Tonight, the #20 (AP) / #19 (Coaches) Vanderbilt Commodores will travel to the KFC Yum! Center to battle the #6 Louisville Cardinals in the SEC/Big East Invitational. While Commodore fans are eagerly awaiting Festus Ezeli's (SKYNET) return to action, Cardinal fans are handling injury issues of their own. A Commodore win tonight would go a long way toward the restoration of Vanderbilt's reputation. Can the Commodores win on the road, without Ezeli, against a highly-ranked but less than healthy Cardinal team?
Click through the jump for a breakdown of the team's opponents thus far and a closer look at their personnel.
To date, Vanderbilt has played 7 total games, 5 at home and 2 on neutral courts against an average KenPom rated opponent of 107.9. Louisville has played 6 total games, all but one at home, against an average rated opponent of 149.7. Based on their performances to date, Kenpom rates Vanderbilt to be the most efficient offensive team and the third most efficient defensive team that the Cardinals will have played. Louisville rates as the third most efficient offensive team and the most efficient defensive team. Keep in mind that these KenPom numbers are still highly reliant on preseason projections.
Based on previous opponents, Louisville most closely resembles Oregon offensively. Cleveland State is the closest opponent defensively, though Louisville rates a substantial amount better than them. This is a concern with Ezeli out, as Vanderbilt's lone quality offensive outing this season came in the opener versus Oregon. At this point, it appears that without the big Nigerian in the paint, keeping defenses honest against John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, the Vanderbilt offense is susceptible to defensive pressure that begins forcing high-TO% passes around the perimeter. I am extremely confident these issues will be solved with the return of Ezeli. Unfortunately, barring an ace up Coach Stallings' sleeve, we will not be able to see if that's the case until mid-December. Despite these issues, Vanderbilt's offense is head-and-shoulders above that of any of the teams that Louisville has played so far. Defensively, the Commodores sit closer to Long Beach State than Arkansas State. [Someone please bulletin board that last sentence in the Commodore locker room.] Hopefully we can begin to better that mark, though I suspect that won't happen until after Festus Ezeli returns to the starting lineup and can get a few games under his belt. I wrote that sentence for the Xavier game. Sticking to my guns.
Looking solely at the tempo free statistics, Vanderbilt has a slight edge at the starting positions. Louisville has the edge at the bench. Keep in mind that these statistics are not adjusted for the strength of the opponents. Vanderbilt has played the much tougher schedule thus far.
Four Factors: Vanderbilt turns it over less than Louisville. I'm as surprised as you are. Vanderbilt also has the edge in effective field goal percentage. Louisville has pretty solid edges in offensive (and defensive) rebounding and getting to the free throw line. Prediction: Vanderbilt wins eFG%, and FTRate. Louisville wins TO% and OReb%.
Ken Pomeroy predicts a 62-73 Commodore loss in a game with a tempo of 68. He rates Vanderbilt's win percentage at 16%. Most would say that Vanderbilt is more talented, even without Ezeli, than they've shown so far this season. Will this be the night when the Dores finally "regress" to the mean?
Card Chronicle is the SB Nation affiliate for the Louisville Cardinals. I'll post a link to their game preview if and when they publish it.
"I’ve got to be careful with how I rotate them in," Stallings said. "I have to do a better job of not having the floor covered with guys that haven’t been in very much.
Louisville has struggled to put away teams due to its lack of depth. Defending Division II national champ Bellarmine lost to the Cards by just eight points and Ohio suffered a five-point setback.
Tipoff is scheduled for 2000 CT and the game will be televised by ESPN (Comcast ch. 11 or 1605 HD), though the game will also be available on ESPN3.com. Our open gamethread will go live two hours before tipoff. Also, don't forget to head over to Stat-King to submit your predictions for the game.