Saturday, January 28, 2012

A March Match-up in January: Vanderbilt vs. MTSU

Vandy matches up with MTSU at 2:00 PM EST this afternoon in Memorial. This game has all the makings of a classic 5-12/4-13 match-up, and should provide a good barometer for whether this team has what it takes to get over its first-round demons.

Playing a team like MTSU should make all Vanderbilt fans shudder, particularly when you consider just how good this Middle team is. Middle is presently #36 in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings, with losses to only Belmont and UAB. They play a slow brand of basketball and are the third-best team we have faced in terms of defensive efficiency, trailing only Alabama and Louisville in that department. Additionally, they are a team that doesn't turn the ball over much, that likes to force opponents to turn the ball over, and that gets to the foul line a lot without fouling much in their own right. This is an experienced team consisting primarily of juniors and is going to present a difficult test. Fortunately, this team is not a 3-point buzzsaw type team. The key question will be if Vandy can push the pace to its desired tempo. Vandy likes to get up and down the floor a little bit more generally, but has been comfortable playing a slower pace of late. It will be interesting to see if that continues.

Vandy needs this one because they seem to have some sort of mental block when it comes to playing good teams not from one of the Power Six conferences. For whatever reason, they get complacent and think they have the game locked away, and then they get hit in the mouth and can't recover. We saw this against Indiana State earlier this year, as well as Cleveland State, though it happened much earlier in the Cleveland State game. We also saw this against Richmond last year, as well as Murray State the year before that. You've got to play every opponent with the same level of preparation and intensity for a full 40 minutes. You're going to have an off game every now and again, but you must respect every opponent. In my opinion, this game will be a key test to determine if Vandy has finally "learned its lesson". They certainly have had enough opportunities to do so.

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