Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team will be facing a plethora of tough opponents this year, particularly in the second half of the season.
The Commodores had a difficult season last year, finishing thirteenth in the SEC with an overall record of 14-16 and a conference record of 4-12, losing to Alabama in the first round of the SEC Women’s Tournament. They began the season with a fantastic 10-1 run before losing to Louisville, which began their dismal nine-game losing streak. However, they decisively beat defending NAIA champions Marian with a 90-78 win in their exhibition game on Oct. 29, so things are looking up for this season.
Five of the best opponents Vanderbilt will play this year are Louisville (#9), Tennessee (#14), South Carolina (#4), Mississippi State (#7), and Missouri (#16).
Here is the lowdown on each of these nationally-ranked teams:
#9 Louisville (at KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 7)
Last year, Louisville finished with a fantastic 29-8 overall record and a 12-4 record in the ACC, and the Cardinals were nationally ranked #13 and ended the season in a tie with NC State for fourth place in the ACC. ESPNW’s most recent ranking of the top 25 players in women’s college basketball included two Louisville players: senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen was ranked #24, and junior guard Asia Durr was ranked #7. The Cardinals are looking good this season, and they are certainly a team to keep an eye on.
#14 Tennessee (at Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 7, at Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 4)
Tennessee finished last season with a 20-12 overall record and a 10-6 record in the SEC, placing fifth in the conference. The Lady Volunteers picked up the nation’s top recruiting class this year and steamrolled over Carson-Newman, 121-76, in their Nov. 7 exhibition game. Their new recruits combined for as many points as Carson-Newman scored overall, which demonstrates the team’s sheer power. Tennessee’s defense is not shabby either; in the same exhibition game, the team racked up 10 blocks and 16 steals.
#16 Missouri (at Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 11, at Mizzou arena on Feb. 22)
Missouri finished tied for fourth in the SEC last year with an overall record of 22-11 and a conference record of 11-5. Senior forward Jordan Frericks was recently named a candidate for the 2018 Katrina McClain Award, and she made the Second Team All-SEC in the 2015-16 season before being sidelined by a knee injury during all of last year. The Tigers have already shown dominance in their two exhibition games with an 80-30 win over McKendree and a 77-55 victory over Southwest Baptist.
#4 South Carolina (at Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 18)
South Carolina is Vanderbilt’s highest-ranked opponent this season, and for good reason. Last season, they won their first NCAA National Championship after a stellar season in which they attained a 33-4 overall record and a 14-2 conference record that placed them squarely at the top of the SEC. Senior forward A’ja Wilson, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, returns to play for the Gamecocks for one more year and promises to be a standout player this year.
#7 Mississippi State (at Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 15)
The Bulldogs finished last season with a fantastic 27-3 overall record and a 13-3 SEC record; they placed second in the conference, just behind powerhouse South Carolina, to whom they would eventually lose in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Game. They steamrolled over UAFS, 100-67, in their exhibition game on Nov. 3, and junior center Teaira Mccowan looked especially dominant with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Although Vanderbilt’s schedule is anything but easy, hopefully the dominance they displayed in their exhibition game will help them power through to defeat their toughest opponents. The Commodores also recently signed two nationally ranked players, Brinae Alexander and Jordyn Cambridge, thus signing a top-20 class for the second year in a row and gaining the fourth-best class in the league.