NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Of all the team’s Vanderbilt drew to start Southeastern Conference play, it appears it will begin with one of – if not the – toughest.
The Commodores (8-5) head to Auburn for an 8 p.m. tilt Wednesday. The Tigers are ranked fifth in The Associated Press Top 25, are one of two undefeated teams remaining in Division I, are fresh off an SEC Tournament championship and trip to the 2019 Final Four and have won 10 straight at home.
Vandy, meanwhile, is looking for its first victory outside of Nashville this season.
“Trying to go out and get that first road win – that’d be a nice milestone for us,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We have a lot little things within the big thing that we’re trying to accomplish and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
Vandy is coming off a 92-81 defeat in overtime to Southern Methodist on Saturday. It was the second time this season the Dores dropped a game in overtime.
Stackhouse’s team has lost five times this season by an average margin of 6.8 points and those five defeats are to teams who are a combined 58-16.
The matchup with Auburn (13-0, 1-0 SEC) also marks the second time this season Vandy will face an undefeated squad – Liberty came to Memorial Gymnasium on Dec. 14 and was 11-0 at the time.
“I thought we had some quality opponents. We had teams that did different things, played different styles, teams that zoned, teams that did some matchups, teams that pressed a little bit. So that gave us a lot of different looks that we were able to really go through a gamut of different coverages and how we can play things and work on things that we need to get better at.
“I think we’re prepared from that standpoint, but the SEC ramps up a little.”
Auburn, which finished with a 30-10 record last season, comes into the contest ranked in the top 15 nationally in blocked shots per game, offensive rebounds per game, scoring margin, scoring offense and total rebounds per game. Head coach Bruce Pearl is now in his sixth season with the Tigers and has amassed more than 100 wins during his tenure.
Senior guard J’Von McCormick, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, makes the Auburn offense go with his 5.5 assists per game.
“Like you see with most SEC teams, you see athletes. You see a team that’s not afraid to take any shot,” Stackhouse said. “They raise up from behind 3 and all their guys are capable. But they can also feel like can go back and get it. That has to be a big point of emphasis for us, is rebounding, and being able to keep them off the boards. If we’re able to do that then maybe we can get out in transition and get some easy opportunities ourselves.”
Vanderbilt’s game Wednesday also represents the first opportunity to break a dry spell in league play after the Commodores went winless against conference competition a year ago. Stackhouse and his staff, of course, weren’t present for any of this games, but Aaron Nesmith, Saben Lee, Maxwell Evans, Matthew Moyer and others were.
The Commodores also host Texas A&M (6-6, 0-1 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and would like nothing more to put the narrative to rest that they can’t win a conference game.
“It’s just a matter of us going out and being who we are,” Stackhouse said. “Not so much worried about any team that we play but we’ll try to come in with a game plan of how we feel we can be best successful and (Wednesday’s) no different.”
• Vanderbilt and Auburn have met 142 times with the Commodores holding an 89-53 advantage in the series and a 35-30 mark at Auburn.
• Nesmith has 56 made 3s this season, just three less than all of the 2018-19 campaign. The Vandy record for 3s made in one season is held by both Shan Foster (2007-08) and John Jenkins (2011-12) who each made 134.
• Nesmith is fifth nationally by scoring 23.4 points per game and leads the SEC in that category. He’s second in Division I in 3s made per game (4.3) and 3-point shooting (51.4 percent), fourth with an 87.6 clip from the line and seventh with a field goal percentage of 51.3.
• Lee needs 51 points to reach 1,000 points and eight assists to reach 300 assists for his career.
• Vanderbilt has made at least one 3 in 1,077 straight games.
• Senior center Clevon Brown (knee) is still out for the Commodores.
• Auburn will be the Commodores’ first ranked opponent this season. Vanderbilt has lost six consecutive games to ranked opponents dating back to an 81-65 win over No. 17 Arizona State on Dec. 17, 2018. Vanderbilt’s last win over a ranked opponent on the road was a 68-66 win over Florida on Jan. 21, 2017. Vanderbilt is 95-242 all-time against ranked opponents and 20-144 in road contests.