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Vanderbilt at Butler: Men's Basketball Preview

Vanderbilt is off to a 2-0 start without leading scorer Kedren Johnson, but they'll face one of the biggest tests of their non-conference schedule against Big East foe Butler. Can the Commodores overcome the Bulldogs in Indianapolis?

Siakam had 18 and 13 against Lipscomb. Can he do it again?
Siakam had 18 and 13 against Lipscomb. Can he do it again?
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Is James Siakam for real?

Vanderbilt fans have seen the undersized forward put together promising November performances in the past. In 2012 he carried the Commodores to an exhibition game win over St. Xavier with a 22-point, 17-rebound showing. Now, the redshirt junior has upped the ante in 2013 thanks to an 18-point, 13-rebound night against D-I opponent Lipscomb. Siakam showed that he can be the interior presence that this team desperately needs to fill out their front line. The question now is whether or not he can sustain it against top competition.

Siakam will have the chance to test himself against another undersized power forward when he matches up with Butler's Khyle Marshall on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs are slated for a bit of a letdown season without sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke or underrated big man Andrew Smith on the roster, but they'll bring plenty of talent and experience to test a rebuilding Vanderbilt team. Marshall, a 6'6" senior forward, is one of their veteran leaders.

He'll be one of the players (along with 6'9" junior Kameron Woods) tasked with slowing down Vandy's latest Cameroonian big man. "Bamba" will have a lot to prove against one of the toughest non-conference opponents on the Commodores' schedule. Siakam was unable to follow up on his early season momentum in 2012-2013, averaging just two points in about nine minutes per game. Part of Siakam's low usage rate last season came from his inability to play away from the basket. While the 6'7" forward has the mentality of a power forward, he has the size of a wing player.

Against Lipscomb, he showed that he can put in work against an overmatched frontcourt rotation. Siakam's 18 and 13 performance was countered by a 17-point, four rebound showing from the Bisons' three-man forward/center rotation. And while it may not have come against a peak opponent, Siakam also improved in two areas that had kept him off the court in 2012 - his inability to prevent himself from fouling on defense (four fouls in 31 minutes) and his free throw shooting (4-5).

Vanderbilt needs more data before they can declare that Siakam is the answer to their problems in the paint, but a Odom/Siakam pairing is an intriguing one. Odom's finesse play and ability to connect from long range is most effective when he's got someone who can do the dirty work inside playing next to him. Against Lipscomb, Siakam showed that he can be that guy. If he can keep that pace up - or at least something close to it - the developing junior could be a very important part of Vandy's postseason hopes.

Putting together a big game against Butler - with veteran leaders defending him in the paint - would be a huge step forward on that quest.

Key Stat: 90%. That's Damian Jones's field goal percentage through two games of his NCAA career. Something tells me that it won't be a sustainable mark, but fingers crossed.

Three things to watch in Tuesday's matchup.

1. Damian Jones's development. After a stellar opening night, Jones was quiet against Lipscomb, taking just two shots and pulling down two rebounds in 19 minutes against Lipscomb. The freshman ceded the spotlight to Siakam's breakout game, but he's still got a ton of hype from his 19-point, seven rebound performance against Georgia State stored up. Like Siakam, the first-year big man can prove that he's destined for big things this winter with a solid showing against the Bulldogs.

2. Rod Odom's leadership. Odom has been the man for Vanderbilt through the first week of the season, and the senior is playing like the veteran leader Kevin Stallings hoped he could become. He's been deadly efficient from the floor through two games, and while it's too soon to tell if he's turned a corner or if this is just another one of his streaks, he's been impressive so far. Can he keep it up? Can he contribute to a Vanderbilt win even if his shot isn't falling?

3. Eric McClellan's play. Tuesday night marks McClellan's sixth game against a major-conference opponent despite playing his freshman year for Conference USA's Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane failed to win a single one of those games, but it'd be hard to fault a fledgling point guard like Run-EMC for that. Like Jones and Odom, he'll be out to prove that he's grown since 2012, and that he's capable of engineering a win for his new team.

Rotations and Stats:

Vanderbilt Butler
G - Eric McClellan 15.5 5.5 2.5 G - Alex Barlow 3 1.5 4
G - Dai-Jon Parker 7.5 2.5 3 G - Kellen Dunham 19.5 4.5 2
F - Rod Odom 19.5 4.5 2 F - Khyle Marshall 11.5 8.5 0
F - James Siakam 12 7.5 2 F - Kameron Woods 11 8.5 1
C - Josh Henderson 3.5 2.5 1 C - Erik Fromm 10 2 0
Bench Bench
G - Kyle Fuller 10.5 3.5 6.5 G - Elijah Brown 9 2.5 0.5
F - Shelby Moats 2 1.5 0 G - Devontae Morgan 3 1.5 1.5
C - Damian Jones 11.5 4.5 0 G - Jackson Aldridge 4.5 1 1.5