Vanderbilt - Georgia Scouting Report

It's only January 12, but a profound sense of urgency – a grim one, too – has infused the Vanderbilt Commodores' locker room. It truly isn't an exaggeration to say that if VU is serious about making the NCAA Tournament, tonight's game against the Georgia Bulldogs needs to go into the win column.


Let's realize that the North Carolina team Vanderbilt beat in Puerto Rico is hardly an NCAA Tournament lock. Marquette is a quality win, but by golly, if the Dores and coach Kevin Stallings fall to 0-2 against the SEC East, they're going to be up against the wall in the battle for an at-large bid. There are obviously no quality wins to be found in the SEC West this year, so Vandy's NCAA profile has to be enhanced within its own division. The giveaway loss at South Carolina – a sickening and stomach-turning second-half slide into misery – has tagged this team with a bad conference loss. Since this Georgia game occurs on home hardwood, a loss just isn't an option. It's non-negotiable. At the very least, that's the attitude the Dores must bring to the floor. Georgia outplayed VU for 39 minutes last season in Memorial Gym, so the home team must redouble its efforts against an opponent that has spent the past 10.5 months improving ever since it blew that late lead against Vandy in the winter of 2010.

GEORGIA AT-A-GLANCE

Coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs are a delightfully unconventional team. They don't jack bad threes. They share the ball. They all buy into rebounding and defending. They don't have glory-seekers, but they do have five players who sniff out the ball and who also want to hound opponents until they wilt. The Kentucky Wildcats felt the pressure this new and improved Georgia crew likes to apply, and sure enough, Big Blue couldn't prevail last Saturday in Athens. A typically balanced performance, with four players hitting double figures, carried UGA to a 77-70 win that has affirmed all the preseason expectations that were heaped on the Bulldogs. They, unlike Vanderbilt, are surging in the early stages of SEC competition, and precisely because of their prudence at the offensive end of the floor, they're going to be a very tough team to beat.

STAT PACK – Key statistical measurements for the Bulldogs at this point of the season

Georgia is last in the SEC in three-point shooting (31 percent).

Georgia is 11th in the SEC in free-throw shooting (65.1 percent).

Georgia is second in the SEC in assists per game (15.1).

Georgia is second in the SEC in assist-turnover ratio (1.128)

Georgia is second in the SEC in assisted basket percentage (A/B percentage). The "A/B percentage" refers to the percent of a team's made field goals that are assisted, which reflects the level of one-on-one play (or lack thereof) on a given squad. Georgia's A/B percentage is 58. Therefore, 58 percent of Georgia's baskets involve assist passes.

Starting Lineup

Guard – Dustin Ware
– Junior 5-11, 182; 2010-11: 7.2 ppg, 3.3 apg

Last year, Ware became the first Georgia point guard to dish out more than 100 assists since 2001. The general scouting report against Georgia's main floor leader is that it's necessary to play a step off Ware and not allow him to create more shots for the other Bulldogs on the floor. Ware's numbers are pretty much the same as they were when VU prepared to host Georgia in the two teams' last regular-season meeting in late February of 2010. This shows, at least to a certain extent, that Ware isn't concerned with stats so much as the cohesion exhibited in UGA's halfcourt sets. Yet, while Ware is a distributor, he's also the team's leading three-point shooter (40 percent) and its leader in terms of other stats connected to three-point shooting. Ware's point-per-shot ratio and his effective field-goal percentage of (a layered metric that gives added weight to the value of three-point shots) are the best on the Bulldogs. For the record, Ware's point-per-shot ratio is 1.22 to 1. His effective field goal percentage is 57.1.

Guard – Travis Leslie – Junior, 6-4, 202; 2010-11: 13.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg

Leslie has been one of the more pleasant surprises for Fox this year, hitting the double-figure mark in scoring in all but three games this year. The Dores will take note that Leslie torched VU with 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the first game between the two schools last season. Leslie represents an unconventional wing player: He doesn't readily hoist threes the way so many other players would at his spot on the floor. Leslie clearly chooses to war in the paint and put in a lot of work on the glass. He's the kind of player a coach dreams about, and Fox certainly seems to be doing a great job of ensuring that Leslie stays on task in 2011. Leslie is the leading rebounder on the Bulldogs from his two-guard slot. He also leads the team in steals (1.6 per game) and in his offensive efficiency rating (16.9).

