Basketball season still has yet to arrive, but the Vanderbilt men’s team can finally see the challenge ahead of them.
On Thursday, the SEC announced the men’s basketball schedule for the upcoming season, one in which the Commodores will look to return to the NCAA tournament. The non-conference schedule is certainly less daunting than last year’s, in which Vanderbilt finished the season with the toughest strength of schedule in college basketball. However, the conference schedule – which has been no secret for the Commodores, minus the order of the games – presents a challenge.
With three teams that made the Elite Eight in the 2017 NCAA tournament, the SEC has proven that it is by no means the runt of the power conferences. If Vanderbilt is to be playing basketball in March, it’ll have to be because of signature wins against some tough opponents, so here are five games to watch for the 2017-2018 basketball season.
USC at Vanderbilt – Nov. 19
The Trojans pose perhaps the toughest non-conference matchup that Vanderbilt will encounter all year. Andy Enfield’s bunch has improved each year of his tenure, as evident by two upset wins in the NCAA tournament over SMU and Baylor. This season, USC returns its entire roster from 2017, which shouldn’t excite any of their opponents. Vanderbilt has the ability to make a statement in this game, and in order to do it, the Commodores will need to find a way to guard the Trojans in the post. 6’11 forward Chimezie Metu and 6’10 forward Bennie Boatwright create nightmares for opposing post players, which is Vanderbilt’s biggest weakness.
Middle Tennessee State at Vanderbilt – Dec. 6
Vanderbilt had the toughest schedule in the country last season, featuring games against Kentucky, Florida, Butler, and Iowa State. Maybe the worst loss of the season, however, came against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Vanderbilt put up just 48 points in a 23-point blowout in Murfreesboro. This year, the Commodores will try to get some offense going against one of the most underrated teams in the country. Middle Tennessee has put its name on the map the past two years with a pair of impressive tournament upsets. In fact, last year’s team lost just five games the whole year, led by the three-headed monster of JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw, and Giddy Potts. This season, Potts is the only one returning, and Vanderbilt will look to use its bevvy of guards to stifle Potts and get some revenge.
Florida at Vanderbilt – Dec. 30
Vanderbilt fans must have been kicking themselves watching Florida walk through the NCAA tournament into the Elite Eight after having beaten the Gators in each of their three matchups during the year. The Commodores were Florida’s kryptonite last season, and you can bet that Mike White has been licking his chops waiting to head to Memorial Gym to break the streak. Florida is spearheaded by the strong starting backcourt of Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen, and it was Allen who gave Vanderbilt fits last season. This budding rivalry between Vandy and Florida could become a shootout against the Gators, and it’s sure to be an intense matchup to kick off conference play.
Alabama at Vanderbilt – Jan. 2
This game might not draw the same crowd in Nashville as when these two teams meet on the gridiron, but make no mistake, Alabama is a legitimate threat in the SEC this year. If you want to know why, look no further than freshman sensation Collin Sexton. While he might be better known for trash-talking LaVar Ball in an AAU game, Sexton will soon be known for the highlight reel he puts together every time he steps on the court. Along with fellow freshman John Petty, coach Avery Johnson has put together a recruiting class to add to an already upstart squad in Tuscaloosa. This year’s matchup in January will test Vanderbilt’s freshman point guard duo of Saban Lee and Maxwell Evans, as slowing down Sexton should be the key to this matchup.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt – Jan. 13
Is it really a “Five games to watch” list if it doesn’t include Kentucky? If Vanderbilt fans could wish for one outcome all year, it would almost unanimously be to beat the Kentucky Wildcats in front of their home crowd at Memorial Gym. Like all other years, however, that looks to be a tall task in 2018. John Calipari has assembled another top recruiting class that features five top-25 recruits in addition to Hamidou Diallo, who has yet to play a game for the Wildcats. It looks like another one-and-done year in Kentucky, but that won’t stop them from being one of the best teams in the country, and a force to be reckoned with when they storm into Nashville on January 13th. Last year’s team lacked the typical size that the Wildcats sport, but the combination of Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, and Jarred Vanderbilt will look to dominate the Commodores down low.