Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Showdown in Gainesville

Commodore Nation is not used to playing in games with national significance. But make no mistake about it, the Commies trip to the O'Connell Center is such a game. #24 Vanderbilt travels to #1 Florida tomorrow night for a game that college basketball fans across the country will be keeping an eye on. The last time Vanderbilt played a meaningful game in Gainesville, it was on the gridiron and the Commies got screwed. Tomorrow night, we can get our revenge.

As I sit down to write the preview, I am actually nervous. The last time the Commodores played a regular season game with this much on the line was in Memorial against Kentucky in 2004. The Commies prevailed and I almost got into a fight with a Kentucky fan for pointing out his most direct route home (I-65 North). But I digress...

Vanderbilt's 5-2 SEC start has "announced [their] presence with authority," and shown that Stallings' squad can play with anyone in America. Vanderbilt has won 5 straight against Top-25 teams and has already disrupted one impressive winning streak by handing LSU their first home loss in 19 meetings. The Florida Gators are winners of their last 12 and 14 straight at home. This is a good team, but with the way the Commies have been playing as of late, there is no reason to think that Vanderbilt isn't capable of leaving Gainesville with a win.

As everyone knows, Florida is very, very good. Every starter is an offensive threat who has the potential to take over a game. Joakin Noah would have been the first pick in the NBA Draft LAST YEAR, and is having another strong season. His athleticism and size certainly pose problems for the Commies, but the defensive effort Nelter and the boys showed in Baton Rouge against "Big Baby" Davis means that the Dores are capable of containing a dynamic big-man such as Noah. It is also worth mentioning that according the Papa O'Shea, I actually played high school basketball against Noah. I think if I had been featured more in our offensive gameplan, the Dutchmen might have prevailed. I only bring this up because I think it makes me sound cool and because I am still bitter.

Al Horford is also a beast. Averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds a game, his 6'10 frame, coupled with the 6'11 Noah means Vanderbilt will have to continue to focus on blocking out and limiting teams to one shot a possession. This was a key to the LSU victory, and will be no less important tomorrow.

Cory Brewer, Taureen Green, and Lee Humphrey round out Billy Donovan's starting 5, and each one is capable of going off. Cory Brewer's play this season has been sporadic, in part because he spent the first half of the 2006-2007 campaign recovering from mono. Taureen Green is the floor general, leading the Gators with just under 14 points and 4 assists a game. Maryville's own Lee Humphrey is not only a nice guy (right Floridore?), but also a fantastic shooter. In SEC play he is shooting a whooping 71.9% from behind the arc.

For Vanderbilt, defensive intensity and staying out of foul trouble will be key. Stallings will need to get some quality minutes from George Drake, Ted Skuchas, and JeJuan Brown to make sure the Commodores always have fresh legs on the floor. Rebounding, as always, will be key. We appreciate Coach Stallings taking to heart the advice offered on VSL about the need to redouble our efforts on defense and off the glass. So far, the team has responded…we hope they keep it up tomorrow.

Personally, I would love to see Vanderbilt continue to mix in some zone traps with their man-to-man and 2-3 zones. If we can disrupt Florida’s offensive flow, force bad shots, and turnovers then the Commies have a real shot.

A few notes about our boys. Derrick Byars is playing sentential basketball, and was even mentioned by Clark Kellogg as the possible Player of the Year in the SEC. Byars is 3rd in the league in scoring averaging 18.7 points a contest. Fellow Senior Dan Cage has also stepped up lately, scoring double digits in his last 12, and averaging 15 points in SEC play (tied for 5th). Shan Foster is also averaging 15 points, and has made himself and Derrick one of the deadliest duos in the SEC (if not the country). Finally, “Red” Gordon deserves much love. His assist-to-turnover ratio in SEC play is 2.33. He is taking care of the basketball, distributing it to his teammates, and hitting big shots in the clutch.

Beating a team as good as the Gators is never easy, especially on the road. But this is a game Commodore Nation has been waiting to play for a long time. The game will be on Lincoln Financial Sports and picked up by ESPN Full Court. If you read this blog and don’t watch this game, you are a hoser…maybe not as big a hoser as the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll voters, but a hoser nonetheless.


Seamus O'Toole said...

I know I'm both insane and a complete Vandy homer, but I love the way we match up against Florida. The matchup to look for is 6'5" Dan Cage against 6'11" Joakim Noah. Cage's defense has been incredible lately, and what he gives up in height (playing the 4 spot) he makes up for in tenacity. Look for him to have a hand in the Frenchman's face all night.

What's even more interesting is what that matchup does to Florida's game plan. With Cage's shooting ability, Noah will be forced to venture out toward the perimeter, which is not where Billy would like him to be on defense. That creates a potential for either open looks at 3s or back-door/p&r plays.

In all honesty, what scares me most is Foster guarding Humphrey. Lee is always moving on offense, and Foster hasn't faced many 2-guards like him this season.

The other issue is Neltner. He's needed help in defending big men like Randolph Morris and Glen Davis, but the Commies can ill-afford to double down on Horford in the post when Noah is sure to be close by. Look for Skuchas to get a few more minutes than we've been used to seeing him play this year.

The guy who gave us a lot of trouble last year was Cory Brewer, but I think Byars will be ready to handle him. This is a big chance for him to put himself on NBA scouts' permanent radar.

If we mix up the looks at run some traps, as Bobby said, then I think we can take Green out of his comfort zone and create problems for their offense. After that, all we gotta do is shoot lights-out. No problem.

Anonymous said...

Take it from me, UF can be beat. Noah is good, but not nearly as good as the media makes him. He's not even the best player on the Flordia team. With that said he can be stopped, but then you have to stop Humphrey from behind the arc....good luck with that.

Uncle O'Shea said...

OK Shamus...yeah...all you gotta do is hsoot lights out. Then all you gotta do is get to LA and you can hook up with Lindsay Lohan. The all you gotta do is get to your corner store, buy a ticket and hit the lottery.

Stanimal said...

Lindsey Lohan wouldn't be hard to hook up with. She's a huge slut anyway.