NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Before the calendar turns over to a new year, Vanderbilt will start a new SEC season.
The Commodores (4-2) welcome in Florida (3-1) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2) in the league opener for both programs. Vandy is coming off an 87-59 victory over Alcorn State and is hoping to keep the momentum going from that result.
“We’re trending in a good direction, but obviously it starts for real next time out with SEC play,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Competition is at another level, but I feel good about where we are.”
Vanderbilt has been fortunate in the sense it has been able to get six games in while college basketball cautiously navigates playing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Stackhouse’s program has had four games canceled during the nonconference schedule and has had to adjust its lineup as certain student-athletes have been unavailable to compete.
Arkansas has played the most games among SEC teams with eight under its belt while South Carolina has only suited up for three. Then there’s Wednesday’s opponent Florida which has played just four games and hasn’t taken the court since Dec. 12 when junior forward Keyontae Johnson collapsed on the court during a contest against Florida State.
Johnson was hospitalized that day and has since been released. His Gator teammates will finally return to action – after three cancelations – at Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday.
So Wednesday’s matchup is another opportunity for each squad to learn and discover in the still relatively young season.
“We know that we’re still going to be finding out some things about ourselves as the season goes on. We feel fortunate that we’ve been able to play six games,” Stackhouse said. “There’s a lot of teams that are starting SEC play that haven’t been able to play one game. From that standpoint we feel good about some things.”
The Commodores came into 2020-21 knowing their depth could be an advantage after playing with limited numbers a season ago.
At this point, seven Dores have played at least 80 minutes and 13 have played at least 30. Those numbers include totals from Myles Stute, DJ Harvey, Jordan Wright and Clevon Brown, all of whom have each played four games or less.
Stute returned to the lineup Sunday to score 16 points and Harvey added 10. Brown was penciled in to start the contest, Stackhouse said, but a (hopefully) minor injury during Saturday’s practice sidelined the senior center.
The only Commodores who have started all six games have been Dylan Disu and Scotty Pippen Jr. Pippen is leading the SEC and is ninth nationally with 23.3 points per game to go along with 4.3 assists per contest and Disu is averaging 11 points and nine rebounds each time out.
“Offensively I think we did a good job sharing the ball (Sunday) so we can do a little bit more of that,” Harvey said of where he sees the team going into league play. “Then just make open shots – that’s what our offense is based around, making the 3-point shot, so if we can do that consistently. And crash the boards a little bit – we know how people crash against us, maybe we can do that on the offensive end and get some second chances.
“Chemistry-wise I feel like we still have a long way to go, but it’s getting better every game so that’s all we can hope for.”
If there’s any one major concern for Stackhouse going into SEC play its on the boards. Vandy ranks among the bottom of the league in defensive rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game and total rebounds per game.
So the second-year coach will continue to adjust lineups as the opposition changes and as the flow of the games shift. And along the way the Commodores will hope to better a 3-15 mark last season in the SEC.
“Last year we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted in the SEC,” Pippen said. “This year we’re looking to do better and just finish.
“We haven’t really had our full team until (Sunday’s win) so I feel like that’s a glimpse of what we can be.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.