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The SEC's Worst Losses: Tennessee (Part II)

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Vanderbilt needs to avoid Tennessee's trap on Tuesday to remain on track for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Commodores got two big wins last week when they defeated Florida and No. 16 Kentucky. Now, their NCAA Tournament hopes rest on keeping that momentum moving forward and toppling arch-rival Tennessee at home.

Things aren't looking up for the Volunteers. They'll be without their best player and leading scorer Kevin Punter, who hung 26 points on the Commodores the last time these teams met. They may also be without Robert Hubbs, a player who probably should be UT's top player based on his raw, unrealized talent alone.

Even with those two available for most of the season, the Vols have failed to capitalize on a down year in the SEC. They currently rank fourth among teams with "Tennessee" in their name - behind East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee, and Tennessee Tech. At 13-16, this season has been solidly disappointing. However, derailing Vanderbilt's NCAA Tournament hopes would certainly shine up the silver lining on this gray cloud. While UT is 3-7 over its last 10 games. One of those wins came against Kentucky; another all but destroyed LSU's hopes for an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. After a season that has steeled Vandy fans for disappointment, the Volunteers could deal another one on Tuesday night.

Vanderbilt can prove that it's made a big change after spending the first two months of the season without recording a meaningful victory. The Commodores's first game against Tennessee back in January was the team's first - and only - remotely decent road win until it beat Florida in Gainesville one week ago. Now, this team has something else to prove; that it won't fall victim to a huge letdown after two enormous wins last week.

Tennessee (13-16, 6-10 SEC, ranked No. 110 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: at Missouri (10-19. 3-13 SEC, No. 175 KenPom, No. 210 CBS RPI), 64-75
Most Relevant Loss: vs. Vanderbilt, 74-88

Vanderbilt's run back to relevance began with a 14-point win in Knoxville. The Commodores led by as many as 27 points before letting off the gas in a road blowout. Wade Baldwin IV kept up his hatred of the Vols with a 25-point performance while Luke Kornet and Jeff Roberson each notched double-doubles. More importantly, the national broadcast of this game gave us this:

Sad Donuts

Point of emphasis: Force Tennessee into bad shots. The Volunteers lack a true post presence who can create easy baskets inside, and as such have relied on their jump shooting to carry them to wins. This was successful against South Carolina, Kentucky (where they shot better than 42% from long range) and LSU (49% from the floor). However, if the lights stay on, Tennessee's chances for victory get a whole lot worse. Vanderbilt, the nation's No. 7 FG-shooting defense, forced 51 UT misses in a game that was effectively over before the third media timeout. On Tuesday, they'll try to shut down a Volunteer team that may be missing their only two regulars who shoot better than 43 percent from the field.

Keys to the Game:

  • Prevent second chances. Tennessee's reliance on low-percentage shots leaves plenty of room for rebounds. The Vols did a good job of creating second chances the last time these teams met and tracked down nearly 30 percent of their misses, but those 15 rebounds only generated a dozen points (and nine more botched shots). UT's second-chance shooting is bound to regress back towards the mean, and the best way for Vanderbilt to avoid a problem is to clean up their visitor's misses before the Vols can.

  • Greenlight Matthew Fisher-Davis. Fisher-Davis came off the bench to sink six of his 11 three-point attempts against Tennessee - including four in a row that buried UT in a big first half run. He'll be playing with the starters on Tuesday (barring Senior Night shenanigans), and another hot start could help keep Vandy's hot streak rolling towards the postseason.

  • Unleash Wade Baldwin. Wade hates the Volunteers, but loves playing against them. He's most well known for incurring Kevin Stallings' wrath after a road win back in 2015, but his heroic play from the point should be equally famous. Here's what he's averaged in his four games against UT in his career:
    FG% 3P% FT% REB AST TO PTS
    50.00% 50.00% 86.59% 4.75 5.75 2.25 15.75
    Another night along those lines will send Josh Henderson off to Memorial Gym Valhalla with a smile on his face.