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 prepares for LSU with Jalen Cook’s status still uncertain

With Cook’s availability still questionable, Vanderbilt (8-20, 3-12) does not know what type of LSU (15-13, 7-8) it’s going to get.
Josh Rehders
The team huddles during a timeout during Vanderbilt’s game vs Georgia, as photographed on Feb. 21, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Josh Rehders)

Sound the alarms! The LSU Tigers are hot! After a slow start to the SEC season, the Tigers have won three of their last four games, two of whom came against ranked opponents. With back-to-back one-point wins against No. 11 South Carolina and No. 17 Kentucky, LSU looked like it finally had some momentum. Then, the Tigers captured another victory Tuesday night, just barely squeezing out a third one-point win against Georgia. What’s most impressive, though, is that LSU is doing all this without leading scorer Jalen Cook, who scored 28 points in LSU’s nine-point win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 9. 

The junior guard averages 15.6 points a game but has battled a leg injury since the beginning of February. His status remains day-to-day, with his appearance against Vanderbilt being yet another gametime decision. Nonetheless, LSU held strong: with a wonderful showing of shooting, defense and team-oriented basketball in Cook’s absence.

The Commodores will also need to focus on containing Jordan Wright. Wright — a graduate senior — spent his last four years at Vanderbilt. Wright is a  scorer who showed flashes of stardom during his time in black and gold and has been a consistent option for the Tigers, averaging 14.9 points per game, albeit on questionable shooting splits. 

For the team as a whole, LSU is notorious for both committing and enforcing a great deal of turnovers. This is almost guaranteed to be a sloppy game, with the basketball flying all around into opponents’ hands and fans’ laps. Limiting turnovers and capitalizing off opponent mistakes will be a priority for Vanderbilt, who is surprisingly in the top half of the conference in turnover percentage. But for a team that ranks last in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom, something special has got to go right. Vanderbilt showed glimmers of hope in its last matchup against Arkansas, with its lead extended to 15 at one point in the second half. If the Commodores can play like they did for the first fifteen minutes of Tuesday’s first half and avoid collapsing like they did in the last five minutes of the game, they should walk away with a nice home win.

The last point of emphasis is the big man battle: a matchup between Vanderbilt’s Ven-Allen Lubin and LSU’s Vin Baker. Baker, a 7-foot senior, is a cornerstone of the LSU offense, catching the ball on the low block almost every possession. Though he scores in waves, the gravity of his size and skill opens up pathways for his teammates to get easy looks at the basket. On the other side, Lubin has slid comfortably into the five for Vanderbilt, a position that had a lot of questions going into this season. The sophomore transfer from Notre Dame is averaging 11.5 points per game shooting over 50% from the field. The scariest part, he’s only getting better. Much of Saturday’s game is going to come down to which big man makes the most out of the touches they’re given. 

Vanderbilt is currently way on the outside of competing in the college basketball sphere, but a win on Saturday could go a long way in building momentum. With only three games left until the SEC tournament, a win on Saturday could officially give Vanderbilt its first back-to-back wins since the team recorded a three-game win streak from Nov. 10-17. The start of a win streak, and possibly even winning out, could give the Commodores some confidence going into Bridgestone Arena, a place they had some success just one year ago. The beauty of college basketball is that you’re never out until you lose your last game.

Vanderbilt takes on LSU in Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday, March 2nd at 2:30 p.m. CST.

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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].
Josh Rehders
Josh Rehders, Photography Director
Josh Rehders ('24) is from Houston and is studying computer science in the School of Engineering. When he is not shooting for The Hustler, Vanderbilt Athletics or freelancing, he enjoys finding new music and good food. He can be reached at [email protected].
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