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 hosts in-state rival No. 5 Tennessee

The Commodores will welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday.
Vince Lin
Isaiah West goes for a layup, as photographed on Jan. 17, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Vince Lin)

Almost a year ago, Vanderbilt upset No. 6 Tennessee at the buzzer in Memorial Gymnasium. Down by two points, Ezra Manjon drove to the paint with 4.8 seconds left and passed the ball to Tyrin Lawrence in the corner. Lawrence cashed in the 3-pointer and the rest was history. It was rivalry basketball at its best. 

The Commodores will look to replicate that same magic this year. Vanderbilt will host Tennessee on Saturday, Jan. 27 in a rivalry matchup that dates back to 1922. This year, Vanderbilt will be facing a tough Tennessee team that is currently ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll. 

The Volunteers have proven themselves to be a National Championship contender this season. They rank No. 4 in both KenPom and the NET, going 11-0 against opponents in quadrant 2 and below. They currently sit at 14-4, but three of those losses have come from top-10 opponents. This Tennessee team is dangerous in all facets of the game, and the Commodores will have their hands full on Saturday night. 

Vanderbilt’s biggest challenge will be to contain one player: Dalton Knecht. Knecht has shined this season, averaging a team-high 18.8 points per game. The 6’6” guard does everything on the court, shooting 40% from beyond the arc and getting points around the rim. While he may be listed as a guard, he is a threat everywhere on the court. He will test Vanderbilt’s undersized forwards and weak perimeter defense.

Jonas Aidoo is the Volunteers’ main option in the post. The 6’11” center has averaged 12.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season. He could be a matchup nightmare for Ven-Allen Lubin and Carter Lang, Vanderbilt’s two primary options at the five spot this season, considering his size advantage. Similarly, he has three years of experience playing SEC basketball, something which cannot be said for Lubin and Lang. Aidoo does most of his damage in the paint so the Commodores may look to double team him on the inside.

Zakai Zeigler will be dangerous on Saturday night as well. Zeigler is the primary point guard for the Volunteers and a phenomenal ball-handler. His speed and shiftiness make him one of the toughest players to guard in the SEC. Zeigler has a similar playing style to that of Ezra Manjon as he uses his smaller frame to beat defenders off the dribble. Similarly, he has elite body control and can get downhill quickly. The matchup of Manjon and Zeigler will be an entertaining one to watch as two of the SEC’s best point guards will be going to head-to-head on Saturday. 

It’s hard to list things that need to go right for Vanderbilt’s offense because, simply put, everything will need to be executed to perfection to beat Tennessee. Lawrence and Manjon will need to find their chemistry and stretch the floor. Other players on the roster, such as Jason Rivera-Torres, will need to get hot from mid-range and beyond the arc. 

While Vanderbilt’s lack of size at the five spot holds them back against quality opponents, they must rebound and stay aggressive in the paint against Tennessee. Lubin and Lang will need to give Vanderbilt’s shooters many looks on the outside and limit Aidoo around the rim.

One of the Commodores’ main offensive issues has been their 3-point percentage. Against Auburn, Vanderbilt shot 22% from beyond the arc, a number that will always make it difficult  to compete in the SEC. Tennessee isn’t going to allow many open shots for Vanderbilt on the perimeter, so when there are open looks, Vanderbilt must convert. 

A lot will have to go right for Vanderbilt to pull off a monumental upset. However, perhaps this intense rivalry will bring out the best in Jerry Stackhouse’s squad. Vanderbilt will hope to replicate the same Memorial Magic from last year and beat its biggest SEC foe. 

Vanderbilt will tip-off against Tennessee at 5 p.m. CST on Saturday, Jan. 27.

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About the Contributors
Henry Oelhafen
Henry Oelhafen, Deputy Sports Editor
Henry Oelhafen (‘26) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in business. Henry grew up as a Vanderbilt sports fan and loves to talk about both professional and amateur golf. In addition to writing, he loves to play golf with friends, hike and try new restaurants. He can be reached at [email protected].
Vince Lin
Vince Lin, Deputy Videography Editor
Vince Lin (‘27) is from Zanesville, Ohio, and is majoring in computer science. Vince also serves as a graphics and photography staffer. Outside of school, you can find him at the gym, rowing, lifting weights, playing games with friends or sleeping. You can reach him at [email protected].
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