When Last These Two Teams Met...
Vanderbilt beat the Gators 95-87 in a game that was never close. The Commodores withstood a fast start from Florida, clawed their way back, and ended up taking charge early in the second half. It was perhaps the first game of the season where Vanderbilt fans got a glimpse of how good this team could be.
The Gators Starting Five
The Gators starters are averaging 61 points, nearly 85% of the team's offensive production. Florida has a lot of guys who can hurt you. When the two teams met in January, the Gator guards Kenny Boyton and Erving Walker scored 50 points (28 for Boyton, 22 for Walker) on 15-31 shooting, including 11-22 from downtown. Senior Dan Werner, since replaced in the starting line-up by Chandler Parsons, added 11 points, while Alex Tyus scored 12 points. Center Vernon Macklin was contained, scoring just 2 points in just 14 minutes of play after fouling out.
As of late, Chandler Parsons has emerged as a force for the Gators. The 6'9 junior is averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds a game. Parsons is averaging 17.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in his last 7 games, including pouring in 29 points in the team's loss to Georgia Saturday. Parsons played 25 minutes in January and scored just 8 points. Clearly, he will be more of a focal point this time around.
We'll know later this evening whether John Jenkins' start in Fayetteville was an aberration or the way it's going to be from now on. For what it's worth, I think The Future should have been starting before last Saturday. This is not a knock on Brad, who I (and the other VSL brain-trust) have sung the praises of throughout SEC play. Still, given how good Florida's guards can be, and the fact that Jenkins is not a great defender yet, Coach Stallings might put Brad back in the starting line-up for his defense.
Jermaine Beal can handle either Florida guard (although I think I'd put him up against 5'9 sophomore Erving Walker, especially after how he handled Courtney Fortson on Saturday), but whether John Jenkins can stick with Kenny Boyton (another freshman) defensively remains to be seen. Beal had a great game against the Gators, scoring 22 points on 6-13 shooting, 8-8 from the charity stripe, while handing out 5 assists. Jenkins also played very well (spelling Tinsely, who had an off-night on 0-6 shooting) scoring 13 points and grabbing 5 boards.
A.J. Ogilvy will certainly be matched-up with Vernon Macklin. The Aussie got the better of 6'10 junior when these teams last met, scoring 24 points on 7-13 shooting, 10-12 from the line, and 8 rebounds. This is the kind of game Vanderbilt fans would love to get out of A.J. on a nightly basis. He's shown good aggressiveness as of late, and hopefully his success in their first game carries over to tonight.
Its likely that the most important player for the Commodores tonight will be Andre Walker, who will start the game matched-up with Chandler Parsons. Walker had a great game in January, scoring 8 points, grabbing 10 boards, and doling out 7 assists. Walker seems to be in foul trouble a lot lately. While Steve T. can fill in nicely, I think the team is better of if Walker plays quality minutes.
Jeffery Taylor will defend Tyus. Taylor has been great at getting to the line. He continues to struggle hitting his outside jump-shot with any consistency, but more than makes up for it with his ability to get to the free throw line, and convert once he's there.
Depth Favors the Commodores
In SEC play, Billy Donvan only has 7 guys seeing double-digit minutes. Of that 7, 6 guys are playing 24+ minutes. Thus, Vanderbilt would be well served to get the Gators in foul trouble. Conversely, the Commodores have 9 guys averaging 10+ minutes, and only have 1 play (Jermaine Beal) averaging more than 30 minutes a game in conference.
Stats to Watch
- Free Throws: We've made a lot of this, but Vanderbilt's success this season is due in large part to their ability to get to the free throw line. After 14 conference games, Vanderbilt has attempted 107 more free throws than their opponents. More impressively, the Commodores have made just 2 fewer free throws than our conference opponents have attempted (324 ftm vs. 326 fta for opponents).
- 76: Florida has allowed 76.0 ppg in its nine losses, while holding opponents to 59.7 ppg in its 20 wins. For what it's worth, Vanderbilt is averaging 77.14 points a game on the road in conference play.
- Close Games: The Gators are 6-4 in games decided by five points or less, including 4-2 in SEC play. Since Jan. 1, the Gators are 5-2 in games decided by five points or less with the lone loss being at Tennessee on Jan. 31. Vanderbilt is 5-1 this season with games decided by 5 or less, and a mind-blowing 3-0 on the road in games decided by 4 or less on the road.
- As Macklin Goes, So Goes the Gators: In the Gators nine SEC wins, Macklin is averaging 12.1 points and nearly 5.4 rebounds per game, while in Florida's 5 losses, Vernon he has been in foul trouble and has averaged just 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. The less Macklin plays, the better off the Commodores are.
I think you could make the argument that Vanderbilt has been a better team on the road then they have at home during SEC play. Despite being 6-1 at home and 5-2 on the road, looking over the stats (which I left at my office, so you'll just have to trust me), Vanderbilt has played more consistently on the road. While the two losses at UK and at UGA were two of the ugliest of the year (except for the Cincinnati and Western Kentucky losses), when you take out all of the Commodores losses, the team's statistics are much better on the road than at home. That, if nothing else, indicates just how different (and special) this Vanderbilt team is compared to previous squads. Never before do I remember feeling that there wasn't a significant drop-off between home and away games for the Commodores. This year, there is no drop-off.
Vanderbilt has an opportunity to clinch no worse than a second place finish in the SEC East. Perhaps more importantly, they have the opportunity to play in a very hostile area against a desperate team that is still waiting to punch their ticket for the Big Dance. There is no better preparation for what this team will face than a game like tomorrow. Better still, they have a chance to do it on ESPN with America watching. VSL will be live-blogging the game tonight, and we hope you'll join us (even if you reserve the right to not post your comments about butt-cheeks)