Vanderbilt travels to Columbia to take on No. 20 Missouri, looks to start 2-0 in SEC

After a thrilling overtime win over South Carolina on Tuesday, the Commodores will look to remain perfect in the SEC.


Vanderbilt Athletics

Liam Robbins contests over South Carolina’s Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk on January 3, 2023 at Memorial Gymnasium (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Aiden Rutman, Deputy Sports Editor

Vanderbilt basketball will face their toughest opponent yet this Saturday, on the road against No. 20 Missouri (AP Poll). The Commodores are coming off of a much-needed win in their SEC opener against South Carolina on Tuesday. The win bumped them 13 spots in KenPom’s rankings, from No. 108 to No. 95. 

An Upstart in Columbia

After starting the season unranked, the Missouri Tigers steamrolled through their first nine opponents, albeit none of whom were ranked inside the KenPom top-100. They then suffered an embarrassing loss to Kansas in front of their home crowd, before righting the ship by beating three top-50 opponents (UCF, Illinois and Kentucky) in mid-December. The Tigers’ three-game win streak ended Wednesday night though as they traveled to Arkansas and lost a close game against the Razorbacks. 

The key to Missouri’s success has been no secret. They rank third in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage. They lead the SEC in just about every major offensive statistic. They score 87.3 points per game, which is fourth in the entire nation. 

Guards D’Moi Hodge and Kobe Brown have been unstoppable thus far, both averaging 15 points per game and shooting above 40-percent from 3-point range. Brown’s versatility has proven invaluable to the Tigers: even with his guard-like abilities, the senior checks in at 6’8 and often guards the opposing team’s tallest player. It will be interesting to see how first-year head coach Dennis Gates decides to use him, as his quickness and athleticism could give Liam Robbins some difficulties.

Every team has an exploitable weakness, and the Tigers’ is in their defense. While they are among the top of the nation in steals per game (12.1), there are still chinks in their armor. They check in at No. 154 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and opponents have shot a dazzling 35.6-percent from downtown against them. 

Taming the Tigers 

If the Tigers are to be taken down, one of two things needs to happen. First, a shootout of the highest order must occur. And I mean a shootout, with both teams scoring 90-plus. Seeing as Vanderbilt is averaging 70.9 points per game and has scored over 90 points just once (as opposed to Missouri’s seven), an offensive explosion seems unlikely. 

Second, and more realistically, Vanderbilt will need to clamp down defensively and force the Tigers into a sloppy game, something well within their M.O. The Commodores have a clear size advantage: Brown, who will likely have to deal with Vanderbilt’s big men, is only 6’8, shorter than Liam Robbins, Quentin Millora-Brown, and the same size as Myles Stute and Colin Smith. With their excellent size, Vanderbilt has excelled at defending the paint and sits at No. 12 in the nation in blocked shot percentage. It’s up to them to continue to dominate under the hoop, make Missouri uncomfortable and force them into a defensive affair. 

The Commodores will also need to shut down the 3-pointer. Missouri is shooting 37-percent as a team. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is limiting opponents to just 29.9-percent from beyond the arc, No. 45 in the nation. Going over screens and playing help defense could be the key here in limiting one of the hottest 3-point shooting teams in the nation. As good as Missouri has been, Vanderbilt is athletic, and Jerry Stackhouse’s roster possesses the depth to force the Tigers into a grind-it-out game.

As much as Vanderbilt should step up their defense, the offense will still need to keep pace. The Commodores will need Ezra Manjon and Robbins—who scored 24 and 22 points, respectively, against South Carolina—to continue finding success. Vanderbilt will need Stute, who has been in a shooting slump as of late, to replicate his early season success from beyond the arc.  

Perhaps most importantly, though, the Commodores will need a complete game out of Jordan Wright. Wright played 30 minutes in the win against South Carolina, his most in over a month, and he’ll be leaned on similarly again in this one. 

Vanderbilt and Missouri will tip off at 11 a.m. CST on CBS at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday, Jan. 7.