Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It thinks a commenter may have found the reason for the drop in offense this season -- the lack of The Jimmer. (OK, not really. But it still doesn't have a better theory.)
Vanderbilt at No. 13 Marquette, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Back in the offseason, this was one worth circling on the calendar. But that was the offseason. In the immortal words of Christopher Wallace, things done changed.
Oh, Marquette is still rolling along, playing their brand of impressive ensemble hoops, scoring efficiently on offense, hustling tirelessly on defense, and thus far -- as you can see from all the green in their adjusted efficiency profile here (suscription required) -- building what appears to be a really solid all-around squad. The only thing Marquette doesn't do particularly well is defensive rebounding, where opponents are grabbing 34.5 percent of their misses. Otherwise, this team has few flaws.
The same can not be said of the Vanderbilt Commodores. Kevin Stallings' team suffered for the loss of forward Festus Ezeli early in the year; the Commodores can't rebound or score in the post without their big man, and a one-dimensional offense is easy to guard even if it features scorers like John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor. But Ezeli's absence doesn't fully explain this team's struggles to date. What does explain it? Turnovers, for starters: The Commodores are coughing up the ball on 21.4 percent of their possessions this season. That's too high. In the meantime, Vanderbilt's defense has done it no favors, allowing opponents a 49.6 effective field-goal percentage on average. Toss that in with some suspect finishes -- the Xavier and Louisville losses come immediately to mind -- and it's no wonder Stallings' team has yet to notch a truly impressive win to date.
The turnover issue is a new one, relative to the 2011 Commodores, which retained all five of their starters this season. That's a reason in itself to expect change. But the defensive woes are a long-term issue. Stallings' team wasn't quite this bad on the defensive end last season, but it was never particularly good either; that's just not who this team is. Which is why, at this point in the season, it's hard to imagine the Commodores leaving Marquette with a win tonight. It's also hard to imagine why so many thought Vanderbilt was a top-10 team to begin the season. (OK, so it's not that hard; when a team this talented returns all five starters, it's going to get preseason love whether it makes sense or not.) Vanderbilt probably isn't this bad. But even the most optimistic read places the Commodores right about where they were last season. We should have seen that one coming.
BYU at Saint Mary's, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Typically, when a new family moves onto your block, you prepare something nice. A plate of your homemade brownies, perhaps. A fruit basket. What did the West Coast Conference get BYU for its arrival, its first league game as the newest member of the WCC? A road date at Saint Mary's. What shoddy hospitality.
It's rather unkind, given that BYU's move to the WCC looks set to make this conference race -- typically held between Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, and traditionally dominated by the Zags -- more interesting than ever. The Cougars and Zags are at this point co-favorites to win the league, but Saint Mary's is not far behind, not with senior Rob Jones having a career year and Matthew Dellavedova guiding a capable offense from the off-guard spot. The Gaels are right there, tempo-free-wise: BYU and Gonzaga rank No. 20 and No. 26 in adjusted efficiency, respectively, but Saint Mary's trails just behind at No. 29.
In other words, this is no two-team race, a fact the Gaels will be eager to reinforce Thursday night. Should be good.
Everywhere else: Florida guard Mike Rosario will get that awkward "shoot, my ex-girlfriend just walked into the bar" feeling tonight, as his new team travels to New Jersey to face his old squad, Rutgers, where Rosario became a 1,000-point scorer in two years before transferring to Gainesville. Rutgers' chances for revenge are looking slim, but hey, you never know. ... Heavy Ivy League favorite Harvard will face a reeling crosstown foe in Boston College. ... Penn State and Michigan kick off their Big Ten campaigns in Ann Arbor, Mich. ... The underrated mid-major-ish game of the night comes courtesy of Marshall's trip to Belmont; consider it early prep for potential NCAA tournament upset mongers. ... And the much-maligned (and deservedly so) Pac-12 kicks off with four games out west. For all your Pac-12 primer needs, click here.