The 3-0 NC State Wolfpack take on the 3-1 Vanderbilt Commodores in the coveted Vegas Showdown. While the competition hasn't been spectacular, NC State is off to a hot start. This will be the Wolfpack's first test of the season against a Power-5 opponent, and one that they've seen on occasion. Under head coach Kevin Keatts, NC State is 2-0 against Vandy.
Senior guard Tyrin Lawrence has yet to step on the floor for Vandy this season due to a number of injuries. Well, brace yourselves because it looks like the captain of this squad is making his return against NC State. In a Twitter post late Wednesday night, Lawrence posted a picture of Bruce Wayne starring at the Batman suit from The Dark Knight. Safe to say that Vanderbilt's superhero is back. An underrated guard, Lawrence started in 34 of 36 games played while finishing second on the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game. Efficiency is where he shines brightest after connecting on 56 percent of 2-pointers, Lawrence has proven he is lethal from all areas of the court. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he actually gets after coming off an injury, but to sleep on this kid would be a huge mistake.
Fifth-year senior guard Ezra Manjon is the Robin to Lawrence's Batman. The two are just flat-out fun to watch. Currently leading the team in scoring at 18.8 points per game, Manjon has been the backbone of this roster while his backcourt partner has been out. While Lawrence can do it all, Manjon is out there to get buckets. Averaging 16.1 points per game in the month of March, Manjon really turned it on for his team when they needed it most. Manjon has not shown signs of slowing down, putting up double-digit scoring outputs in every game of the season so far. Manjon is currently tied for 75th in the nation in scoring. This is going to be an electric backcourt matchup between NC State and Vanderbilt. Be sure to get comfy because it could go back and forth with all the playmaking ability that's on the floor on Thanksgiving night.
Sophomore forward Colin Smith is an excellent glue piece that knows his role and plays it well. The 6-foot-8 wing is a great three-point shooter but has gotten off to a slower-than-usual start only knocking down 31.8 percent. Don't let this number fool you, Smith can hit some shots. The big knock on the big man is that he needs to be more physical and grab more rebounds. Looks like Smith took the criticism to heart and is now leading the team in rebounds at 9.5 per contest which is tied for 42nd best in the country. Smith secured back-to-back double-doubles in the last two outings for Vandy and will be a fun matchup against junior forward Mohamed Diarra.
Now that the season is starting to gain momentum, stats will start to mean a little more than they did before. With context, we can grasp a better idea of what each team brings to the table.
NC State is still playing their brand of basketball which is being elite at forcing turnovers. The Pack are forcing 15.7 turnovers per contest, 58th best. While this is great to see, nothing compares to the fact that NC State is taking care of the ball. At only 7.7 turnovers per game, State is currently third-best in the country. As stated before, the competition has not been up to par, so while it is encouraging for now, expect this to fluctuate as the season ramps up.
This bodes well for how NC State wants to play against Vanderbilt, a team that has been coughing up the ball all season long. Creeping up outside the top 200, Vandy is giving the ball up 12.8 times per game, tied for 193rd.
While NC State is only allowing its opponents to put up 58.7 points per game, 18th best, it has to be taken into consideration the offenses they've faced. The Wolfpack have not gone up against a team that has multiple options quite like Vandy. The Commodores have given up more than 70 points in just one game so far this season. A big knock on this squad last year was the defense, but it looks like that isn't quite the case for the time being.
This is going to be a battle of the backcourts. Vandy's go-to scoring option lies within their backcourt while other players provide important minutes. NC State has been able to spread the ball around and get multiple guys involved. While the Pack has four players scoring in double figures, Vanderbilt only has two.
The two that make up most of their offense are Manjon and senior guard Evan Taylor. The two combine for 29.3 of the teams scoring. Throw in a possible Lawrence into the mix, now this offense is looking legit at the guard spot. While both junior guard Jayden Taylor and senior guard DJ Horne got off to a slow start, the two are both averaging 13.0 points per game. Horne has scored in double figures in the last two outings, while Taylor hasn't provided the same consistency.
The season is starting to heat up for everyone. In-season tournaments are just the start of it all. This game is going to be loaded with playmakers like a dinner plate on Thanksgiving. NC State takes on Vanderbilt at 10:00 p.m. The winner of this game will go up against the winner of BYU versus Arizona State.