Partly because of the quick turnarounds, partly because I write plenty of previews, and partly because most of the SEC is uninteresting, we haven't done a lot of opponent-aided previews for Florida this basketball season. But Vanderbilt is really, really interesting, even if the Commodores have no NCAA Tournament aspirations to speak of and a rotation held together by twine. So I reached out to Anchor of Gold, SB Nation's fantastic Vanderbilt blog, and Christian D'Andrea was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Florida's used to seeing good, tough Vandy teams under Kevin Stallings, but that doesn't seem like the profile of the Commdores the Gators will see tonight. How did Vanderbilt get to this point?
Attrition has been a killer for Vanderbilt. Here's the lineup we thought we were getting for 2014:
And here's what we've actually got (scholarship players only):
PG: Kyle Fuller
SG: Dai-Jon Parker
SF: Rod Odom
PF: James Siakam, Shelby Moats, Luke Kornet
C: Damian Jones
The entire recruiting class of 2013 was lost to transfers, although two were special cases: Jeter wanted to play for Pitt so badly that as soon as they mentioned a potential roster spot, he bolted, and Bright went back to Germany and turned pro, allowing him to stay close to his ailing mother. Somewhere in the middle of all that, Johnson, this team's leading scorer in 2013, was suspended for a full year due to undisclosed violations of team policy. Then Henderson went down with a knee injury, leading to Kornet joining the rotation despite moving like a Jim Henson creation after growing from 6'3" to 7'0" in the past 18 months. (Editor's note: Holy hell.) Finally, Eric McClellan, who had stepped into Johnson's role as leading scorer out of the backcourt, got thrown off the team for an unspecified violation of academic rules.
Losing a young, explosive core like Bright, Jeter, McClellan, and especially Johnson should have crippled this team. Instead, they're afloat at 7-7 in SEC play despite running out a skeleton squad. At full strength, this team had the horses to make a NCAA Tournament run. Instead, the season has been dotted with heartbreaking losses — but also some gratifying wins. The relative weakness of the SEC has played a part, but Vanderbilt has been much better than many expected this winter.
Vandy uses essentially a seven-man rotation at this point. How has it affected this team, and has it made for any unusual results or developments?
Parker, Odom, and Fuller have been playing ironman basketball as of late, and they've actually been thriving doing so. It's been inspirational to see those veterans take on a leadership role and keep this team afloat.
Kornet has stepped up after developing late in his high school career, and it's clear that he's got a ton of potential as a floor-stretching big man. He should be able to team with Damian Jones, who has been shouldering the scoring load inside, to create an inside-out duo that makes waves in the SEC for the next three seasons. And let's not forget undersized PF Siakam, who is tenacious on both ends of the court and developing into a valuable piece of Kevin Stallings's puzzle.
And the best development so far? Walk-ons Nathan Watkins and Carter Josephs got 26 minutes of playing time in last week's win over Auburn and combined for seven points and nine assists.
Florida's the No. 1 team in the country now, and Gators fans remember being No. 1 and losing at Vanderbilt in 2007 pretty vividly. What would Vanderbilt have to do tonight to repeat that bit of history?
Opponents found a way to exploit Florida's three-poing defense in their two losses this season. Wisconsin and UConn both shot better than 45 percent from long range in those games.
Vanderbilt lives and dies by the three. If they can make those big shots, especially as a counterpunch for when Florida inevitably goes on a big run, then they can pull off the shocker at home.