Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#2)

9 PM Eastern tip…playing the second-worst (per KenPom) team in the SEC…limited fan attendance…neither team is fully healthy…yeah, hard to really get up for this one if I’m being honest.

Vanderbilt has lost 38 of their last 43 SEC games, which is one of the worst stretches of losing in conference history if not the absolute worst. They haven’t beaten a team that ranks higher than 70th in KenPom (Mississippi State in a very random 72-51 victory) and, as such, are 0-7 against the KenPom Top 50 teams they’ve faced. I know this hasn’t been a Tennessee team that’s lived up to expectations by any means, but they are absolutely above even having this game be close.

But…it’s Vanderbilt. While Tennessee has defeated the Commodores seven times in a row and have had the far, far superior roster for four straight seasons, four of the seven wins have been by eight points or fewer. In fact, Tennessee hasn’t pulled off multiple double-digit wins against Vanderbilt in the same season since 2008-09. Again, that’s despite winning seven in a row, nine of ten, and 15 of 20 against Peabody University.

Tennessee should be 15+ points better than Vanderbilt in this game. For some reason – call it history! – I am sure that this game will somehow be within single-digits at night’s end.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10).
  • THE TIME: 9 PM Eastern.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Mike Morgan (PBP) and Debbie Antonelli (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -8.

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Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#1)

Could this be the first of multiple games? Could it be the only time Tennessee actually plays Vanderbilt? Could they play Vanderbilt four times while not playing South Carolina once? Pretty much anything is on the table in the silliest season in college basketball history.

As a heads-up, this is the exact preview I wrote for Tuesday’s fixture, which was cancelled about eight hours before tip-off, much to the chagrin of the person writing this post. All I’ve changed is the final score prediction, given that the game is now in Knoxville and not Nashville. I am begging both of these schools to simply ensure the game gets completed, lest I lose my mind.

A quick note here as well: Vanderbilt hasn’t really announced who in the program tested positive or if anyone has to sit out for contact tracing purposes, so if a player is mentioned in this post and they don’t play, that’s probably why.

Game information section:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -18.

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Show Me My Opponent: Vanderbilt (#2)

Look: when a team like Tennessee, whose NCAA Tournament prospects are quite slim, plays a team like Vanderbilt, who is 1-30 over their last 31 games against SEC competition, it is very, very hard to get excited for the game. Couple this with a 6:30 PM Eastern start time and, well, yeah. I’m already bored. Why don’t we talk about the history of Vanderbilt basketball?

For a significant portion of my life, it has felt like Vanderbilt was ahead of Tennessee in the sport of college basketball. This probably was reinforced by one specific run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004, right in the midst of Tennessee’s Buzz Peterson error. The ‘Dores weren’t particularly great that year – they’d get demolished in the Sweet Sixteen by eventual champions Connecticut – but getting there in the first place is a good accomplishment. I think about how exciting it was at the time that a team from Tennessee could make it quite far in the sport’s biggest tournament and I get a little nostalgic.

This was before I learned to despise Vandy, obviously. At the same time as the peak Bruce Pearl years, Kevin Stallings took Vandy to relatively new heights: five NCAA Tournaments in six years, though none of their runs progressed past the Sweet Sixteen. I would estimate that my peak of despising Vanderbilt University wasn’t reached until a couple of years after this peak, but I did relish in picking against Vanderbilt in the 2008, 2010, and 2011 NCAA Tournaments. It was an aggressively mundane, nice experience.

I think there are different experiences you can have with Vanderbilt based on your age. For instance, maybe you have particularly strong feelings about the Eddie Fogler era, which ended after four seasons at Vanderbilt with a 28-6 team that lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Maybe you are a C.M. Newton truther. Perhaps you remember Roy Skinner. Now, none of those memories feel quite so close; all that’s left is the worst program in the SEC playing very bad basketball that’s more reminiscent of a mid-level SoCon squad.

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Show Me My Opponent: Vanderbilt I

If you squint just enough and lose all built-in filters to your brain, you can pinpoint the day that both Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s seasons to a massive swing to the negative:

The difference here is that Vandy was pretty much always going to be this bad. Since their somewhat miraculous NCAA Tournament run in 2016-17 – which wasn’t all that impressive, considering they finished with a 19-16 record – the ‘Dores are 29-51 since, 6-33 in conference play. They’re in the midst of a 21-game conference losing streak, which is the longest streak in SEC basketball history by six full games. It’s a terrible time to be a Vanderbilt basketball fan, and this was before All-SEC lock Aaron Nesmith went down with a foot injury.

Per KenPom, this Vandy program is an underdog in all 15 of their remaining games. Given that teams rarely win every game they’re favored in or lose every game they’re not, the likelihood of a second-straight winless SEC season is just 1.2%. Pomeroy says they’ll win about 3.67 of these games; undoubtedly, 3-15 or 4-14 in the SEC would represent improvement of some sort.

My point is this: rarely, if ever, do we see programs stay this bad for multiple seasons in the SEC. It’s easier to dig out of the bottom in basketball than football, and I like thinking of LSU, who ranked 172nd in KenPom in 2016-17 but 66th the next season. It’s not all that hard to at least get out of the basement. And yet: this is like watching Kim Anderson Missouri teams all over again. In that sense, Vanderbilt basketball is probably worth your time.

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