Vanderbilt looks to keep home streak alive against Pitt

Vanderbilt will look to improve to 5-4 as they take on the Panthers on Wednesday.

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Josh Rehders

Colin Smith passes the ball, as photographed on Dec. 3, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Aiden Rutman and Brandon Karp

Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball will continue its homestand on Wednesday, Dec. 7, night in a key matchup against the Pitt Panthers. Coming off of a win against Wofford, Vanderbilt enters the game with a 4-4 record. The Panthers, led by head coach Jeff Capel III, boast a 6-3 record and currently sit at No. 79 in KenPom’s rankings. 

The Commodores will attempt to find the same success that they found last year against the Panthers, when they defeated them on the road, 68-52. After a closely contested first half, Vanderbilt was able to pull away behind Trey Thomas’s four second-half 3-pointers. However, Pitt was ranked at No. 195 in last year’s KenPom rankings, meaning things might not come as easy for Vanderbilt this go around. What’s changed for the Panthers? 

Transfer Blake Hinson (Ole Miss) has been a revelation on offense, spacing the floor and using his frame to dominate inside. Senior guards Jamarius Burton and Greg Elliot have been key contributors as well. Last season’s leading scorer John Hugley IV also plays a significant role in the offense. After being ranked at No. 243 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency in 2022, Pitt has drastically improved to No. 76 in 2023. The team has made some massive strides on the defensive side of the ball as well. After checking in at No. 147 in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, Pitt sits at No. 86 this season. Opponents are shooting just 40.4% from the field and 29.2% from 3-point range against this stingy Panthers’ defense. 

After starting the season 1-3, Pitt has rallied to win five straight, including back-to-back impressive road victories against Northwestern (No. 63) and NC State (No. 55). A tough matchup awaits them in Memorial Gymnasium, but the Panthers are well-balanced and can beat their opponents on either side of the court. 

For the Commodores, the lack of a clear first option on offense continues to prevent this team from playing to its full potential. Against VCU (No. 106), Vanderbilt struggled to find any consistent offensive flow outside of a hot shooting night from Myles Stute, who chipped in 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. On the year, Stute is hitting a remarkable 50.9% of his threes and is 11th in all of DI men’s basketball with 3.5 makes per game. Conversely, starters Jordan Wright and Tyrin Lawrence struggled mightily against the Rams, combining for 5 points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field. 

The outlook was a bit rosier in the team’s recent victory against Wofford. With Wright out of the lineup, the Commodores still managed a respectable showing on both sides of the ball, shooting 49.1% on offense and picking up 7 steals on defense. The starting backcourt of Lawrence and Ezra Manjon looked much more comfortable, but the standout performer in the win was Liam Robbins. After getting off to a slow start with 3.5 points per game (PPG) in Vanderbilt’s first two games of the season, the 7-footer is averaging 15 PPG in Vanderbilt’s last 6 and looks like a reliable option in the post.

Throughout this season, Vanderbilt’s most common lineup (15.4% of total minutes) has been the projected starting five against Pitt: Manjon, Lawrence, Wright, Stute and Robbins. Although this group struggled against VCU, we’ve seen what they’re capable of in wins against Temple and Fresno State. With Stute drilling 3s at an absurd rate and Robbins dominating inside the post, all this team needs is more consistent playmaking from Manjon, Lawrence and Wright. Each of these players has shown their ability to get into the paint and make savvy plays for their teammates, but none have done so with enough consistency for Vanderbilt to play winning basketball.

If the Commodores can resolve their playmaking woes, a win against Pitt should be well within reach. The added depth of a healthy Trey Thomas and precocious freshmen Colin Smith and Malik Dia gives Stackhouse added lineup flexibility against the Panthers.

Vanderbilt and Pitt will tip things off at 8 p.m. CST on Wednesday, Dec. 7.