are fighting hard, and I do like Mizzou's chances to stick around in this game. The way they played at Arkansas was encouraging, and they won't have to face the amount of pressure that they encountered from the Razorbacks. It will still be tough, because as Chris noted above, there's something kind of weird about Vanderbilt's court. But I like the way JW3 is playing, despite having a tough matchup against Siakam and Jones. And I like the Freshmen to come out and play hard, and hopefully make enough shots to keep this close. I simply don't think Vandy has enough firepower to blow Mizzou out. I do think they have enough firepower to win though, so I'm still taking them to beat Mizzou, we'll say a score of: Vanderbilt 65, Missouri 61.
After all that... predictions below, trifecta picks, etc. I'm going to take MGC, JW3 and Gant.