What Have You Done for Me Lately?
Both teams finished second in their respective Thanksgiving week tournaments, although Vanderbilt’s 7-point Maui Invitational championship game loss to Kansas looks a hell of a lot better than the 29-point groin punching that Xavier gave Dayton in Orlando. Vandy has lost 2 of its last 3 games, although both are understandable losses on neutral/road courts to quality Big 12 teams in Kansas and Baylor. Dayton endured a Xavier hangover for a half on Saturday before blowing the doors off of North Florida which tells us…exactly nothing. Dayton does have the best win of the two squads with their defeat of Iowa. Vandy’s best win is probably a 22-point thrashing of Wake Forest.
What’s at Stake?
This is UD’s first true road game of the season and winning a road game against a ranked team would do wonders for their tournament profile at the end of the season. It’s also their only opportunity to win a non-conference road game because they only scheduled one. Vandy’s in the middle of a challenging stretch of games: at Baylor (L), vs. Dayton (TBD), vs. Wofford (giving them a W here), and at Purdue (ruh roh). Losing this one would be problematic for their non-conference profile since they’re likely going to lose at Purdue, too. At first blush it would appear that Dayton needs this game more than Vandy but I’m not sure that’s true.
How Do the Commodores Win this Game?
Vanderbilt has shown a bit of a pattern so far this year: when they score well, they win. In both of their losses they haven’t broken 70 and it took overtime for them to do so against Stony Brook. If this game becomes a track meet, the Commodores should feel pretty good.
Vandy also needs to win in the paint, where they have a fairly obvious advantage. They sport two seven footers, both of whom average major minutes and both of whom produce offensively and contest everything defensively. This should be a huge plus for Vandy as Dayton can only offer Steve McElvene (6-11) and Kendall Pollard (6-6) to defend them. If either of those guys gets in foul trouble for the Flyers this could get ugly fast.
How Do the Flyers Win this Game?
Ugly it up. The best player on the floor will be Vandy’s outstanding guard Wade Baldwin IV. It’ll be interesting to see if Charles Cooke (who’s bigger) or Kyle Davis (who’s better defensively but smaller) gets tasked with that challenge. If UD can slow him down that’ll be a big help. If this game creeps toward the 80s, I’m not optimistic.
They also need Pollard and McElvene to stay out of foul trouble while also at least matching the production of Vandy’s twin towers. Last year Pollard showed a real knack for using his quickness to outmaneuver significantly bigger players both for points and for drawing fouls. He’ll be the most important player of the game for the Flyers. Also, keep an eye on how much Sam Miller and Ryan Mikesell play. Any of them could pose a stretch problem for Vandy’s bigs on Dayton’s offensive end. I think we’ll see more of Mikesell than we have since the opener.
Who’s Going to Win?
Vandy. Unfortunately for the Flyers, there are just too many things that have to go right for them to pull this off. The interior matchup is particularly troubling as this Dayton team isn’t built to handle two skilled seven-footers. Of all of their non-conference games, this is the one where Dyshawn Pierre’s absence will hurt the most as he would be a nightmare for either of Vandy’s bigs to guard and would give the Flyers a great chance. But he’s not walking through that door. The twin towers, Wade Baldwin IV, and a home court advantage are just too much. I mean, how is Dayton supposed to adjust to the ridiculous court setup Vanderbilt has with the benches on the baseline and all that space on either side? It’s going to be a problem – particularly for a team that hasn’t played a true road game since last season’s Atlantic 10 season finale.
Vandy 78 – UD 68.
Let’s hope I’m wrong. Go Flyers.