NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Four games into the 2021-22 season, Vanderbilt has seen the good it can be – and seen some of the bad.
A 3-1 start has included wins in which the Commodores have averaged 82.3 points per game and a loss in which they scored just 37 points – the program’s lowest point total in a single contest in almost a decade. All four results have given third-year coach Jerry Stackhouse plenty look at when it comes to improving his squad.
Now Vanderbilt looks to show what sort of improvements it has made when it make its first road trip of the season in an 8 p.m. CT Wednesday game at Pittsburgh (ACC Network).
“We’ve got guys that have been around a little bit, they know how to go on the road – especially in the SEC going into some tough environments,” Stackhouse said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s a younger Pittsburgh team so hopefully we can come in and take advantage of our experience and maybe get off to a good start, see the ball roll through the hoop a little bit.”
Perhaps not so unexpectedly for the Dores after four matchups is the fact that Vanderbilt has been led by its two veteran guards in Jordan Wright and Scotty Pippen Jr. That duo has averaged more than 35 points per game combined and has made 50 of the team’s 94 shots.
Tyrin Lawrence, Myles Stute and Jamaine Mann have stepped up in separate games to spark the offense as a third scorer. Stackhouse said he doesn’t necessarily need one specific player to fill that role night-in and night-out.
“That’s the beauty of having a team that shares it. Hopefully a guy gets going and if a guy hits one I’m going to try to get him a look to get another to see if he can make two in a row and hopefully we’ll get him another look to see if he can get three in a row,” he said. “I tell my guys, ‘You wanna get more stuff called for you? Make a shot. I’ll find a way to come back to you. If you don’t, you miss a couple, we’ll give somebody else a try at it.’
“The mainstay has to be on the defensive end. I don’t sub guys for what they really do offensively. Not doing what we need you to do defensively and setting the tone and being who we need to be there, that’s what we want to try to have as our mainstay and I think we’ll do that on the road.”
Vanderbilt’s sole focus this week has not been on offensive production, but rather on that defensive mindset.
The Commodores are surrendering a modest 63 points per game, but haven’t allowed more than 70 since the season-opener. Vandy opponents are shooting a shade less than 40 percent (a number boosted by Alabama State’s 26 of 52 clip in the opener) and rank second nationally in non-steal turnover percentage, according to KenPom.com.
If Vandy can continue to improve on those numbers it likes its chances going forward.
“Our defense really holds our team together. These four games our defense really showed up so now we understand what we need to do,” Mann said. “Defense has to carry on the road. I think if we play really good on defense early (at Pitt), we’ll have a good game. It starts on defense.”
Coached by Jeff Capel, a long-time friend of Stackhouse, Pittsburgh has recovered from an 0-2 start (losses to The Citadel and West Virginia, respectively) to win back-to-back home games ahead of Wednesday. John Hugley is scoring 16 points per game for the Panthers (2-2) and the sophomore forward is also pulling down eight boards per contest.
Pitt is coming off a 10-12 season in which it went 6-10 in ACC play and lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament to Miami (Florida).
“They run a lot of sets, different things that we can handle, that we can guard. It’s similar to Winthrop a little bit,” Stackhouse said. “They got a guy down there (Hugley) on the post that is similar to (Winthrop’s D.J.) Burns. He can post, he plays 5-out offense with him at the top sometimes so our 5-man has to be ready to guard him some off the dribble.
“They do some things to put us in a bind, but I feel like if we’re locked-in and focused on the details of our scout and how we feel like we can attack them I think we can have some success.”
• Pitt leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt 2-1. The Panthers won meetings in 1923 and 1935 before Vandy won a 1988 NCAA Tournament game 80-74 in overtime.
• The Commodores are 93-88 against programs in the current ACC.
• Vandy is 3-17 in its last 20 true road games.
• Pippen is now 93 points from reaching 1,000 for his career.
• Wright has started 19 straight games for Vanderbilt.
• Trey Thomas has played 29 straight games for the Commodores.
• Vanderbilt has now made at least two 3s in 43 straight games.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.