It hasn’t been the start to the season that Vanderbilt fans were hoping for, but early reports of their demise might be a tad exaggerated. The home loss to Cleveland State was a little jarring, and the way they failed to close out Xavier, eventually losing in overtime, was disappointing; but there were some valuable lessons taken away from both contests.
Help is also on the way tonight for the Commodores in the return of center Festus Ezeli, who is returning from his six-game NCAA-imposed suspension. The big man averaged 13 points and 8 boards last season, but most importantly, gives Vandy an interior defensive presence to anchor their team defense.
Louisville is unbeaten, but also largely untested. They have a nice home win over Long Beach State, and a win over a very down Butler team that will likely not make the NCAA tourney; but aside from that, not too much doing. The Cardinals are also ravaged by a wave of injuries that have affected them at nearly every single position on the floor.
Kyle Kuric has been solid, and Peyton Siva is recovered from an injured thumb, but the injuries to their frontline will negate the advantage the might have had over Vanderbilt’s perimeter-oriented team. Louisville is a large favorite tonight, but I think the line is predicated a little too much on rankings in the polls and name value than actual position by position matchups.
Vanderbilt is heavily reliant on their perimeter shooting, but fortunately for them, they have two of the better perimeter shooters in the country. John Jenkins is averaging over 20 points per game and has been fantastic in the early season. Add in the size, shooting and slashing ability of wingman Jeffrey Taylor and you are looking at one of the better backcourts in the country.
Vandy may not have passed each test in the early season, but at least they have been tested. With the return of Ezeli inside, I think you are looking at one of the ten to twelve best teams in the nation. Though Louisville is the squad that is currently ranked in that realm, from one to eight, I think Vanderbilt is the superior basketball team.
Factor in all those things AND give them 8.5 points?? I gotta go with the Commodores on that one. Gimme Vandy with the points, though I wouldn’t blink if they won straight-up.
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