The Virginia basketball team will not be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with their families as they will be in Brooklyn taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores in the ESPN NIT Tip-Off. Both the Austin Peay (93-49) and Monmouth (73-53) victories were also part of this event. Vandy played Austin Peay, winning 73-54, has beaten UNC-Asheville (also part of the event), and lost to Belmont and #10 USC. The USC loss was their most recent game, and it was a home game that went into OT before the Commodores fell 93-89.
This Commodore team is led by a trio of seniors who are 1-2-3 in scoring. First is Matthew Fisher-Davis, who is nearly 40% from three for his career. That said, he’s only made 33% of his treys this year after 37% last year. He made 41% and 44% his first two years, respectively. The flip-side is that his interior play has improved dramatically as he’s developed. He’s still mostly a shooter, with almost 2/3 of his shots coming from beyond the arc (as a freshman, over 75% of his shots were treys).
He is joined on the wing by Riley LeChance, another career 40% shooter. He’s actually well over 50% so far this year. LeChance was a PG as a recruit and is still a strong playmaker with the ball in his hands and led the team in assists by a wide margin last year. He may not lead this year, because of the presence of freshman PG Saben Lee.
Lee isn’t much of a shooter, but he’s a very good athlete, can get to the rim and finish and can pass. In the early going, he’s 26th in the nation in assist rate. He struggled against USC, scoring just two points with only one assist in just 13 minutes before he was benched in favor of junior Larry Austin, who had 13 points and six assists. It will be interesting to see which PG gets the nod against the Hoos. Austin is the steady hand, but Lee has more talent and better potential. Early on, Lee has struggled with turnovers. He’s leading the team in usage rate, but also turning the ball over on nearly 1/3 of his possessions.
Up front are senior Jeff Roberson and sophomore Djery Baptiste. Roberson is a wing masquerading as a four. He’s strong on the boards and leads the team in rebounding, but can also shoot from the outside (38% career, 28% this year). Baptiste is a true interior player. He’s a beast on the boards and he’s shooting 73% from the field (mostly dunks). At 6’10” and just 235 pounds, he may not have the bulk to bang inside w/ Jack Salt. He’s also prone to foul trouble and saw just 13 minutes in the loss to Belmont because of foul trouble.
That really is about it, as the Commodores really only go 6 or 7 deep. That may not matter very much in this matchup, with each team coming off three full days of rest, but it’ll have a bigger impact on Friday with the back-to-back. So, if the Hoos get out to a big early lead, will head coach Bryce Drew use his bench more in an effort to save the starters for Friday? That’s sort of what happened in the loss to Belmont, although it may have been Drew trying to figure out his rotation in the early going.
Vanderbilt was 38th on KenPom heading into the season. With their 2-2 start, they’ve fallen to 54th. They lost to 113th ranked Belmont and barely squeaked by 116th UNC-A. Even Austin Peay had the Vandy lead down to 9 with under 9 minutes remaining. With three senior starters, and coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, fans likely expected more. They looked better against USC. Yes, it was a home game, but USC is a very talented team (currently ranked 15 on KenPom) and Vandy probably should’ve won that game. Both teams shot lights out, but Vandy had 16 turnovers, leading to 10 extra FGA for USC.
The Commodores shoot a ton of threes. Last year, they were 6th in the nation in threes attempted (as a ratio of total shot attempts). This year, they are 90th in the early going. Some of that has been the ability of Lee to get into the paint and some of it has been Baptiste’s work inside. But some of it has also been the competition. If they’re willing to stand around outside and look for outside shots, the Pack Line loses some of its magic.
Fisher-Davis had 31 points on 9/18 FG including six treys against USC and also had 11 rebounds. Look for Devon Hall to match up with him. He’ll have trouble putting up those kind of numbers against Hall’s size and strength. Roberson will see a lot of Isaiah Wilkins, which is his advantage on the perimeter, but will hurt the Commodores on the glass. The Hoos could also choose to go small with Wilkins on Baptiste. Hall and DeAndre Hunter would then match up with Fisher-Davis and Roberson.
On the offensive side, this is definitely the best defense Virginia has faced this year. Vanderbilt has the length to match up on the perimeter and quick backcourt players to match up with Nigel Johnson and Kyle Guy. Roberson is the team’s best defender, so who will he match up against? He’s the only Commodore with the size to handle Hall. But that could mean having a smaller defender on Wilkins inside.
This is kind of obvious, but Jay Huff has a big mismatch on the offensive end. Vandy simply doesn’t have a perimeter player with the length to bother him. Then again, what team has a 7-foot perimeter defender? Huff will have his own matchup issues defensively, but if the Hoos need an offensive spark, look for Huff to get the call. Vandy has enough shooters to score against the Pack Line, so the Hoos may have to win this game with offense.
Game tips at 4pm on Thanksgiving day and will be televised by ESPNU.