Western Michigan (5-6) at Vanderbilt (7-4)
When: 8 PM CST, December 30, 2015
Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, TN
TV/Radio: The game will be televised on the SEC Network, with Richard Cross and Sean Farnham on the call. Joe Fisher and Tim Thompson have the call on the Vanderbilt Radio Network.
The opponent: Western Michigan University, located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. "Kalamazoo" is fun to say. The Broncos lost to IPFW at home the last time out. They're unranked in the AP and coaches polls, #171 in Pomeroy, #199 in Sagarin, #185 in the BPI, and #258 in the RPI.
Vegas line: Vanderbilt is favored by 18.5 points.
All-Time Series: Vanderbilt leads, 1-0.
Last meeting: March 19, 2004. Mario Moore had 26 points in a 71-58 Commodore win over the Broncos, squelching whatever ideas the 26-5 Broncos had about pulling an upset (I remember them being a popular first-round upset pick.)
Coach: Steve Hawkins, who, unusual for these parts, was also the coach the last time Vanderbilt faced Western Michigan. Hawkins has a 229-175 record in 13 years at Western Michigan, and he's made the NCAA Tournament twice, most recently in 2014. Still, when you Google "steve hawkins," well:
No idea whether Hawkins will be able to increase the volume on his text to speech synthesizer enough to communicate with his team over the raucous Memorial Gym crowd. It is also not entirely clear how Hawkins balances coaching the basketball team with his other job as a theoretical physicist at Cambridge University.
Keep in mind, the Broncos have put up these rather mediocre numbers against a schedule whose best team was (per Ken Pomeroy) Northeastern. Vanderbilt is easily the best team the Broncos have played.
There's really only one thing Western does particularly well, and that's defensive rebounding. But the Broncos aren't particularly good at defending otherwise (49.6% on two-pointers, 34.2% on threes), and what's more, they allow the third-most three-point attempts in Division 1; 46.1% of opponents' shot attempts have come from beyond the arc. In recent years, that's been a consistent theme for Western Michigan. So if Western wants to force Vanderbilt into taking a ton of threes (on which the Commodores have shot 40.7% this season), that's... uhhh... probably not a good idea.
The Broncos do shoot fairly well from beyond the arc themselves (37.5%), but they don't attempt that many threes (31.6% of their shot attempts come from three-point range.)
Tucker Haymond and Thomas Wilder are the big guns on the offensive end; both do most of their damage inside the arc, though Wilder is shooting 47.5% from three this year (after shooting just 29.5% as a freshman.) Kellen McCormick is the primary three-point threat, as he's a 43.2% career three-point shooter, but he's enough of a defensive liability to limit his floor time; Anthony Avery is more of a defensive stopper but not as polished offensively.
Western doesn't have a ton of size and the size they do have isn't particularly polished; Drake LaMont is developing into a decent big but still has a long way to go, and freshman 7-footer Seth Dugan is even farther away. Western will frequently deploy lineups with nobody taller than 6'7" on the floor.
On paper, this looks like a really bad matchup for Western Michigan. Their best offensive player is a 6'6" guy who makes his living inside the arc, and it's hard to see that working against a Vanderbilt team that defends the paint well. Hawkins is a solid coach and Haymond and Wilder are nice players, but they're overmatched here. The prediction is that Vanderbilt will get out to a lead pretty early and coast in the second half. Expect a Phillip McGloin sighting.