Vanderbilt basketball is 2-0 with Darius Garland. How long can it go without losing?

Vanderbilt basketball is 2-0 with Darius Garland. How long can it go without losing?
First look: Alcorn State
Vanderbilt basketball freshmen Darius Garland and Simi Shittu and company are out to a 2-0 start, and they might not lose for a while.

The schedule is manageable. The Commodores tip off a four-game homestand Friday (7 p.m., SEC Network Plus) against Alcorn State. Then theyll host Liberty, Kent State and Savannah State.

December will include a tougher stretch of games against North Carolina State, Middle Tennessee, Arizona State, No. 11 Kansas State, Tennessee State and UNC Asheville to round out the initial 12-game nonconference slate. There also will be a Big 12/SEC Challenge game at Oklahoma on Jan. 26.

Will the Commodores go 6-0? It seems likely. What about 8-0, 10-0, 12-0? Considering the tougher competition in December, that would draw major attention.

Vanderbilt went 16-0 to start the 2007-08 season. Its 5-0 record in 2015-16 is the best start since then. So for the sake of speculation, here are some factors that could determine how long the Commodores go without a loss:

If Vanderbilt plays reasonably well, it shouldnt slip up in the next four games. Granted, Liberty is an upper-tier Atlantic Sun team and Kent State is a quality Mid-American Conference squad, but the Commodores have superior talent.

Last season, Vanderbilt narrowly beat UNC Asheville 79-76, and it lost to MTSU 66-63. But UNC Asheville is now in rebuilding mode after coach Nick McDevitt went to MTSU, where he is trying to retool that roster. Neither team is as good as last season, and TSU also is rebuilding. But Vanderbilt still cant overlook any opponent.

North Carolina State, Kansas State and Arizona State all played in the NCAA tournament last season, so they will test Vanderbilts composure and chemistry. In Sundays 82-78 win at Southern Cal, the Commodores made a handful of ill-advised decisions that kept the game closer than it should have been. 

Garland, Shittu, dynamic guard Saben Lee, versatile senior Joe Toye and streaky-shooting Matt Ryan and Aaron Nesmith can play with any of those power conference teams. But they cant afford to waste possessions on bad shots or ill-timed isolated drives. The next four games will provide an opportunity for the team to mature and polish its approach.

Garland and Shittu are possible one-and-done NBA draft picks, and they look the part through two games. Garland, a former Brentwood Academy standout, scored 43 points and earned SEC Player of the Week honors. Shittu has averaged 16 points and 12.5 rebounds. Lee has worked well with Garland. Ryan and Nesmith are having an impact. Veterans Toye and Clevon Brown are finding their role, but transfer center Yanni Wetzell has work to do.

So far, this looks like a team that will get only better over time, but even five-star freshmen hit lulls. The Commodores should improve, but so will opponents approach to them. Vanderbilts consistency will determine how long it can go without a letdown or a loss.

Canned goods for free admission: Fans bringing five or more canned non-perishable food items per person will receive free admission to Fridays game against Alcorn State. Enter through the southeast entrance near the box office of Memorial Gym to drop off the canned goods and receive a free voucher.

THANKSGIVING SALE: Stay up on all the Vanderbilt basketball news in The Tennessean. Get unlimited access for less than $1 a month

Edit Slot to 247Sports Home Slot to Vanderbilt Commodores Newsletter Slot to Vanderbilt Links Vanderbilt returns home Friday to welcome Alcorn State to Memorial Gymnasium.

• Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised by SEC Network+ with Kevin Ingram and Shan Foster on the call.

• The two programs met less than 12 months ago when Alcorn visited Memorial on Dec. 22 and took a 92-51 beating. Jeff Roberson led the Commodores with 21. Current VU sophomore Saben Lee had 10 points and four assists in that win.

• Vanderbilt is coming off an 82-78 win at Southern California on Sunday. Freshman Darius Garland scored 19, senior Joe Toye had 16 and freshman Simi Shittu added 14 to go along with 15 rebounds.

“We definitely made improvements in some areas,” VU coach Bryce Drew said. “The nice thing is is there’s a lot of things we can work on to still get better at. Those are the things that we focus on in these practice days.”

“Can’t go to the West Coast without hitting In-N-Out,” Drew said. “We saved it for after the game and thankfully we won and we could enjoy it altogether.”

• Vanderbilt will be going for a 3-0 start for the first time since 2015 when that squad was 5-0 before losing to Kansas. The 2007-08 team began its year 16-0.

“We have to keep getting better,” Drew said. “We’re far from being a team that we wanna be and hopefully the team that we will be. You only get that way by working hard every day.”

• Although the sample size is incredibly small, VU ranks 17th nationally at defending the 3 at giving up just 20.9 percent. The Dores are also 74th nationally in scoring 87 points per game.

• Shittu is 18th in the country in defensive rebounds per game (8.5) and sixth with two double-doubles already.

• Friday could also mark the debut of redshirt sophomore forward Matthew Moyer, a Syracuse transfer who was declared immediately eligible this week by the NCAA.

• Alcorn State, a member of the Southwestern Conference located in Lorman, Miss., opened the year with a 73-56 loss at Tulsa and a 79-55 win over Blue Mountain College – an NAIA program.

• Junior guard Maurice Howard leads four Braves in scoring with 16 points per game. Junior forward DeShaw Andrews (14.5 ppg), redshirt senior forward Reginal Johnson (14 ppg) and junior guard Jonathan Floyd (11.5 ppg) are all also scoring in double figures.

• Alcorn State went 11-21 last season and 7-11 in the SWAC. The Braves had an RPI of 344 out of 351 Division I programs.


Posted in Garland