Who would have believed that Vanderbilt would lose a second consecutive home game by the score of 66-43? Another cold shooting performance, including only two of twenty three-pointers made, sent the Commodores down to defeat at the hand of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Not until the shots start going down will this cruel slump end. Chances are the shooting slump will end suddenly, but the rebounding situation is more chronic. The Commodores also lost the battle of the boards 41-19.
The meager 86-point total in two consecutive games is the least since 1982 when Vanderbilt defeated Florida 51-48 and then lost a slow-down game to Mississippi State 33-31. Beyond that, one has to go all the way back to 1949 for lower point production, when the Commodores beat Miss. State 35-29 and Alabama 36-31, with a 48-46 loss to Auburn in between.
Maybe the prospect of turning the tables on the Tennessee Vols will bring about less thought and more action. The Vols will be coming off a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in Lexington in which they led nearly the whole way, only to be edged out 64-61 at the very end. A dazzling three-point performance by Vincent Yarbrough was wasted, principally due to numerous close-in shots blown by Marcus Haislip.
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Yarbrough still leads the Vols in scoring (18.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 per game). Haislip is second in both statistics (16.8 ppg and 6.6 rebounds). The other starters are guards Jon Higgins (7.7 ppg) and Jenis Grindstaff (6.2 ppg), and post player Brandon Crump (7.3 ppg).
One reason for the Vols loss to Kentucky was uncertain guard play, especially from Thaydeus Holden (7.0 ppg), who is shaping up as a major disappointment. Grindstaff turned the ball over too much, but at least he was trying to make something happen, while Holden and Higgins were watching.
Three other Vols uusally get into action. They are freshmen Elgrace Wilborn (3.1 ppg) and Derek Stribling (1.7 ppg), and senior Del Baker (1.2 ppg).
Tennessee has plenty of height under the basket in the form of the 6'10" Crump and Haislip, and the 6'8" Wilborn. Yarbrough is 6'7" and a high leaper. Haislip is probably the highest jumper in the SEC and blocks two shots per game.
Recently, Vanderbilt's usual greatest strength (shooting) is the team's weakest point. Yet this could be the game in which the log jam breaks loose. If the shots start falling, look for play to improve dramatically in all other areas. Playing on the road may take some of the pressure off the Commodore players and allow them to perform more smoothly.
Tennessee now has a 6-7 conference record and is still in the hunt for an NCAA berth. After playing Vanderbilt, the Vols must go to Florida and play tough Georgia at home.
As for Vanderbilt, barring a miracle the NIT is the only hope for post-season play, but even that probably won't happen unless they win at least two more games. Right now, perhaps the main thing is to somehow stop the slide and avoid closing the second consecutive season on a long losing streak.