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)
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:
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: