Vanderbilt heads to Mississippi State for a rematch against the Bulldogs

After losing to the Bulldogs 84-81 in January, the Commodores look to avoid a season sweep.

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Hunter Long

Vanderbilt men’s basketball defeats South Carolina 93-81 on Jan. 30, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Brett Needelman, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores will travel to Starkville, Mississippi Saturday afternoon (12:00 p.m. CST) to square off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. 

Sitting at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) standings at 5-10 with a measly 1-8 conference record, Vanderbilt will take on Mississippi State, who is having a pedestrian season at 11-9 overall, going 5-6 in conference play. 

Vanderbilt has now lost two consecutive games after its Tuesday night defeat at the hands of the Auburn Tigers, losing 73-67. Mississippi State is coming in having dominated South Carolina, Vanderbilt’s lone victory this season, 75-59 on the road in its last game.

Saturday’s contest will be the second matchup between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt this season. Mississippi State narrowly defeated Vanderbilt 84-81 at Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 9 in a game that displayed two very contrasting styles of offense. Mississippi State hit four three-point shots on a mere seven attempts, as they found most of their offense to come from the interior and mid-range. Conversely, Vanderbilt went 15 for 33 on their three-point shots, with Trey Thomas sinking five off the bench. 

This season, the Bulldogs have built their identity around strong team defense and rebounding. According to KenPom, Mississippi State is 40th in adjusted defense efficiency and 37th in the nation in rebounds per game. These high ranks should largely be attributed to the interior presence, provided by the forward duo of Tolu Smith and Abdul Ado. Smith and Ado grab 8.4 and 6.4 rebounds per game, respectively. Ado is also fourth in the SEC in blocks per game, averaging 1.9 per contest. 

Mississippi State’s frontcourt may pose all sorts of problems for Vanderbilt as head coach Jerry Stackhouse has struggled to find any consistency from his bigs, outside of sophomore forward Dylan Disu. Even so, Disu is far more comfortable and productive as a stretch-four and will not be able to man the paint on his own. 

Hopefully, the Commodores’ carousel of centers consisting of Ejike Obinna, Clevon Brown and Quentin Millora-Brown will yield one player to rise up to the challenge of competing against the daunting Smith and Ado duo on both ends. In their last matchup, Quentin Millora-Brown emerged as the champion big, putting up a respectable six-point and eight-rebound outing. If he  or one of the other centers are unable to replicate this success, this could become a significant mismatch, creating a major advantage for Mississippi State in the paint. 

While Mississippi State’s post players anchor their defense, their offensive attack is a two-headed monster led by guards D.J. Stewart Jr. and Iverson Molinar. Stewart and Molinar are third and fifth in the SEC in scoring, putting up 17.7 and 16.8 points per game, respectively. The tandem is also doing so efficiently, as Molinar leads the conference in three-point shooting percentage, shooting a miraculous 49 percent. Smith also adds 12.6 points per contest to round out the scoring attack. Though the Bulldogs certainly have star power in their backcourt, their adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 107.1 is only marginally better than Vanderbilt’s rating of 107.0. 

Vanderbilt’s offense has not been the primary concern this season. The offense has been running through Scotty Pippen Jr., who leads the team in both points (20.4) and assists (5.1) per game. Pippen Jr. has proved that he can create his own shots and generate opportunities for his teammates, and his abilities were especially showcased in the previous matchup against the Bulldogs with his 18-point,12-assist outing. 

Vanderbilt has been able to hold its own with many of the teams in the SEC so far, but in all but one contest they’ve come up short. Points in the paint will likely come at a premium for the Commodores on Saturday, so the team will have to rely on their outside shooting. While a win may not move Vanderbilt up in the standings, a road victory this weekend would do wonders for the players, Stackhouse and the program as a whole.