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Vanderbilt 88 Tennessee 74 - The Worst Case Scenario

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Not a good night in Knoxville.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee had prided itself on being competitive with everyone it had faced this year, including a number of good teams in and out of league play.  Vanderbilt, regardless of record, certainly goes in that category.  When the Vols began trotting out the small ball lineup, we wondered how it might fare against teams with more than one quality post player.  But tonight ended up being an ugly answer to that question and more:

  • What if a team with quality posts also knocks down their open three point shots?
  • What if those quality posts affect almost every shot Tennessee's guards get when driving to the basket?
  • What if the Vols are also cold from the three point line?
The answer:  Vanderbilt built a 21 point halftime lead that flirted with 30 for the first ten minutes of the second half.  Tennessee got no closer than 14 down the stretch, and the Commodores leave Knoxville with what I am sure is a satisfying 88-74 victory.

Vandy ends up shooting 13 of 33 from the arc, but it was 10 of 21 at halftime.  This is a very dangerous team because it can spread the floor with shooters while working it inside to a pair of quality seven footers.  Things could have been worse early on had Damian Jones not been saddled with foul trouble.  But even when Vanderbilt did miss, the Dores were more than happy to grab the rebound.  Luke Kornet had 14 of those by himself, and was also a big factor in stopping what the Vols wanted to do offensively.

Kornet and Jones combined to block eight shots, and they affected far more.  Tennessee never looked comfortable at the rim, even with the return of Armani Moore.  The Vols shot 32.9% from the floor, with Kevin Punter getting many of his 26 points after the Vols were already down 20+.  And something Tennessee hasn't been able to overcome even against lesser teams:  the Vols shot 4 of 20 from the arc and started 0 for 9.  Vanderbilt didn't allow any clean looks at a three until the game was out of reach.

Vanderbilt's ball movement was a thing of beauty, as the Commodores assisted on 20 of their 23 made baskets.  Their inside-out game created a number of "uh oh" looks from three, and Wade Baldwin, Camron Justice, and Matthew Fisher-Davis made them count.  Vandy dominated this game and Riley LaChance was 0 for 7 from the arc.  But Baldwin, Justice, and Fisher-Davis were an absurd 13 of 24.

The snow and the late night may have kept some eyeballs away, but this game stands as an example of what can happen to this Tennessee team against really good teams with good posts and shooters.  It may be that Vanderbilt is simply the worst match-up on Tennessee's schedule.  And it could be that these Vols just simply aren't good enough to compete every time against the best teams on its schedule.  Either way, it seemed like Tennessee was simply picking its poison defensively and couldn't make near enough plays on the other end to keep up.

The good news is, another chance for a big win comes knocking on Saturday when #24 South Carolina brings its 17-1 record to Knoxville.  I'll be interested to see how Rick Barnes and the Vols respond to this loss.