Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Does Size Matter?: VSL's South Carolina Preview

In going over the Game Notes prepared by both Vanderbilt and South Carolina’s Sports Information Departments, nothing really jumped out at me. As I said in yesterday’s Hotline, Vanderbilt cannot look past this South Carolina team, despite their 8-6 record and the fact the Commies have a nationally televised game on CBS coming up versus Kentucky on Saturday. South Carolina has, overall, played more quality opponents than the Commies have with games against Southern Cal, NC State, George Mason, and # 19/18 (AP/Coaches) Clemson, even if they are 0-4 against these teams. Against Mason and NC State, two games they lost by a combined 3 points (2 to Mason, 1 to State), the Cocks led by 4 and 5 points respectively at the half, only to squander those leads in both contests. Against the other two “quality” opponents, the Cocks trailed by 10 and 17 against USC and Clemson respectively. While there isn’t much “there” there, I would only say Commie fans should not be discouraged if our guys get down early.

The Cocks come to Memorial after a tough 61-58 loss to UNC-Asheville in Columbia on Saturday. Dave Odom’s squad is led by a dynamic backcourt of transfers with sophomore guard Devan Downey transferring from Cincinnati and averaging 18.6 points and 5.4 assists a game, and junior guard Zam Fredrick coming to Columbia by way of Georgia Tech and scoring 16 points and 3.7 assists a contest. Both these guards are undersized (Downey 5’9 and Fredrick 6’0), although when all is said and done, the Commies starting backcourt is only 4 inches taller. It’s also worth mentioning that Downey scored 18 at Memorial in the Bearcats 92-83 win in 2005 as a freshman. Dolla Beal and Red Gordon will have their hands full, but both have played well this season and are sure to be aggressive, especially given the quality minutes both Keegan Bell and Seamus’ 2009-10 SEC Player of the Year George Drake have supplied in the early going.

The match-up to watch is the battle inside between freshmen centers Sam Muldrow and Crocodile OG. On paper, the man from the land down under would seem to have the edge as he enters SEC play averaging 19.3 points and 7.3 boards a contest. Still, he has gotten himself into foul trouble in several games this season. The Commodores offense is much more dynamic with him on the floor, and AJ staying out of foul trouble will be important not only tomorrow, but as the team gets deeper into SEC play (This obvious point comes courtesy of John Madden). Even still, if AJ gets into trouble, Commodore fans can take solace in the fact that Alan Metcalfe is available off the bench.

The Cocks are a young team, with only one upperclassmen starting. The Commies, on the other hand, have 3 seniors in their starting 5, including The Truf, Shan Foster, who enters SEC play averaging 20.4 points a game and already a 3-time recipient of the SEC Player of the Week award for the 2007-08 season. Shan needs just 255 points (an average of 15.9 to break it by his final regular season game) to become Vanderbilt’s All-Time leading scorer. Guarding Shan will be the responsibility of a sophomore, either Chad Gray or Dominique Archie. Archie is the more prolific scorer of the two (averaging 10.7 points ppg), which might compel Odom to put him on Ross Neltner whose play thus far has been, in my estimation, disappointing. Tonight would be a great night for a breakout from Ross, especially given the size advantage (2 inches and over 30 lbs.) he will have over whoever matchs-up against him. Also, don’t be surprised if Stallings goes to freshman Darshawn McClellan early and often in this game. Darshawn played 25 minutes (compared to Ross’s 15) against UMass, while grabbing 9 boards and scoring 5 points. Darshawn has established himself early as an impact player off the bench and has, from my vantage point, come in a filled the hole of “enforcer” left in the wake of DeMarre Carroll’s transfer last year.

Vanderbilt is getting 67.1 of it’s 87.3 points per game from it’s starting five (77%) while South Carolina’s starting unit is only contributing 52.2 of the team’s 77.9 points (67%). While that is not a significant discrepancy, this says to me that the Cocks rely more heavily on their bench for scoring than the Commodores have thus far this season. As eluded to above, the Commodores have gotten some quality minutes from the bench this season. Darshawn McClellan and Keegan Bell have provided sparks off the bench, while the sheer potential of Drake, and the flashes of brilliance from Alan Metcalfe (see DePaul game), mean Vanderbilt is as deep a team as any in the SEC.

A few key stats worth looking at when comparing these two teams are rebounding margin and turnovers. Vanderbilt has a +2.5 rebounding edge over opponents this season, while the Cocks have a -.9 margin. Given Vanderbilt’s (however slight) height advantage, Vanderbilt should look to dominate the glass on both ends of the floor. A cause of concern for me, and the rest of Commodore Nation, has to be our turnovers. Entering tonight’s contest, South Carolina is averaging only 11 turnovers a game, while Vanderbilt is giving the ball away just over 16 times a contest. That number has to go down. Further, South Carolina boasts a +3.5 turnover margin, while the Commies only own a +.7 margin on that front. Being sloppy with the basketball is one thing during non-conference play, but now that conference play has started, the Commies have to commit themselves to taking better care of the basketball.

Vanderbilt’s defense has been nothing if not disappointing almost this entire season. The Commies enter SEC play 12th in scoring defense (allowing 75.6 points a game), and 10th both in FG% allowed (42.9%) and 3FG% allowed (35.2%). This hasn’t been too much of a problem given that the Commies are 1st in 3FG% (45.3%), and 2nd in scoring (87.3), FG% (49.2%), FT% (74%), and assists (19). Still, Luke Winn’s point on cited a few days ago is well taken: Vanderbilt must become a better defensive team if they are to be properly considered as one of the elite teams in the country.

But enough about what I think, what do you think about what I think? In case my stellar analysis isn’t enough, here’s what Mo and Brett have to say about tonight’s match-up. It’s worth mentioning that I wrote this preview before reading either article, so if there is blatant plagiarizing, it’s just because I am just that good.

Big game tonight for the Commies night which you can follow either by a) going to the game, b) listening online by clicking here and selecting Live Audio, or c) by tuning into Sirius Satellite Radio 122 (now that I have Sirius – by the way great gift sweetpea – I will be providing that information whenever I actually post a preview).

Bobby, OUT.


Unknown said...

thorough and well stated, just what I needed to break up the day. Well done Bobby.

Boyer in the District said...

Size definitely matters.



Anonymous said...

as far as i'm concerned this is a new season and i still worry about the commies. 1-0 so far, but at uk and at ut will both be huge tests. hopefully this was foster's down game before these.

Anonymous said...

how about the student section being packed 2 hours before the tip and some lining up 5 hours early?! i think the inagural Memorial Madness was an enormous success, to say the least! the players were giddy, and the pit was rockin' from the first whistle to the last buzzer! go dores!