After losing their no. 1 ranking, the Tennessee Volunteers will try to bounce back Tuesday night when they face the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Vols are favored by 18.5 points against their in-state rivals.
The Vols dropped to no. 5 in the polls after losing to Kentucky over the weekend. It was just their second loss of the season, although Tennessee was blown out by 17 points in Rupp Arena. The loss brings them into a tie with LSU atop the SEC standings at 11-1 in league play, so they don’t have much margin for error if they want to win the league title.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt remains winless in conference play at 0-12. After going 6-12 in SEC play last year, Bryce Drew’s team is enduring another dreadful season. More than half of those 12 losses have come by 10 points or more, so it’s not as if they’ve been in games late most of the time. At this point, a winless SEC campaign is a distinct possibility for Vandy.
Vanderbilt has been set up for failure ever since freshman sensation Darius Garland suffered a season-ending knee surgery just five games into the season. The Commodores have a few solid players left on their roster, but they’re lacking the star power that Garland provided. They don’t have one player who can carry the team on his back when needed or draw the attention of the defense and create opportunities for other players.
With Garland out of the picture, sophomore Saban Lee and freshmen Simisola Shittu and Aaron Nesmith are Vandy’s only players who are averaging double figures. The Commodores are asking a lot of those young players, who have struggled to show the consistency required to lead a team in a deep SEC. Lee, for example, has scored eight total points in his last eight games, as opposing teams are rarely allowing him to even take shots. Shittu has had similar issues scoring in the post consistently, which is why the Commodores have scored 70 points just twice in their 12 SEC games.
There’s no sugar-coating how bad the Vols were against Kentucky on Saturday. They were beaten badly on the boards and made just seven of their 25 3-point shots, including a 0 for 7 performance from Lamonte Turner. The trio of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone did their part, but Tennessee’s complementary players didn’t provide much support.
Fortunately for Tennessee, such games have been a rarity this season. They still have five players averaging double figures and should still be considered one of the best teams in the country. The biggest question for them is how they bounce back mentally. They need to quickly forget about the Kentucky game and quickly get back on track. With most of their rotation being comprised of upperclassmen, that should be something Tennessee is capable of doing.
This veteran Tennessee team should be able to refocus after losing to Kentucky. The Vols aren’t going to hang their heads, especially against another rival. If Tennessee plays anywhere close to their best, this will be a one-sided game. Bet on the Volunteers to win and cover the 18.5-point spread against Vanderbilt.