Guard – Gerald Robinson – Junior, 6-1, 180; 2010-11: 12.9 ppg, 4.5 apg

Robinson is proving to be a key difference-maker for the Bulldogs this season. A transfer from Tennessee State, Robinson sat out last season (that rule really needs to be changed in college sports, but that's another discussion for another day…) but has busted out all over for the Dawgs this year. Physically fresh because of his year off, Robinson has become a high-energy presence on the floor and a major dime-dropper to boot. The combination of scoring punch and 4.5 assists per night have made Georgia that much harder to defend, as Kentucky found out last Saturday in Athens. Having Ware and Robinson in the starting five gives the Georgia coaching staff not one, but two level-headed performers who direct traffic and make the Bulldogs a fluid offensive team. Vandy will have its work cut out this evening.

Forward – Jeremy Price – Senior, 6-8, 264; 2010-11: 8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg

Price's numbers aren't overwhelming, but then again, that's not a problem on a Georgia team that's balanced and versatile. The Bulldogs clearly don't depend on any one man to carry the load in any one facet of competition. Multiple players score, shoot, pass and rebound, so the brawny Price fits right into the mix for Fox's forces. On a squad with quick and shifty wing players who provide a high-gear form of athleticism for Georgia, Price is the muscleman who carries his lunch pail into the paint. Why is Georgia such a threat in the SEC East this year, and why was Georgia able to upend Kentucky a few days ago? The Dawgs have more resources to call upon, and Price is one of them.

Forward – Trey Thompkins – Senior, 6-10, 245; 2010-11: 18.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg,

On a team with many accomplished players, Thompkins is the Big Dawg. He uses his athleticism to get good looks around the basket, but he has also shown a propensity to stretch defenses with his outside shooting. His athletic body can make a big difference around the basket at the defensive end, but his scoring and rebounding totals indicate that Vanderbilt must pay attention to Thompkins primarily when Georgia has the ball. Lean and mean, he'll be a load for the Commodores within 10 feet of the basket. He's the number one reason why this divisional duel is going to be a very difficult ask (and task) for Vandy.

Bench

This is where the Bulldogs still fall a bit short. It's true that Chris Barnes delivers four points and four rebounds per game as a sixth man, but that's as good as it gets for this team off the (Georgia) pine. Three other players average double-digit minutes for Fox, but only one of them - Sherrard Brantley - averages as many as three points a night. If foul trouble or other factors make this a game of attrition, the Dores could face a shorthanded and winded Georgia team.

Keys to the Game

1. Find some backbone.
Really – there's not a precise X-and-O formula involved in this game. Georgia gang-rebounds the ball and is willing to share it as well. The Bulldogs are gritty and unselfish. This is a mindset game for Vandy as well as a survival game. The Dores have to be fed up with themselves after wilting late against the worst team in the SEC East on the road. You can feel the anxiety and the sense of inadequacy permeating the VU locker room (not to mention the fan base). A team that can run gorgeous set plays under Kevin Stallings has repeatedly shown an inability to display the toughness needed to graduate to the next level of college basketball excellence. This will not be a regular Sweet 16 (second weekend of the NCAA Tournament) program until it discovers and retains the ability to be mentally and physically tough in pressure situations. The South Carolina collapse is an ominous sign heading into this matchup against a clearly improved Georgia team that frankly should have won last year in Nashville. This is a stand-up-and-be-counted moment for Vanderbilt. It's more about the heart than matchups and strategies.

2. Rebound, rebound, rebound. Georgia exhibits a willingness to crash the glass with its guards, not just its pivot players, so Vanderbilt's five on the floor must tend to that need. It's fitting that in a game which prizes mindset more than anything else, the VU crew will have to show, as a collective whole, that it is serious about establishing a new tone for an SEC season that already stands on shaky ground.

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