For key games for the Commodore basketball team


February 21st, 2015 - Riley LaChance (13) and Wade Baldwin (4) after a defensive stop in the Commodores' 76-53 win against Mizzou Saturday afternoon. (Blake Dover)

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

The Vanderbilt Basketball season is upon us, and that means students will be packing Memorial Gym yet again and bringing the Memorial Magic. Some of the games coming up this season will be incredible, and produce some of the best basketball Vanderbilt has seen in a few years.

Here are a few of the matchups you should circle on your calendars (if you, for some reason, still use a physical calendar):

Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Vanderbilt at Baylor

This is perhaps the first real test for this Commodores team, outside of the Maui Invitational. The Baylor Bears come into this season ranked No. 22 by the AP and will be hungry for some early-season success.

Last season, the Bears went 24-9 and earned a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament. It didn’t end well for them, as they were bounced after just one game by 14th-seeded Georgia State.

Vanderbilt is back in the national discussion after being off the radar for a few seasons, and an early win against a ranked nonconference opponent could be big for the Commodores. Also, Baylor forwards Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers will test Vanderbilt’s unproven forwards with their size and scoring abilities.

The guards and big men are the Commodores’ strengths, but they will need the forwards to step up in order to beat Baylor.

Saturday, Jan. 2 at 8 p.m., LSU at Vanderbilt

The first SEC matchup for the Commodores is a tough one against the No. 21 LSU Tigers. While most students will still be away on winter break, Vanderbilt will look to start on the right foot in conference play.

LSU is another team that should be hungry this season, as they were barely bounced after just one game in the NCAA Tournament last season at the hands of the NC State Wolfpack and have the top freshman in the nation, Ben Simmons.

The Commodores should try to bank as many SEC wins as possible, considering the fact that they have to face Kentucky twice, as well as Tennessee, who has always given Vanderbilt some trouble. The competition in the SEC West is not as fierce, so LSU could see this as an opportunity to show just how good they actually are.

Feb. 27 at 3 p.m., Kentucky at Vanderbilt

The Wildcats’ annual visit to Memorial Gym is always a spectacle. Plenty of royal blue invades the historic facility, and the atmosphere is rowdy. This season, the rivalry between the Wildcats and Commodores could be the most intense since John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor graced Vanderbilt’s campus.

Kentucky is the perennial favorite in the SEC, but Vanderbilt is here to challenge that this season. Many experts have put these two teams in the same category at the top of the SEC this season.

This late February matchup will be the second of the season between these two, but it might not be the last. An SEC Tournament final between these two in Bridgestone Arena would be nothing short of incredible.

March 1 at 6 p.m., Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Just as everyone will be recovering from the Kentucky game, the Volunteers march into town to take on the Commodores a few days later.

The Tennessee basketball program has been in a bit of disarray since head coach Bruce Pearl was fired under scrutiny for NCAA violations. Cuonzo Martin, Pearl’s replacement, led the Vols to just one NCAA Tournament appearance in his three seasons at the helm of the team before leaving for Cal. Donnie Tyndall spent just one season as head coach on Rocky Top before being fired under scrutiny for past NCAA rules misconduct.

Now, Rick Barnes takes over. The former Texas head coach is looking to turn over a new leaf for this Volunteers program. A win against a rival like Vanderbilt could cement his favor amongst fans, who quickly turned on Martin and Tyndall.