This was the match-up Commodore fans were afraid of. But after the Bulldogs soundly defeated Arkansas 77-64, Vanderbilt will have to face off against the team that probably played them the toughest all season. While Kentucky was the only team to sweep the Commodores in the season series, I'd argue that Georgia actually gave us more trouble, despite having defeated them 96-94 at Memorial in overtime. The truth is, Vanderbilt was extremely lucky to escape their February game against the Dawgs with a W.
Georgia's dynamic duo of Trey Tompkins and Travis Leslie torched the Commodores in both meetings this season. Travis averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds against Vanderbilt, while Tompkins seemed unstoppable with his 19 points and 7 boards. Tompkins comes into tonight's game with a staggering 23 point, 14 rebound, 6 assist performance in their win over the Razorbacks.
The story in their opening round win Georgia's rebounding and Arkansas' three-point shooting. The Razorbacks hit just 1 of their 12 three point attempts, while the Dawgs were 5-13 from downtown, and 46.6% field. On the rebounding front, the Dawgs grabbed 41 rebounds, compared to just 25 for the Razorbacks.
The Commodores will undoubtedly try to get the bad taste out of their mouths after the disappointing finale against South Carolina on Senior Day. Vanderbilt comes into the game, like most teams this time a year, less than 100%. Brad Tinsley will undoubtedly be less than 100% after suffering a sprained knee in the finale. Lance Goulbourne, who wasn't played since the Arkansas game in Fayetteville almost 2 weeks ago, is expected to play and will probably benefit from the time off to recover. He'll be important, especially if Tinsley can't contribute quality minutes. The fact that The Stroke John Jenkins replaced Brad in the starting line-up before he went down makes him less important. At this point, Tinsely's significance is spelling Beal running the point, while also a defensive substitute for Jenkins, who is still not a great defender.
A.J. Ogilvy was basically a no-show in Vanderbilt's first match-up with Georgia in Athens. Ogilvy failed to reach double digit points for the first time in 12 games, being held to 6 points on 2-8 shooting. I've defended A.J. and think he's been unfairly criticized by Commodore fans. For Vanderbilt to advance though, I think A.J. will have to have a big game (especially if Vanderbilt can't contain Trey Tompkins). The Commodores should try and establish A.J. early, get the Bulldogs in foul trouble, and control pace. His performance against Georgia in Nashville was one of his best: scoring 17 points, despite shooting just 3-10 from the floor (he was 11-14 from the stripe), while grabbing 10 boards.
While Vanderbilt will ask a lot of their guards against Georgia, I think the key player for Vanderbilt might be Andre Walker. Walker had a HUGE game in the Commodores come from behind victory in Nashville for the overtime win, netting 17 points while grabbing 6 boards and dishing out 3 assists. The key for Walker (and the Commodores) is staying out of foul trouble as he is probably the team's second best ball-handler given Brad's injury. Walker will be asked to help out on Tompkins, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Vanderbilt go big against Georgia and play Beal, Taylor, Stevie Thunder, Andre, and A.J at times. I'd love CKS to sick Stevie Thunder on Tompkins, especially given how important A.J.'s presence will be on the offensive end. Whomever gives it to them, I think the Commodores need a strong showing from the 4 spot.
Bottom Line: Vanderbilt is a better team who's struggles with Georgia are border-line inexplicable. Georgia is definitely the best sub-.500 team in America, but the Commodores have more talent, better depth, and more to play for. Vanderbilt hopes the SEC's bye teams don't suffer a similar fate to their Big East brethren 3 of 4 whom lost their first tournament games. This is not a team Vanderbilt can sleep on. Vanderbilt is, as far as I'm concerned, 0-1-1 against the Dawgs. Vanderbilt hasn't lost back-to-back games since December. Unfortunately, that second loss came on the same floor the Commodores with square off on tomorrow. Drew Berry picked the Commodores to win the SEC Tournament on ESPNU's The Bracket a few minutes ago. But as the old cliche goes, one game at a time.
Douglas James and I will be out with the NYC Chapter of VSLNation at The Kings Head for the game scheduled to tip off around 9:45 p.m. Any Commodores in the Big Apple should come on by.