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Preview: Vanderbilt Basketball Looks for Redemption When They Travel to Tennessee

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Vanderbilt fell apart late against Tennessee the last time these two teams met. Can they stay composed for 40 full minutes to beat the Volunteers in Knoxville?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt is a handful of missed free throws away from riding a six game winning streak. No team knows that better than Tennessee.

The Volunteers took advantage of Vandy's lack of composure and overcame a five-point deficit with 15 seconds to play in a heartbreaking loss two weeks ago. Vanderbilt went 4-9 from the free throw line in the final three minutes and kept the door open for a UT comeback. A Kevin Punter three and a virtually uncontested Robert Hubbs III layup sent this game to overtime. The Vols ran past a gassed Vandy team from there.

That was a painful loss, and while the Commodores have recovered they have yet to prove that they can win a close game. The Tennessee loss dropped their record in games decided by five points or fewer at the end of regulation to 1-7. Since then, they've won two games by a combined 31 points and lost another by three. If Thursday's game turns into a hotly-contested slugfest then the odds will be against the 'Dores.

Tennessee has lost five of their last six. Their only victory in that span was in Nashville. Can they make lightning strike again when Vanderbilt heads east? Let's take a closer look.

The Opponent: The "University" of Tennessee (14-12, 6-8 SEC)

KenPom Rankings: Tennessee is 97th. Vanderbilt is 47th.

Key Stat: Five and 15. Vanderbilt led by five points with 15 seconds left to play. Statistically, they were about an 85 percent favorite to win. And then, they didn't. Their defense fell off and their inexperience shined through as they failed to convert on game-clinching free throws. The Commodores are making just 57% of their free throws in the final two minutes of close games. They're making 71% of their freebies the rest of the time. If this one comes down to a freshman at the line late in the game, Vandy fans can be excused for watching this game through their fingers.

Matchup to Watch: Josh Richardson vs. Wade Baldwin IV and Riley LaChance. Three weeks ago, Richardson dropped 27 points on the Commodores and needed just 18 shots to get there. LaChance and Baldwin combined for 15 points on 17 attempts. Vanderbilt made up the difference thanks to their hardnosed scoring in the front court, but playing Richardson to a standstill may be the only way to beat the Vols on their home floor. The Commodores can't afford another no-show from their young guards on Thursday.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Vanderbilt
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Wade Baldwin IV 8.1 3.8 4.3
G - Riley LaChance 12.6 3.3 2.5
F - Jeff Roberson 4.8 3.5 1.1
F - James Siakam 8.9 6 0.6
C - Damian Jones 14.9 6.6 0.8
Key Reserves
F - Luke Kornet 8.5 3.8 0.9
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 6.3 2.1 1.2
G - Shelton Mitchell 4.5 2.3 3.7
Tennessee
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Josh Richardson 15.7 4.2 3.6
G - Robert Hubbs III 6.5 3 0.8
G - Kevin Punter 10.7 2.2 1.8
F - Willie Carmichael III 3.3 2.3 0.4
F - Armani Moore 10.7 6.9 2.2
Key Reserves
G - Detrick Mostella 3.8 1 0.5
G - Devon Baulkman 4.4 2.2 0.6
F - Derek Reese 5.7 5.2 0.8