Wednesday, January 16, 2008

VSL's UT Preview

Whenever Vanderbilt and Tennessee meet, no matter what the circumstances, it's a big game. The fact that Vanderbilt heads to Thompson-Boiling Arena ranked #14 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, and #16 in the AP, coming off a heart-breaking loss to Kentucky, after starting the year 16-0 makes it huge. Add to that, the fact that Vanderbilt got embarrassed on their last trip to Knoxville 84-57, that UT is ranked 6 by the Coaches and 7 by the AP, and that the game will be on ESPN featuring the silky-smooth call of Brad Nessler means this is a game all of Commodore Nation should be tuned in to.

The post-mortem on the UK has been pretty well covered on this site and throughout Commie Nation. Without belaboring the point too much, I can confidently say that if the Commodores turn the ball over 22 times, get down early, and get out-rebounded 45-23, they will lose. Tennessee is by far the best team the Commodores have played all season and the Commodores can bring nothing less than there "A" game if they are going to get back on the other side of .500 in the SEC.

The Volunteers are 14-1 overall (2-0 SEC) and are 37-2 at home since the 2005-06 season, including a 24 game home winning streak. As a team, the Vols lead the league in points per game at 86.7, just slightly ahead of the Commies' 86.0 point per. Clearly, both teams play an up-tempo style and like to run. The difference is a much better defensive team than the Commodores. While Vanderbilt is forcing 16.8 turnovers a game, the Volunteers have forced an average of just under 22 turnovers a contest. Those turnovers have, on average accounted for 24.9 points a game. When you consider Bruce Pearl's team's average scoring margin is 18 points, you see how important turnovers and points off turnovers are to the Volunteers' success.

As far as I can tell, there is not a weakness on UT's starting 5, and unfortunately, there is very little drop-off when Pearl goes to his bench. I'll start with preseason SEC Player of Year Chris Lofton. The senior has had, by all accounts, a disappointing start. He's averaging just 13.5 ppg, and shooting a career low from the field (.343) and from behind the arc (.333). At some point, the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball is going to snap out of it...all I hope it's not tomorrow against the Commies. If you can imagine, his play has been worse in his first 2 SEC games than in non-conference play, averaging 7.5 ppg and shooting 30% from downtown.

The Vols leading scorer is senior guard JaJuan Smtih with 14.9 ppg, and netting 18 points in SEC play to go along with his 7 rebounds. Sophomore transfer from Iowa Tyler Smith is netting 13.3 ppg and adding 5.6 boards for the Vols and will certainly be a handful for either Ross or (hopefully) Darshawn. The player that scares me the most for Tennessee is the 6-9 sophomore, forward Wayne Chism, who poured in 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in last year's schlacking in Knoxville. Chism scares me for several reasons. One, he is exceptionally athletic and very able defender. Not only can he make life very difficult for Crocodile OG, but he has potentially get the freshman in foul trouble as well. Given Vanderbilt's rebounding woes, the fact that Ross Neltner's play has been atrocious as of late, and the simple truth that Vanderbilt needs AJ on the floor to win, I would not be surprised to see Metcalfe and Croc on the floor at the same time. While Kevin Stallings would certainly be giving up something athletically, the "twin towers" would certainly allow Vanderbilt to dictate the pace of play should they need to.

Tennessee is an exceptionally deep team, with 7 players averaging over 19 mintues a game. The two "key" players off the bench for Bruce Pearl are Ramar Smith and J.P. Prince, averaging a combined 21.2 points per game between the 2 of them. Prince's only played 6 games this season, but has already reached double-digits twice. That's not to say Vanderbilt isn't deep and can't run; clearly they can. I look for both Alan and Darshawn to get some quality minutes, especially if Ross doesn't snap out of it. I also think Keegan Bell;s up-tempo style, combined with the emotion surrounding this game, will make him a player to watch. Tennessee's guards, relatively undersized, might also be a good opportunity for George Drake to have an impact.

As mentioned above, UT is a very good defensive team. The Volunteers like to pressure, and have been incredibly successful at frustrating their opponents. Another reason why I look for Keegan to get some quality minutes.

For Vanderbilt, Shan Foster and AJ Ogilvy (as always) have to shoulder most of the offensive load. The 1-2 scoring leaders in the SEC came up big at Rupp and will need to turn in an equal, if not better performance at Thompson-Boiling. AJ equipped himself well aganist his toughest defensive opponet(s) at Kentucky. Nothing less will suffice tomorrow. As for Shan, despite my obvious homerism, has to be considered the odds-on favorite to be SEC Player of the Year. Shan is averaging 20.6 points per game, while shooting lights out 53% from the floor and a mind-blwoing 51% from downtown. He was relativelt contained last year by UT (averaging 14.5 in 2 meetings last yera), and I'm sure Bruce Pearl will look for the same effort tomorrow.

Getting to the rest of the Commies: "Red" Gordon, while able to hit the big three, has also been known to take some ill-advised shots (see UK game in OT), and will need to have a good game in Knoxville. Jermaine Beal has played very well all season and has, by in large, done a great job getting Vanderbilt into an offensive rhyme. With that said, Vanderbilt can't get into an offense if they turn the ball over. Consider that in the Kentucky game, 34% of Vanderbilt's first half possessions ended in a turnover. Again, that's no way to win, particularly against a Tennessee team who has scored 33% more points than their opponents in the 1st half. While Vanderbilt has shown an ability to come back from large deficits (14+ @DePaul, UMass, and @UK), getting down early against a team that likes to press is a recipe for disaster.

Finally, there is Ross. I know I've been hard on the senior this season, but honestly, it's well deserved. While Coach Stallings was worred about how the young guys would react to Rupp, it was the seniors who looked flustered on Saturday. Leading that inauspicious charge was Neltner, who had 2 points on 1-2 shooting, 3 rebounds, and 5 personal fouls to go along with his team high 7 turnovers. I know there is a delicate balance between sending a message and hurting a kid's confidence, but CKS should not be shy about yanking Ross in favor of Alan or Darshawn. While I've made that plug 3 times in those post, and countless others as the season has unfolded, I cannot stress that enough.

Tomorrow should be a good one. Seamus and I will be reunited at Kensington Manor with the Richmond Chapter of the VSL Nation. If I don't personally know you and you'll be in the Richmond area, and you'd like to join the festivities email the intern and he'll put you on the guest list.

For the UT perspective, BruceBall's got a great preview up. Also, check out Mo's piece in today's Tennessean. We'll update this preview tomorrow morning with any other pertinent articles.

Finally, don't forget to enjoy the action by playing the Vanderbilt Nationally Televised Drinking Game as you watch. Think of it this way: either way you win.

Thursday Morning Update
:
Mo Patton writes in today's Tennessean about Shan Foster's emergence on the national scene.
Brett Hait's got a piece on J.P. Prince ending up in Knoxville after Vanderbilt refused to amend their transfer policy to allow mid-year transfers and his Vanderbilt Notes in today's Nashville City Paper.
Here is VUCommodores.com's preview for tonight's game.
The Tennessean's Bryan Mullen has a story on Chris Lofton's struggles and the frustration in Knoxville.
Finally, Jack Curry has a story in today's USA Today highlighting the showdown for all the business travelers who will inevitably watch the game at the Applebee's just across the street from their Days Inn.

3 comments:

rbk said...

Nice writeup and thanks for the link. I look forward to a great game tonight!

Stanimal said...

10.5 point dogs right now.

Aaron said...

Wow that line is surprising. I hate UT