NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After an 11-day hiatus, Vanderbilt is finally scheduled to return to the court at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday inside Bud Walton Arena where it will face Arkansas in the SEC-opener for the Commodores.
Vandy last played Dec. 23 in Honolulu where it scored an impressive 69-67 victory over Brigham Young. An off-day before facing Stanford in the Diamond Head Classic championship game turned into an off week as Stanford wasn’t able to play due to COVID-19 issues.
The Commodores (8-4) could have built up even more confidence and momentum had they played – and beaten – the Cardinal. Instead, head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s team got some much-needed rest and rehabilitation.
“We’ve come back a little bit more banged up than we were when we left,” the third-year head coach said Monday. “That’s a little strange there thinking we have time for guys to heal up a little bit. Jamaine (Mann) is not quite back yet, Shane (Dezonie) sprained his ankle … and Tyrin (Lawrence) had a little bit of a flare up with his knee, Rod (Chatman) had a little bit of a flare up.
“So it’s been a lot of maintenance. We really hadn’t had the chance to get up and down a lot. But there’s been some good focus work, good individual work over the last couple days.”
The matchup with Stanford would have been Vandy’s 13th nonconference test before the start of league play. Instead the Dores had to settle for 12 games in which they won eight – including the last three over Austin Peay, Hawai’i and BYU, respectively.
Those victories followed a tough stretch in which Stackhouse’s unit dropped games against Southern Methodist, Temple and Loyola (Chicago), respectively, by an average of nine points. The hope is that those setbacks will pay dividends in the long run.
“We felt like we left some games out there that were winnable games for us, but I think that’s part of the growing process. I think you have to learn the hard way so to speak,” Stackhouse said. “We had the fifth-toughest nonconference scheduled of anyone in our conference. That lets us know that we scheduled the right way, we did things to try to prepare for the season. We got some good momentum, we did some good things, but even with that said we felt like it could have been a little bit better.”
Vandy faces an Arkansas team (10-3, 0-1 SEC) which lost 81-68 on Wednesday at Mississippi State. The Razorbacks, however, are 8-0 at home this season and 24-1 in their last 25 home games.
Senior guard JD Notae is scoring 18 points per game on a squad that has four players averaging at least 10 points per contest. Arkansas is averaging 80.5 points per game and is among the top 25 in free throw attempts and free throws made.
“Having extra time (to prepare) helps,” Vanderbilt junior guard Scotty Pippen said. “We’re able to scout them a lot more than we usually would be able to. They have a couple of the same guys that I remember playing against so I feel confident going in there and I think the whole team does as well.”
Vanderbilt is 12-29 against Arkansas and has dropped seven straight in the series. It last won in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Feb. 7, 2017.
The Commodores return to Nashville after Tuesday’s affair and are scheduled to host South Carolina (9-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“Over the last two years I’ve been here we were projected low in the SEC and that’s where we’ve been. Just trying to exceed expectations this year,” Pippen said. “I feel more confident going into conference than I’ve been my last two years as well – even throughout our nonconference.”
- Vanderbilt is looking for its first four-game winning streak since 2018.
- Vandy last started 1-0 in the SEC in 2016.
- The Commodores have forced 15 turnovers or more in eight games.
- Heading into SEC play, Vanderbilt ranks 79th according to the NCAA’s NET and is 71st on kenpom.com.
- Pippen nows ranks 44th on Vanderbilt’s all-time scoring list with 1,058 career points. Bo Wyenandt is 43rd with 1,058.
- Pippen leads the SEC in scoring at 18.1 points per game.
- Sophomore guard Trey Thomas has played in 37 straight games for the Commodores.
- Senior guard Jordan Wright has started 27 straight games for Vanderbilt.
- Vandy ranks 34th nationally in scoring defense (60.7 points allowed per game).
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.