The Commodores take on Papa O'Shea's alma mater this evening at Bridgestone Arena. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN U.
Much like the Commodores of a year ago, MTSU has to consider this to be "the year". Head Coach Kermit Davis has the second most experienced team in the NCAA. While it appears that this game, at the moment, is unlikely to be the kind of resume builder that Coach Davis would like, it would be a large boost to his program to claim a victory over Vanderbilt this season. Last year, the Commodores claimed a seven point victory over the Blue Raiders, one of four victories over the past four contests that Vandy can claim.
That may still be easier said than done. Judging from the comments section in my previous post, I am one of the few who is taking a ride on this Commodore bandwagon (either that or our readers have long since abandoned us). Regardless, I think this is a dangerous game for Middle. They gain very little by winning, and lose quite a bit by dropping to this squad in their hopes to reach the NCAA tournament via an at-large bid. A loss here would basically seal Middle's fate to winning the Sun Belt in order to punch their ticket.
While Middle is experienced, this is an interesting matchup because it is "strength-on-strength". Middle is not particularly talented in post scoring, though they do create extra shots by getting after the offensive glass. However, this version of the Commodores excels at limiting second chance opportunities. Who controls the glass when the Commodores are on defense will be an integral part of this game.
Similarly, Middle thrives off steals and turnovers. Vanderbilt has been very good about taking care of the ball, and especially about not allowing steals and transition points. Middle attempts significantly more two point field goals than threes (mostly off put back attempts), but they aren't particularly potent inside the arc on the first shot. Middle has a couple of long-range bombers, but those guys are not the primary force of their game plan (though Raymond Cintron does take a tremendous number of three point shots), and Vandy is vastly better at defending the perimeter than the paint. Middle excels at getting to the line, but Vandy isn't one to foul unneccessarily.
To me, winning this game will be about controlling the defensive glass. This is where having a guy like Kevin Bright can be a huge advantage for us. Offensively, we have to find ways to attack the basket and not be too three reliant, which unfortunately has been our M.O. this season. The reason here is two-fold: (1) Middle fouls a whole heck of a lot and puts people on the line people on the line a ridiculous 43% of field goal attempts, and (2) Middle is a crappy interior defensive team, allowing almost 50% at that point.
With this in mind, I expect a low-scoring and somewhat slow tempo game. I think Vandy does a great job limiting second chance opportunities, but doesn't do enough from the line or on the inside to come out on top. However, I feel pretty good about Vanderbilt covering the -6.