Vanderbilt and Tennessee will play Tuesday night in Memorial Gymnasium for the first time this season. It will also be the first time that new Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin will travel to Nashville and experience the baseline benches, one of the unique traits about Vandy that makes it so tough for opposing teams to play there.
Although you wouldn't know it from Vandy's 78-77 OT loss to Mississippi State this past weekend. Vandy took advantage of the home court in the first half, jumping out to an 11 point halftime lead. However, the second half was a different story. Mississippi State started the half on a 14-0 run, then stretched their lead to 10 points later in the half. Vandy battled back, but missed multiple chances at the end of regulation to take the lead, and then win the game on a last second 10 foot wide open shot by Festus Ezeli that bounced off the side of the rim
I almost cried when that shot didn't fall. You could feel it in the stadium that things were not right, and the fans were nervous for the extra period since Vandy was 0-5 in overtime so far this season. Vandy came out strong in the extra five minutes, then allowed an overweight and slow Renardo Sidney to hit a clutch 3 point shot. I think he ate his extra bacon that morning giving him the strength to get the ball to the hoop. Shortly after Sidney's three, Dee Bost (in what seemed like his seventh or eighth year of eligibility) cut backdoor behind Jeff Taylor for a lay-up that eventually sealed the win, leaving the Dores 0-6 in OT this season, and leaving Kentucky as the only undefeated team in SEC play.
Vandy had numerous chances to win against the Bulldogs, including 3 chances at the end of OT, even after Miss State missed the front end of a 1-and-1... twice. Brad Tinsley missed two shots (one of which should never have been taken), and a last second attempt from Jenkins that he caught and shot while still in the air. Had Jenkins set his feet on the shot, I believe he hits the last second three and pandemonium ensues on Ingram Court. I'd bet my girlfriend, house, and dog on that.
But alas it didn't fall, and now the Commodores have something eating at them. They are angry, frustrated, and want to take out their frustration on whoever is next on the list. And what better way to respond from a disappointing loss than to beat the snot out of somebody you absolutely hate... Enter Tennessee.
Tonight at Memorial will be the annual White Out against the Vols. This started back in 2007 when the top-ranked Volunteers came to town fresh off a win against the previous #1 Memphis. Vandy stepped up, and promptly embarrassed the Vols, making them the shortest-tenured #1 team of recent memory.
This time, Tennessee comes to town fresh off a big 60-57 win against #11 Connecticut. The Vols were struggling earlier in the season, but since the addition of mid-season freshman Jarnell Stokes and Coach Martin shaking up the line-up, UT looks like a team that could have an impact on the SEC race, and possibly the NCAA Tourney. The 2-week-old freshman was the Vols leading scorer against the Huskies with 16 points. What's even more crazy than that, Stokes is the teams second leading scorer ON THE SEASON and he's only played 3 games!! The Dores need to be ready to play tight defense on this kid, or he could make an impact on his first game ever in Nashville.
After Stokes, there seem to be only a few names worth mentioning for the Vols. Starting Sophomore PG Trae Golden is the head of the team, and seems to be Coach Martin's go-to-guy late in the game when its close. Golden has taken more last shots than any other player on the team. He is also hitting 80% from the line, and is leading the team in scoring and assists. Basically, the ball goes through Trae. The other names you need to look out for are Senior Cameron Tatum and former-walk-on Junior/porn-star-mustached Skylar McBee who lead the team in 3-point shooting percentage. Also keep an eye on Kenny Hall and Jeronne Maymon down low. The duo could be a match-up problem if Ezeli and Tchiengang get into foul trouble.
Prediction: Anytime these two rival teams play, you know it's gonna be a good game. They both hate the other one with equal passion, and they have been relatively close in all sports in recent years, which only adds fuel to the fire. UT is hot, while Vandy is frustrated. But play the game in a sold-out white-out frustrated Commodore crowd who is itching to see this team hit the potential that we've seen at times all season, but never for a full game (save maybe the Marquette debacle)... and you have a recipe for a Commodore victory. I don't see it being close enough to swing the other way, but I don't see Tennessee going quietly into the night either. With Jenkins, Taylor, Ezeli, Goulbourne, and Tinsley all still hurting from missed chances at the end of their last game, I see them coming out strong, playing hard, and finishing well. Don't overlook the Vols defense though, they'll keep it somewhat close, and lower scoring than you think. Vanderbilt 74 - Tennessee 62