Vanderbilt basketball will get the opportunity to leave 2015 on a high note. That means a much-needed chance to erase the memory of a blown 12 point lead in an SEC Tournament loss to Tennessee last week.
The Commodores will seek redemption when they travel out to Moraga, California for a showdown with the Saint Mary's Gaels on Wednesday night. The intimate west coast venue won't be a new setting for Kevin Stallings; the Vandy coach took the 'Dores to the 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion for a 72-70 win back in 2009. Vanderbilt is actually 2-0 against the Gaels all time. James Siakam and Josh Henderson were both members of the 2010-11 team that beat SMC in Nashville, but neither athlete played during their redshirt freshman seasons.
Saint Mary's won 21 games this season and four of those victories came against NCAA Tournament teams. However, their wins didn't exactly come against teams that swam in the deep end of the Division I pool. The Gaels beat Northeastern, New Mexico State, California-Irvine, and BYU - four teams with an average tourney seed of 13.25.
Vanderbilt, of course, isn't in much of a position to criticize Saint Mary's. The Commodores finished 2014-15 without a single win over a team that was ranked in the RPI Top 50. Only two teams - Purdue and Ole Miss - suffered a loss to Vandy and still made it to the 68-team bracket on Sunday.
Now, one of these teams will be able to add another quality win to their 2014-15 resumes. Wednesday's matchup will kick off the first round of the NIT with the winner moving on to face either Colorado State or South Dakota State this weekend. Let's take a closer look at the Gaels.
The Opponent: Saint Mary's College (21-9, 13-5 WCC)
KenPom Rankings: Saint Mary's is 66th. Vanderbilt is 47th.
Key Stat: 15.23333 and 15.21875. Saint Mary's is 28th in the country when it comes to assists; every player in the starting lineup averages at least one dime per game. That's two spots higher than Vandy thanks to a difference of less than two-hundredths of an assist per game. Each team moves the ball well and finds several easy baskets per game. The program that closes up those passing lanes and forces the most turnovers will probably be the one that emerges victorious on Wednesday night.
Matchup to Watch: Brad Waldow vs. Damian Jones. Both the Commodores and Gaels are paced by the production of their big men. Waldow was second in the WCC in scoring thanks to his 19.3 points per game and lead the league with nine rebounds per contest. The 6'9", 260 pound forward is big enough to absorb contact and keep moving towards the basket for easy buckets. Jones may not have the strength to keep Waldow from getting to the rim, but he has the athleticism and timing to affect his counterpart's scoring in the paint.
Starters and Rotation Players:
|G -||Wade Baldwin IV||9.1||4.1||4.4|
|G -||Riley LaChance||12.5||3.2||2.8|
|F -||Jeff Roberson||4.5||3.1||1.2|
|F -||James Siakam||8.9||5.8||0.6|
|C -||Damian Jones||14.4||6.5||0.7|
|F -||Luke Kornet||8.7||3.5||1.1|
|G/F -||Matthew Fisher-Davis||6.9||2.4||1.3|
|G -||Shelton Mitchell||4.2||2||3.2|
|G -||Kerry Carter||12.4||5.1||1.5|
|G -||Aaron Bright||10.7||2.1||3.8|
|F -||Garrett Jackson||8||4.2||1.3|
|F -||Desmond Simmons||5.1||6.4||1.4|
|F -||Brad Waldow||19.392.3||6.8||2.3|
|G -||Emmett Naar||6.4||2||4|
|F -||Dane Pineau||3.8||3.8||0.9|
|F -||Calvin Hermanson||2.6||0.9||0.2|