“If you look across the nation, there’s hardly ever any top 25 non-conference home games, because all those games are now neutral games,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I know fans love great non-conference games. We’re excited that our fans have a chance to come out and watch.”
It’s hard to overstate how big this game is in the context of non-conference play. The Bears play three games against teams that are currently ranked, but Vandy is the only game being played at home. In addition, the Commodores will test Baylor’s zone in a way that it has not been yet.
Vanderbilt’s game plan is pretty simple. Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are a pair of 7-foot big men who will soon be playing in the NBA. Jones is expected to be a lottery pick in the 2016 Draft. The Commodores have surrounded Jones and Kornet with elite 3-point shooters. As a team, Vanderbilt shoots 39.4 percent from the 3-point line and 49.5 percent from the floor.
Sophomore guard Wade Baldwin IV is the lead guard that keeps the Commodores going. He leads the team with 14.4 points per game and assists 3.0 rebounds and 50 percent shooting from the 3-point line on over three attempts per game. He is also projected as an NBA Draft pick.
However much this is a test for Baylor, it is the same for Vanderbilt. The Commodores earned a lofty ranking heading into the season based off a strong close to SEC conference play last season. Vanderbilt is 6-1 this season, but lost its only matchup against a ranked opponent (70-63 to No. 5 Kansas in the Maui Invitational).
These two teams met last season, with the Bears emerging victorious 66-63 in Nashville, despite being without starting point Kenny Chery. Royce O’Neale played the game of his life, dropping 22 points on 11 shot attempts. Someone will have to step up into that role this year. Jones and Kornet combined for 34 points and 17 rebounds for Vanderbilt.
With Johnathan Motley now on the bench, Baylor is a slightly undersized lineup. Jones and Kornet are two of the bigs in the country that might be able to take advantage. The Bears will also need to get effective guard play from point guard Lester Medford. Turnovers could kill Baylor in this one.
The Bears will also need strong contributions from their stars. Taurean Prince has been inconsistent shooting the ball this season, but he will need to have a game against this defensive front that prove he deserves to be mentioned as a first round selection. Rico Gathers will also need to put up a double-double against this fearsome front court.
Baylor basketball is treating this game as one of the biggest matchups of the season. The Bears are hosting a Greek contest night, with the most members in attendance earning $500 for their organization. MBB is also reaching out to the community, offering $5 tickets for anyone who comes with a ticket stub from Baylor-Texas.
“We always say you can watch a game or you can come out and affect it,” Drew said. “We need a big crowd.”