Vanderbilt's opening game at the SEC Tournament brings two major storylines:
1. A third game against arch rival Tennessee 2. The opportunity to cement an NCAA Tournament bid.
As such, the Commodores can lock down two major achievements on Thursday; a 3-0 sweep over their in-state rivals and an all-but-guaranteed spot in the big dance. The Vols are trending upward after absolutely ruining a listless Auburn team in the only opening round game of the SEC Tournament, but UT has had zero success against Vanderbilt in 2016. The Commodores have won the two matchups between these teams by an average score of 87-71.5.
Still, the Vols have one big achievement left to play for this season -- the opportunity to rob their rivals of an at-large bid to the big dance. Vandy's recent resurgence has the team on the pleasant side of the bubble, but a loss to the smoldering crater formerly known as Tennessee basketball could be enough to make the Selection Committee reconsider. So, based on what we already know, what do the Commodores need to do to advance to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals?
Tennessee (14-18, 6-12 SEC, ranked No. 110 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)
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, they'll be without leading scorer Kevin Punter, and putting up big numbers against Vanderbilt is a much more difficult proposition than it is against an Auburn team who clocked out for the season back in January.
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 first 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 the first time these teams met - including four in a row that buried UT in a big first half run. The last time these teams played, he fell off hard - 2-10 shooting and only his fourth game all year without a made three-pointer. Vanderbilt did fine without him last time, but the 'Dores could be especially dominant if he's on fire Thursday.
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. We claimed that he was a monster before these teams last met, and then he dropped a 17-6-7 on them 10 days ago. Here's what he's averaged against UT for his career: