IHTIT: Tennessee Vols at Vanderbilt Commodores Basketball Preview (1/27/24)

It's Hoops Time in Tennessee: It's also that magical time of year when Tennessee (14-4, 4-1 SEC, 8-4 vs Quadrant 1&2) makes its annual appearance in America's Worst GymTM to take on Vanderbilt (5-13, 0-5, 0-9 vs Q2+), currently the worst team in the SEC. And it's not particularly close--record wise, the 'Dores seem similar to the other contender for league's worst: Mizzou. However, all computer rankings have the Tigers ranked 70-100 spots ahead of Vandy. But when you play in the gym that was built to be a theater--the theater that dared to be a gym--anything can happen. 

Preview Graphic: See the basketball glossary for more information. Click for larger version. 

You can't spell bullet points without UT:

  • It's been a week since the Vols' last game, but Dalton Knecht has worked his way into the Kenpom Player of the Year standings at #10, two spots behind Alabama's Mark Sears and six places behind Auburn's Johni Broome. 
  • There aren't any Flair! updates for UT this week, but Jonas Aidoo is right on the cusp of adding that little rocket ship next to his name--I give Scoring Specialist flair when a player is in the top 10 in three or more scoring categories, and Aidoo is currently just one away (he's top-10 in FG% and 2-pointers made). 
  • Vanderbilt is in the top third of SEC teams in three pointers attempted, and they are dead last in assist rate (#331/362 nationally). Expect a bunch of chunked 3s and not a lot of passing. 
  • Which leads to the anomaly of Ezra Manjon, who is top 5 in the SEC in assists. Apparently the 3-time All-Big West player (UC Davis) is the only 'Dore willing to give up the rock. 
I really want to give you a reason to take Vanderbilt seriously in this game, but it just doesn't exist. They're real, real bad. However, Memorial Gym is where hope goes to die. The quirky-ness of college sports, including the venues, is part of what makes them more fun than pro sports. But Memorial is the exception to that rule, and not only because the Vols (despite having a have a commanding 129-76 lead in this series) are just 45-55 in Nashville. What does it say about your program when the success of the team can't stand on its own, but has to be propped up by gimmicks like a raised floor and benches on the baseline? In a move that is pretentious even by Vandy standards, their website includes an article in which Memorial Gym 1st-person narrates its own life and calls itself "the Fenway Park of college basketball." Which, yeah, I guess if the visitors' dugout was on top of the Green Monster, I could see it. 

So while there's no reason for Vandy to win Saturday, there is still the effect that America's Worst GymTM might have on the game. Games such as #1 UT losing in Memorial in 2008 and last season when #6 Tennessee lost to a Tywin Lawrence three at the buzzer (assisted by Manjon) will never be forgotten by the living fan. There's also the question of how a week off will affect the Vols. But outside of what Vandy people call "Memorial Magic," and what the rest of us call "OMG I hate this gym can we just get this over with," there's no reason not to pick Tennessee to win the game. 

Prediction: Tennessee 85, Vanderbilt 60
Mediocre Betting Advice: Barring MeMoRiAl mAgIc, Tennessee covers the 16 points and the game goes over 141.5. (We're 2-2-1 on these picks this year BTW.)

Extraneous: I mean really, this is where you play basketball?


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