Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Vandy shows its depth in hot start

The newest edition of the the Three-Point Play is officially here.

So sit back and enjoy the ride as you get caught up on everything you need to know about Nashville college basketball this week.

1) Vandy justifying its ranking as it prepares for Maui

Vanderbilt's Damian Jones is showing early in the season he is one of the best big men in the country. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones is showing early in the season he is one of the best big men in the country.
PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

The Vanderbilt Commodores were expected to win their first two games of the season. There’s nothing surprising about that.

But perhaps the way that Vandy has done it has been a little surprising.

The Commodores dominated Austin Peay on opening night in a 39-point victory, and then turned around and took care of Gardner-Webb by 36 points this past Monday.

Were victories expected? Of course. But this good, this early? Maybe not.

You can talk about the level of competition all you want. However, rather than being a team that is looking to work out its issues early on, Vandy appears to already be in mid-season form.

This Vandy team’s biggest strength? It is undoubtedly the depth. There’s a reason why some believe that this is the best team that Kevin Stallings has had during his tenure. It’s because he seemingly has options at every turn.

Vandy’s starting lineup is good. Very good. When you trot out two seven-footers in Damian Jones and Luke Kornet, you already have an advantage. And then you become even better by surrounding them with a dominant shooting trio of Wade Baldwin IV, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance.

But what allows the Commodores to go from good to great is the players on the bench.

Sophomore forward Jeff Roberson didn’t even play in the team’s shellacking of Austin Peay on opening night due to injury. He stepped onto the court against Gardner-Webb and scored a career high 18 points.

Riley LaChance is just one of the many Vandy outside threats that defenses must respect. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Riley LaChance is just one of the many Vandy outside threats that defenses must respect. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Cornell transfer Nolan Cressler is already showing his value in several different areas. He’s scoring, he’s rebounding and he’s getting good minutes.

Freshman guards Camron Justice and Joe Toye have also shown their potential in solid performances. Plus you add in a third seven-footer in Josh Henderson off the bench.

Vandy is simply loaded. In case anyone thought that this team was overrated heading into the season, the Commodores have eliminated that fear.

Past Vandy teams may have played down to the level of the competition. This team hasn’t.

Sure, it’s early. But there’s no doubt that Vandy’s depth is for real.

Of course, that depth will be put to the test when Vandy begins play in the Maui Invitational on Monday.

That tournament will undoubtedly tell us a whole lot more about just how far the Commodores can go this season.

2) Belmont gets split in tough road trips

Belmont's Evan Bradds will be a challenge for OVC defenses to contain. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Belmont’s Evan Bradds will be a challenge for OVC defenses to contain. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

It’s clear that Rick Byrd isn’t afraid of taking his Belmont team on the road.

The Bruins started off the season with road tests at Marquette and Arizona State, with the Bruins able to salvage a split.

Belmont’s balance proved essential at Marquette, as four Bruins scored in double-figures to give Byrd’s team an 83-80 victory.

While all the talk heading into the season surrounded OVC Preseason Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw, it was junior forward Evan Bradds that fueled Belmont with 24 points.

The Bruins weren’t done yet though, as they headed to Tempe to take on Arizona State on Monday. While Belmont came up short in a 83-74 loss, it was another game that proved that the Bruins are certainly a team that can hang with most power conference teams on any given night.

You can’t tell a ton about a team after a couple of games. But it was clear after the Marquette win that Belmont is essentially who we thought they were.

Bradds and Bradshaw are going to be a tough duo to stop. They showed that in the first two games against a Big East team and a Pac-12 team, then reaffirmed it in the hope opening win over Conference USA’s Western Kentucky.

Imagine how OVC teams will feel trying to stop these guys.

3) Lipscomb staying busy early in the season

Who needs practice or rest when you can play four games in five days instead?

Lipscomb's Casey Alexander PHOTO COURTESY LIPSCOMB ATHLETICS

Lipscomb’s Casey Alexander
PHOTO COURTESY LIPSCOMB ATHLETICS

That’s what Casey Alexander’s Lipscomb team has done to start the new campaign.

The Bison participated in the Cable Car Classic last week, winning one of three. That single win was certainly quite interesting.

Lipscomb found itself trailing by 10 points with only five minutes to play, but somehow rallied to force overtime. Then after a second overtime, it was the Bison that came out on top against a solid Santa Clara squad on their home court.

Although Lipscomb dropped the final two games of the classic to Milwaukee and Denver, it was good to get that one win early.

Luckily the Bison rebounded in its first home game of the season by beating Oakland City.

Is Lipscomb going to slow down for a bit now? Not quite. Three more games await the Bison this weekend, as they travel to Ohio to take part in the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic.

Who knows what this team’s record will be by this time next week.

But they will definitely be in shape after seven games in 10 days.

Mid-state hoops schedule:

November 19

Stony Brook at Vanderbilt – 7 PM CT

November 20

Lipscomb vs. Miami (OH) (Men Against Breast Cancer Classic in Oxford, OH) – 6 PM CT

November 21

Lipscomb vs. Northeastern (Oxford, OH) – 12:30 PM CT

Belmont at Evansville – 12:30 PM CT

MTSU at TSU – 7 PM CT

November 22

Lipscomb vs. Florida Atlantic (Oxford, OH) – 11 AM CT

November 23

Vanderbilt vs. St. John’s (Maui Invitational in Lahaina, HI) – 1:30 PM CT

Belmont vs. South Alabama (Legends Classic in Kennesaw, GA) – 3 PM CT

November 24

Vanderbilt vs. TBA (Lahaina, HI) – TBA

Belmont vs. IUPUI/Kennesaw State (Kennesaw, GA) – TBA

Reinhardt at TSU – 7 PM CT

November 25

Vanderbilt vs. TBA (Lahaina, HI) – TBA

And-1:

Vandy’s last appearance in the Maui Invitational came back in 2009. The Commodores lost their opening round game to Cincinnati before going on to beat Chaminade and Arizona to finish fifth in the tournament.

Vandy captured its only Maui Invitational title back in 1986.

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