The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt looks to extend their win streak to six in upcoming matchup against LSU

With five straight wins under their belt, the Commodores travel to last place LSU to do something they haven’t in 15 years.
Ophelia Lu
Tyrin Lawrence attempts a layup during a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu).

There’s some buzz in Nashville.

After Ezra Manjon’s last-second left-handed layup led Vanderbilt to a loud victory over Auburn in Memorial on Saturday, life has been injected into the Commodore faithful. 

As a member of the crowd that game, there was only one topic of conversation amongst Vanderbilt fans as they left the stadium: March Madness. Those talks were soon met with answers: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi sent out his bracket picks Monday morning and listed Vanderbilt in the “considered” group at No. 81. While the Commodores are still a long way away from being in the group of 68, fans can’t help but feel like this is the year; the first tournament berth since 2017. 

But while the fans are looking towards March, the team is looking at LSU.

The LSU Tigers currently sport a 12–15 record overall but are 1–13 in SEC play, dead last in the conference. On top of that, they’re riding a 14-game losing streak, with their last win coming against Arkansas on Dec. 28, 2022. Since then, the Tigers have been pulling for any sort of positive in conference play. Their last game, a 82–73 loss against South Carolina on Saturday, saw four Gamecocks score over 15, and two players— GG Jackson II and Meechie Johnson — scoring 20. LSU junior Cam Hayes had 25 himself, but was the only Tiger to amass at least 15 points on the night. 

Myles Stute defends against Auburn, as photographed on Feb. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)
Myles Stute defends against Auburn, as photographed on Feb. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Ophelia Lu)
(Ophelia Lu)

As for the Commodores, they’re looking to achieve their first six-game win streak in SEC play since the 2007–2008 season. At that time, the team was led by all-time leading scorer Shan Foster. Foster’s jersey has hung in the rafters since the last LSU-Vanderbilt matchup on February 5, 2022. In the 75–66 Commodore win, Rodney Chatman (now playing professionally in Denmark for Team FOG Naestved) scored 24 points including six threes, causing the Vanderbilt crowd at home to erupt in cheers as the Commodores earned their first — and only — win against a ranked opponent that season. 

However, both teams are very different now.

The most important change: the Tigers’ new coach. This offseason, LSU hired Murray State’s Matt McMahon and with him, traveled the fifth-year senior KJ Williams. Williams, the 6’10” center, averages a team-leading 16.0 points per game, which ranks 4th in the SEC, and 7.3 rebounds per game. He earns many of these points in the paint, commonly off the slip in the pick-and-roll. If the Commodores can rotate effectively and deny the roll man, they’ll contain his shot totals. 

The other guy to watch out for is Adam Miller. The 6’3” sophomore guard averages 11.4 points per game, second on the LSU squad, but his contributions come from far outside the box score. The Illinois transfer is the Tigers’ spark-plug, a high energy player who makes the extra effort on defense and runs up the tempo on offense. Despite only averaging 0.8 steals, he commonly doubles the ball-handler to force turnovers. Most of those doubles come when the ball is dumped in the post. For Vanderbilt, perimeter guys need to be ready to shoot when Liam Robbins gets the ball on the low block.

LSU’s biggest weakness is its rotations. The team is known to collapse in the paint in transition or off the dribble drive and then recover slowly to the dish outside. This leaves them very susceptible to threes, especially off the pick-and-roll. 

Ezra Manjon celebrates with students after a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila).
Ezra Manjon celebrates with students after a 67-65 win over Auburn on Feb. 18, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Nikita Rohila) (Nikita Rohila)

For Vanderbilt, the guy to watch for is Ezra Manjon. The hero of Saturday’s win is also going to be the backbone of the offense on Wednesday. As the pass-first primary ball handler, Manjon will be tasked with finding the open man when the defense collapses and trusting his team to make their shots behind the arc. Expect him to rack up a lot of assists on Wednesday.

As for the advanced numbers, these two teams are not very evenly matched. Vanderbilt is coming into the contest with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 107.1, which ranks fourth in the conference, as per KenPom. Compare that to the 111.9 adjusted defensive efficiency of LSU, which ranks fourth worst in the conference, and well… the story tells itself. 

Not everything is that easy, though.Vanderbilt’s 113.1 adjusted defensive efficiency rating (second worst in the conference) warns that if they can’t score, they probably won’t win. To Vanderbilt’s credit, the team proved this notion wrong against Auburn, when they showcased an emerging ability to win in a myriad of styles. 

One more stat that’s interesting is the turnover ratio. Despite running a double-heavy defense that relies on pace-of-play to force chaotic turnovers, LSU ranks third worst in defensive turnover ratio at 15.1 whereas Vanderbilt is atop of the pack in offensive turnover ratio at 14.0. On paper, that isn’t a warning. But Vanderbilt has crumbled against chaotic defense before, it could happen again. They need to win the turnover battle Wednesday, which could be easier said than done. 

While Vanderbilt has the edge in advanced metrics, some of their stats — 11th in field goal percentage, 11th in opponent effective field goal percentage, last in opponent turnover percentage — shows that by no means is a win guaranteed. It’s still the SEC, which means that there’s talent everywhere and the optimal combination of talent and execution are necessary to achieve a win.

So what does a win mean for Vanderbilt? 

The answer is simple: hope. 

The team, the fans and the city are holding hope that this is finally the year the Commodores return to the NCAA Tournament. After finally getting some recognition, that hope may turn into a reality. However, that reality can’t happen with a loss on Wednesday. From now on, every game is a must-win for the Commodores — they just have to hope that the NCAA Committee sees enough to invite them to the big dance.

The Commodores and Tigers will face off in Baton Rouge at 6 p.m. CST on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

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About the Contributors
Connor Campbell
Connor Campbell, Senior Staff Writer
Connor Campbell ('25) is a human and organizational development and cinema and media arts major from Staten Island, N.Y. Connor shares a strong love for both sports and film, leading to his interest in "The Ringer" and, consequently, his casual and quippy style of writing. Outside of The Hustler, Connor does freelance photography, runs the social media accounts for Vanderbilt Club Hockey and is the president of Vanderbilt Tap That. You can reach him at [email protected].
Ophelia Lu
Ophelia Lu, Deputy Photography Editor
Ophelia Lu (’26) is from Los Angeles and is double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering. She previously served as a staff photographer. When not covering events and sports games for The Hustler, you can find her listening to a lot of music, studying at Starbucks or lying on Alumni lawn. She can be reached at [email protected].
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