College Basketball Preview
The First Four Games are always fun to discuss as they include bubble teams that didn’t know if they’d make the Tourney or not. Wichita State lost in the MVC Tournament semifinals and barely made the field of 68. Many didn’t think a 13-loss Vanderbilt team deserved a chance, but here they are.
This isn’t the same Shockers team as year’s past and that’s seen in their record (24-8) and eventual loss in the Conference Tournament. They only had one decent win all year and that came against Utah back in December. While battling injuries, mainly to point guard Fred VanVleet, they struggled to pick up big wins in non-Conference play. Even with VanVleet back in MVC play, they still lost a few questionable Games and eventually only scored 52 points in their loss to Northern Iowa.
The Commodores also dealt with injuries early in the year and probably part of the reason they got into the Tournament. They had a tough Schedule, but lost most of those tough Games to teams like Kansas, Baylor and Purdue. Wins over Texas A&M and Kentucky were great, but those both came at home. Vandy finished just 4-11 in neutral cOurt and road Games. Wichita State was 10-7 in such Games, but those numbers are skewed by the MVC.
The ‘Dores come into this Game having lost to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, which almost cost them this spot. This is a team that can compete with some of the best in the nation, but they are largely inconsistent and a main reason they had 13 losses. A lot of that inconsistency comes from shooting a ton of threes.
While they are fairly efficient, with three players hitting at least 41% from deep, that’s not always the case. They went 9-for-25 in the loss to the Vols and that was it. It wouldn’t be surprising if they took a different approach in this Game against a Wichita State team that has played weaker competition for the last couple months.
Vandy should aim to give 7-footers Jeff Roberson and Damian Jones plenty of touches in the paint. In their last two losses Roberson had just nine total points. However, in the five Games before that, he reached double digits. For the Commodores to have success, they need to feed the big men. Jones went for 27 points and seven boards a couple weeks ago at Florida while going 12-of-13 from the floor. If Roberson and Jones can both operate in the paint and Wade Baldwin (14.3 ppg) does his usual thing, Vandy gets the edge.
It’s going to be extremely difficult for the Shockers to deal with that size as their frontcOurt is mostly loaded with 6-7 and 6-8 guys. As they’ll likely have trouble defending that, they’ll need to hit shots from deep to stretch the cOurt offensively against Vandy’s big men. Wichita State went 2-of-24 against Northern Iowa last Game and obviously can’t do that again.
Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet have had great seasons, but the Shockers don’t have the same type of team as they’ve had and it’s hard to see them making a run unless Baker and VanVleet can do something special. If Baker can get going, Wichita State can keep up. If not, it’s unknown if someone else will be able to.
Vanderbilt has plenty of experience dealing with top backcOurts this year (most notably Kentucky’s), so dealing with Baker and VanVleet won’t be anything new. The Shockers are favored, but a lot of that has to do with perception from previous squads. Wichita State isn’t as good this year and is a two-man show. If one of those guys struggles, the Shockers are done.