Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Vandy and Belmont gearing up for conference grind

We had to get here eventually. We’re only hours away from the start of 2016, which means you’re about to be a year older. It also means that you’re reading the final Three-Point Play of 2015.

Luckily, you and the Three-Point Play are like fine wine and only get better with age.

Let’s get right to it.

1. Vandy finds momentum heading into LSU clash

Western Michigan was just another game for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Or so it seemed on paper.

However, sometimes games come just at the right time.

Joe Toye continues to put up highlight reel dunks for Vanderbilt. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Joe Toye continues to put up highlight reel dunks for Vanderbilt. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Vandy’s 86-61 win over Western Michigan was one of those games. The outcome was expected, but it was the kind of game the Commodores needed before hosting LSU on Saturday.

Kevin Stallings saw five players score in double figures. He also saw the return of freshman guard Camron Justice from injury. And then he saw another freshman in Joe Toye throw down a couple of spectacular dunks.

It was the kind of night you need when the best player in the country comes to town over the weekend.

Although LSU’s 7-5 record has been disappointing, freshman phenom Ben Simmons has done anything but disappoint. He’ll be the center of attention in this game, as he should be.

There’s no doubt that Vandy is the better overall team. Sure, the Commodores have lost all four resume-builder games this season.

But from a purely team perspective, they’re better than LSU. Now it’s just about proving it on the floor.

Both teams need this game, and they need it in a bad way. With SEC play getting started, you have to start getting those resume wins.

Vandy has the momentum. LSU has the star.

No matter who wins, there’s going to be a ton of talent on display at Memorial Gym on Saturday night.

2. Belmont becomes the favorite as the OVC gets underway

Nothing about Belmont’s overall record stands out. The Bruins are 8-6 heading into the Ohio Valley Conference portion of their schedule.

But not all wins and losses are equal. Rick Byrd’s team has proven itself in wins against Marquette and Valparaiso. They’ve shown their worth in losses to teams like Arizona State, BYU and MTSU.

OVC Preseason Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw is ready to lead Belmont into conference play. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

OVC Preseason Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw is ready to lead Belmont into conference play. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

So what should we expect from them in the OVC slate?

That’s easy: The same old thing.

This is where Byrd and Belmont always shine. It doesn’t matter what your non-conference record is. At least not right now. All that matters is that you play well in your conference. That’s what gets you to the NCAA tournament.

And the expectations for Belmont are always the same. The Bruins enter as the OVC favorites, and for good reason.

Evan Bradds and Craig Bradshaw are a one-two punch that teams are going to have trouble stopping.

The first team that will have that challenge is Southeast Missouri State. Belmont starts the OVC schedule tonight in Cape Girardeau, with the Bruins feeling good about themselves after getting their revenge win over Valpo this past Monday.

So when Belmont walks onto the floor, look at them like you always do.

They’re the favorites. And that isn’t changing anytime soon.

3. TSU exceeding expectations entering OVC play

After jumping out to a 9-3 start, the Tennessee State Tigers had a chance to prove themselves in their first marquee game of the season.

That game? A road trip to Knoxville to take on Tennessee.

Vols fans probably thought it’d just be another game. Instead, Tennessee got more than it wanted from the underrated Tigers.

TSU took a 43-36 lead into halftime, and although the Vols found a way to score a 74-69 victory, it was obvious that the away team didn’t back down from the challenge.

Tahjere McCall and TSU are feeling good about themselves after a tough showing at Tennessee. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Tahjere McCall and TSU are feeling good about themselves after a tough showing at Tennessee. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Of course, most of the talk after the game has been about how sluggish Tennessee was. But what people are ignoring is that TSU is actually playing some very good basketball this season.

Keep in mind that this is the same TSU team that was picked to finish last in the OVC.

There’s still a long way to go before they are able to overcome that prediction. But at least at this point, the Tigers look nothing like a last place team.

Just ask Tennessee.

This week’s mid-state schedule:

December 31

Belmont at SEMO – 12 PM CT

January 2

TSU at SEMO – 4:15 PM CT

Lipscomb at Akron – 6 PM CT

LSU at Vanderbilt – 8 PM CT (ESPN2)

January 3

MTSU at UAB – 2 PM CT

January 5

Vanderbilt at Arkansas – 8 PM CT (SEC Network)

January 6

TSU at Eastern Illinois – 7 PM CT

Belmont at SIU Edwardsville – 8 PM CT

And-1:

Lipscomb’s struggles continued this week with a 80-56 home loss to Chattanooga.

The Bison are now 4-12 on the season, but with the loss of Josh Williams for the season due to an ACL tear, the OVC schedule could prove daunting for Casey Alexander’s team.

Anything else I should know about in Nashville hoops this week? Let me know on Twitter.