The Vanderbilt Commodores could not match the intensity of their efforts against Tennessee and Kentucky and fell to Arkansas 81-67 on Saturday. It was an uncertain situation after the abrupt Razorback coaching change, senior night, and reduced attendance because of snow. But the Hogs were the aggressors from the start and the Commodores were trying to come from behind all night.
The Arkansas loss gave Vanderbilt a 6-10 conference record, the same as South Carolina. A complicated system of tie-breakers resulted in the Commodores being paired with LSU in the SEC tournament first round. The Tigers defeated Mississippi 59-56 and Auburn 59-54 in the last week of play and also have a 6-10 conference record.
Vanderbilt defeated LSU 68-63 in Nashville on February 6. In that game Chuck Moore and Brendan Plavich led the Commodores with 18 points each, and the team went 22-11 from three-point range. LSU depended on a balanced attack, four players scoring 12 or 13 points. LSU outrebounded Vanderbilt 36-26, but turned the ball over more and made only four three-pointers.
6'6" forward Ronald Dupree continues to lead the Tigers in both scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 per game). He would be a sure first-team all-conference choice if he played for a more highly rated team.
6'7" Collis Temple is second in scoring (13.4 ppg) and rebounding (6 per game), but went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the first Vanderbilt game. 6'4" freshman Antonio Hudson has stepped into the breach. Hudson had increased his scoring to 9 ppg and has been playing a lot of minutes. He is a scoring threat from outside.
Torris Bright, 6'4" junior point guard, is almost as much a workhorse as Dupree. He is averaging 12.9 ppg and has increased his three-point shooting to an excellent 42%. However, he is not among the quicker point guards in the conference and has a shaky assist-to-turnover ratio.
6'7" senior Jermaine Williams (5.6 ppg) is a tough defender and a good free-throw shooter, but doesn't shoot much and is not an outside scorer. Rounding out the starting lineup is 6'8" Brad Bridgewater, 6.9 ppg, who barely gets more rebounds than Bright.
Depth comes from 6'8" Thomas Davis, 6'8" Jason Wilson, 6'1" Charlie Thompson, and 6'2" Xavier Whipple. None of them put up big numbers, but all but Whipple may play significant minutes in any given game.
Without Temple, it would appear that LSU is ripe for the taking. Yet this team won four of their last six conference games and one of the two losses was by one point to ranked Georgia. Earlier, the Tigers lost decisively at Florida, Mississippi, and Mississippi State, but since then they have been consistently tough. Like Vanderbilt, they won two road games in conference play (at Arkansas and Auburn).
What can one say? IF Vanderbilt comes out and plays aggressively, and takes the game to the Tigers, they stand a better-than-even chance of winning. They certainly have more and better outside shooting threats and there is no reason why they shouldn't match LSU on the boards. Dupree can be a handful, but even if he gets his usual number of points he will need considerable help from Bright and Hudson, or some unexpected source.
LSU seems to have the steadier team and Vanderbilt is more erratic. The wins over Tennessee in Knoxville, and over Georgia and Kentucky in Nashville, seems to show that, of the two teams, the Commodores can attain a higher peak in any given game. There is no obvious way to predict if this will be a peak game for them or not.
The winner the Vanderbilt-LSU game goes on to meet the Georgia Bulldogs in the second round of the tournament.