1. Hall of Famer, Jr.
The best player for this Vanderbilt Commodore team is sophomore guard, Scotty Pippen Jr. The son of NBA Hall of Famer, Scotty Pippen, the younger Pippen leads the team in scoring, assists, and steals. Standing at 6’1″ and 170 pounds, Pippen is averaging 20.3 points, which ranks second in the SEC and is tied for 23rd in the country. On top of scoring, he averages 5.4 assists, good for second in the conference, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.7 steals, which ranks just outside the top five in the conference. There’s no doubt that Pippen is one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference and will be a tough assignment for the Wildcats tonight. In the first match up, Pippen was awesome for the Commodores, finishing with 18 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds
Pippen will be a volume shooter tonight against the Cats, as he averages nearly 15 field goal attempts per game, three times taking at least 20 shots this season. He shoots over five times from three-point land per contest, hitting 39% on the year. He has only four times scored less than 18 points in 16 total games this season, scoring 25 or more five times, and twice hitting 30 points. The two issues that could slow down Pippen would be turnovers and fouls. He’s averaging nearly four turnovers per game and has fouled 4+ times in six games this year.
2. Sophomore number two
While Scotty Pippen Jr. may be the unquestioned best player on the floor for Vanderbilt every game, Dylan Disu would rank as the second in command. Another sophomore, Disu measures 6’9″ and 220 pounds, starting at the four for the Commodores. Disu is second on the team in scoring at 13.9 per game and first on the team in rebounding at 8.4 per game. His rebounding ranks him tied for first in the Southeastern Conference. The forward also leads the team in blocks at 1.2 per game, to go along with averaging 1.1 steals as well.
Pippen has led the team in scoring in eight games, and Disu has led five times himself. Despite his size, he doesn’t force the issue in the paint on the offensive side as much as you’d think, only getting to the free throw line three times a game, hitting 72.2% on the year. In fact, he averages more threes attempted per game than free throws, hitting 37.3% from three on the year. In the first match up, Disu finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. Only three other players on the roster scored at all, outside of Pippen and Disu, in the first match up in Rupp Arena.
3. Since we last met
It has been six weeks since Vanderbilt and Kentucky last met at the beginning of conference play, and the teams have taken similar trajectories in that span. Multiple second half collapses have been the issue for both teams in SEC games this season. Kentucky has gone 3-7 in those six weeks, with wins over Florida, LSU, and most recently at Auburn. The Commodores went 2-6 in that month and a half since the first meeting, with two games postponed in there as well. Four of six the losses that Vanderbilt has suffered since last playing Kentucky have come by seven points or less.
The loss to Kentucky was loss number two of what turned into a six game losing streak for the Commodores. The two lone wins in the last six weeks for Vanderbilt were over South Carolina on January 30th and over Mississippi State this past Saturday. Weirdly enough, despite losing six of the eight games, the two wins were both blowout victories for the Commodores. The win over the Gamecocks was by 12 points, but was more than that for most of the game, and the win over Mississippi State was by 21 points just a few days ago.
4. Finding an identity
One of the major problems to start the season for Vanderbilt is that Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse hasn’t been able to find an identity for his squad. Similar to Kentucky in that Stackhouse has run out a number of different starting and finishing lineups to try to figure out what works. They have one stud offensively, but the rest of the team is just so-so, and on the defensive side, the team isn’t much to write home about either. Finding an identity on either the offensive or defensive end will be crucial to finding success in conference play for the Commodores.
The reason for the constant change in starting five is the struggle to excel in any major category, but they have been improving since the last match up. Vanderbilt ranks 95th in the country in three-point percentage up from 172nd six weeks ago, but they take almost 27 of them per game, which is 23rd in the country. Overall shooting doesn’t improve, as they sit at 184th in the country. The defensive side is as average as the offense, as the Commodores are 234th in points allowed per game and 312th in opponent field goal percentage. The stat sheet doesn’t get stuffed for Vandy either, as Isaiah Jackson averages more blocks per game than the entire Vanderbilt roster combined. The Commodores are 227th in the nation in blocks per game and 87th in steals.
5. Another SEC streak
Throughout the season, Kentucky has faced quite a high number of active win streaks over SEC teams, whether that be at Rupp Arena or just in general. Tonight, when the Cats face off with the Commodores, Kentucky goes for their tenth consecutive win over Vanderbilt. The current streak of nine wins is the longest win streak against Vanderbilt since the early 1990s, which reached 18 wins.
Second only to Tennessee in total times facing off against Kentucky, Vanderbilt trails the all-time series 150-47, with the Cats pushing the lead to triple digits two seasons ago. A loss to Vandy tonight would be the first time Kentucky has lost to the Commodores since February of 2016 and the fourth loss at Vanderbilt Memorial Gymnasium in Coach Cal’s tenure. Coach Cal has never lost to Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena, with this year’s game going down to the wire, but inevitably going in the Cats’ favor. Kentucky sits as an 3.5 point favorite over Vandy tonight.
Go Cats. Beat Commodores.