Despite a three-year absence from the NCAA Tournament, the Vanderbilt Commodores have shown through seven games this season that they are contenders, not pretenders.
The 6-1, No. 13-ranked Commodores have only lost against No. 5 Kansas on Thanksgiving Eve. In that game, Vanderbilt held a 30-26 lead at halftime, but got outscored 44-33 by the Jayhawks the rest of the way.
In the loaded SEC, it won’t be easy to finish top-five in the conference with South Carolina still undefeated and Texas A&M, Florida and Kentucky with just one loss. Also, LSU and Mississippi State, who sit at 4-3, are going to bounce back to put up a fight.
Under 17th-year head coach Kevin Stallings, Vandy has posted a winning record just once and hasn’t recorded an above .500 record in conference play since 2011, when his group went 10-6 and won the SEC title.
The Commodores are fresh off a 50-point victory over Detroit on Wednesday. Wins against Wake Forest and St. Johns have been the most impressive games for Vanderbilt outside of the strong first half against Kansas.
With a big test on the road against No. 25 Baylor on Sunday night, Vanderbilt must start fast. Three games later on Dec. 22, another tough matchup will take place against No. 11 Purdue on the road.
“We’re going to prepare for it as much as we can, but we have to go out and show that we’re a good team by beating other good teams, especially on the road,” Vanderbilt junior forward Luke Kornet said via VUCommodores.com. “We’ve, in the past, been able to beat other good teams at home but, going out and getting a road win, there’s nothing that really truly beats that feeling in college basketball.”
Along with junior center Damian Jones, Kornet is the other junior in the starting lineup with three sophomore guards Wade Baldwin IV, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance serving as the other starters.
After averaging 9.4 points per game as a freshman, Wade Baldwin IV is the team’s leading scorer with 14.4 points per game. He’s shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point land.
Jones is the only other player who averages double-digits with 12 points per game. He’s second behind Kornet with 6.6 rebounds per game. Kornet is a lengthy power forward at 7-foot-1 and he’s been able to contribute with 9.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a night, shooting 45 percent from the field.
Fourteen of the 15 players on the roster have seen the court with 13 scoring this season. Vanderbilt has a deep rotation that stretches 10 deep with center Josh Henderson as the 10th man in terms of scoring (5.1 PPG).
Sophomore wing Jeff Roberson has been a delight with 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in just 17.7 minutes per game. He’s shooting 58 percent from the field and looks to be the top offensive piece off the bench.
Vandy is a deep team that is coached well and has the ability to play high-level basketball on both sides of the ball. This tougher part of the schedule will prove what this group is really made of.