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NIT Preview: South Dakota State at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt extended their season and notched their 20th win by beating Saint Mary's on the road. Can they advance to the NIT's final eight by beating South Dakota State in Nashville?

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Did you miss your opportunity to say goodbye to James Siakam, Josh Henderson, and Shelby Moats at Senior Night? Well, I have some good news for you.

Vanderbilt will reopen Memorial Gym on Friday to host South Dakota State in round two of the NIT. Siakam, Henderson, and Moats had said goodbye to the arena's baseline benches before a win over Mississippi State two weeks ago, but now they'll have the chance to hit the raised hardwood one last time before graduating. They'll be joined by a roster of underclassmen that are looking to build on the Commodores' first postseason win since 2013.

Vandy topped Saint Mary's Wednesday night to open NIT play with a win and help wash the bad taste of a come-from-ahead loss to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. They'll host a South Dakota State team that earned the biggest victory of their season when they upset #1 seed Colorado State on the road. Both programs will be facing short turnaround thanks to the NIT's nutty scheduling, so athleticism and conditioning will be major factors for the winning team tomorrow night.

The Jackrabbits won a whole lot of games in 2014-15, but rarely against legitimate competition. They have defeated just three teams in the RPI's top 150 - a number that increased by 50 percent when they upset CSU earlier this week. The rest of their resume is littered with opponents like the lesser Dakotas, Nebraska-Omaha, Western Illinois, and Idaho State. While the Jackrabbits are talented, they have also tended to play down to the level of their competition. Four of their wins over teams that failed to crack the top 300 were decided by four points or fewer. Four more teams from the shallow end of the Division I competition pool (RPI of 200+) beat SDSU this season.

Even if Vandy wins, it'll likely be the final game of the season in Memorial Gym. Favored seeds Rhode Island and Stanford both held serve in the first round of the NIT this week, and the winner of their matchup will have first dibs on hosting next week's round of eight matchup. There's a chance that scheduling conflicts keep the lights on in Nashville, but Friday's game will probably be your last chance to see James Siakam pull down rebounds at Memorial Gym.

Will he leave victorious? Let's take a deeper look at the Jackrabbits to find out.

The Opponent: South Dakota State University (24-10, 12-4 Summit League)

KenPom Rankings: South Dakota State is 87th. Vanderbilt is 35th.

Key Stat: 1. The Jackrabbits have only one player on their roster who is taller than 6'6" and also plays more than 10 minutes per game.  That's Cody Larson, an efficient but inconsistent forward who stands 6'9". If that name is familiar to Commodore fans, that's because he spent his freshman year in Gainesville before leaving Florida for the alluring call of the American Badlands.

Larson is going to have his hands full on Friday. The veteran will be tasked with holding down the paint and being the first line of defense at the rim. He'll have help in the Jackrabbits' zone defense schemes, but he'll have to be able to slow Damian Jones down for those double teams to arrive. Jones has been on fire in the postseason and is averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds per game in his last two good luck with that.

Matchup to Watch: South Dakota State's four-guard, three-point bombing attack vs. the Vandy backcourt. The Jackrabbits live up to their name thanks to a small but quick philosophy on offense. SDSU will deploy a four guard starting lineup and use their underrated passing skills to find holes on the perimeter. Once there, they aren't afraid to shoot; they took 28 threes against Colorado State and rode their solid shooting (42.9%) to an upset win. Three of those starters (George Marshall, Jake Bittle, Reed Tellinghausen) have made more than 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc this season.

That means that Vanderbilt will need to get a big defensive effort from its backcourt - and that bigger guys like Jeff Roberson and James Siakam are going to be doing a lot of running on Friday night. The Commodores have the defenders to limit the Jackrabbits' open looks (especially now that Shelton Mitchell is healthy again), but watching an opponent rally back behind lights-out three-point shooting is a script that Vandy fans are tired of reading in 2015. The 'Dores need to stop SDSU's perimeter game to leave Memorial Gym with a win.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Wade Baldwin IV 9.1 4 4.4
G - Riley LaChance 12.6 3.2 2.9
F - Jeff Roberson 4.6 3.1 1.2
F - James Siakam 8.9 5.8 0.6
C - Damian Jones 14.6 6.5 0.7
Key Reserves
F - Luke Kornet 8.5 3.5 1.1
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 6.8 2.3 1.3
G - Shelton Mitchell 4.2 1.9 3.2
South Dakota State
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Reed Tellinghausen 8.4 3.4 0.9
G - Deondre Parks 14.2 4 1.9
G - Jake Bittle 10 4.4 2.7
G - George Marshall
13.4 3.8 2.2
F - Cody Larson 13.8 7.1 1.9
Key Reserves
G - Keaton Moffitt 3.3 2.5 1.4
G - Zach Horstman 4.2 2.4 0.5
F - Ian Theisen 2.6 1.9 0.2