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Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt Preview: Two struggling teams meet in Nashville

Who will struggle harder?

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off an embarrassing blowout loss on the road to the Georgia Bulldogs, Tennessee will make the short trip down I-40 to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. Now at 10-6 overall, the Volunteers desperately need to start hitting some sort of stride.

While Vanderbilt appears to be a good chance for the Volunteers to rebound, a trip to Memorial is typically never easy. It certainly wasn’t for last year’s team, which was ranked No. 1 in the land at the time. The Commodores took the Vols down to the final seconds, but somehow, Tennessee found a way to survive.

Struggling Commodores

Vanderbilt hasn’t won a game in SEC play in 22 months. You’ve got to go all the way back to March of 2018, where the Commodores beat Ole Miss to find the last win. Vandy is 0-3 so far this season in SEC play, dropping games to Arkansas, Texas A&M and Auburn. Making matters worse? Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt’s best player, is done for the year with an injury. He was averaging 23 points per game.

The pressure has now shifted to Saben Lee and Scotty Pippen Jr. Those two guards are the only other two players averaging double figures for new head coach Jerry Stackhouse.

Offensively, Vanderbilt has been fairly steady, however, those numbers are now inflated with Nesmith out of the picture. Without Nesmith, Vanderbilt has scored just 50 and 55 points in their last two games.

The Commodores get beat up on the boards, ranking 355th nationally in that key category. Vanderbilt ranks just 276th defensively, giving up 73.2 points per game. Will that give Tennessee a chance to iron some things out on both sides of the floor?

Shuffling Volunteers

The roster shuffle is finally over in Knoxville, now with Uros Plavsic and Santiago Vescovi now in the fold. It’s up to Barnes and the staff now to get them comfortable.

Plavsic added five points and three rebounds in his 17 minute debut against Georgia on Wednesday. Vescovi had his least impactful game against the Bulldogs, scoring just seven points in 25 minutes. Tennessee needs both contributing quite a bit more to hold their own in conference play.

One reason for hope has been the recent play of Josiah James, who seems to finally understand that he’s a key cog in Tennessee’s scoring offense. He’s been in double figures in four straight games, shooting 57 percent from three-point range in conference play. His continued development is vital to Tennessee — both for the remainder of this season and for what should be a loaded 2020-21 roster.

Series Notes

Tennessee has won four straight games over Vanderbilt, which includes three straight victories in Memorial Gym. The Volunteers lead the overall series 122-75. Tonight’s game will be the 198th meeting between the two schools.

KenPom Rankings

Tennessee: 63

Vanderbilt: 161

Vegas Odds

Tennessee -5

Total: 134.5

Tennessee and Vanderbilt will tip-off at 6 p.m. ET on SEC Network.