Against Kentucky, the ‘Dores went toe to toe with the heralded Kentucky Wildcats and came away with a victory. While Kentucky struggles on the road, it is a team Vandy has struggled with and needed to beat to earn a growing national reputation. Then the Commodores went to Georgia. Even though they fell behind, they showed tenaciousness on defense in holding the Bulldogs scoreless from the field for over nine minutes. Finally, even though Auburn is awful, the Tigers played as if they had nothing to lose in trying to take down VU. Though Auburn hung close for a while, Vandy was able to pull ahead comfortably and win by 17.
Now Coach Kevin Stallings' club has a chance for redemption against a Tennessee club it, by most accounts, should have defeated when they faced off the first time and had a lead as large as 17 in the first half. And this time the Dores should be relatively close to full strength with the return of Andre Walker against Auburn. While he only played 11 minutes, Walker provided a steadying influence when he is on the court, not to mention a point-forward who can bring the ball up against pressure, something that was key in the North Carolina win. Should Walker remain healthy and gel with his teammates he has not been on the floor with, the Commodores can make a strong case for a No. 4 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. That's not counting the possibility of earning at least a tie for the SEC title considering Florida still has trips to Kentucky and Vanderbilt. While Vandy also has to make the Lexington trip, its first win over Kentucky was without Mr. Walker. Whether it wins the SEC or not, Vanderbilt needs to continue to get better so it can actually move beyond the first weekend of the NCAA's.
Bruce Pearl will be on the bench Tuesday night, and probably in his orange blazer. That should take some of the attention away from his red face with the way his Vol's have played since his return to the bench. Counting the January 22 game at UConn, where Pearl was allowed to coach because his eight-game suspension only affected SEC games, Tennessee is 1-4. Granted, UT has not had a gimme opponent in those five games, (South Carolina, who the Vols defeated being the closest,) but more is expected in Knoxville of both Pearl and his program.
Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt back in January for one reason, toughness. In the final 8:36 of the game, the Commodores failed to grab a single rebound. This lack of toughness, from Vandy's perspective, was highlighted when UT's point guard, Melvin Goins grabbed a key rebound in the final minute over two larger Vanderbilt defenders. VU figures to have its highly effective offense on display Tuesday night in Memorial Gym. The question for Vandy fans as their rivals to the east come into town is, will it show some fight? As for Tennessee, Pearl is looking for players to "step up" since Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris scored 50 of UT's 63 total points in its six-point loss to Georgia.
Center – Brian Williams – Senior, 6-10, 270; 2010-11: 7.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg,
John Fields has been Pearl's choice to start, but he typically plays only five minutes while Williams gets the bulk of the minutes. Since Pearl will need someone who can matchup with Festus Ezeli, expect the same from UT, if in fact Williams does not start. Williams is the Vols' leading rebounder but still has difficulty scoring consistently in UT's Flex offense. Lacking an ability to score away from the basket, The Flex, which often takes Williams away from the basket, takes away scoring opportunities from him. A senior, Williams has had double-digit scoring in only five of Tennessee's 12 SEC games.
Forward – Tobias Harris Freshman, 6-8, 225; 2010-11: 14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, .340 3-PT %
The 2010-11 season has been disappointing in many ways in Knoxville, but that's not Tobias Harris' fault. The freshman from Dix Hills, New York is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding. Where Williams struggles to find shots in The Flex, Harris is built for it. He has a very well rounded game. He can consistently hit middle range jump shots, has shown improved ability to hit the 3-pointer, is an above average passer, and has size to go down low. In UT's three-point victory over the Dores in Knoxville, Harris scored 15 points while grabbing nine rebounds. Andre Walker's return couldn't come soon enough for this matchup that he'll probably share with Lance Goulbourne.
Guard – Melvin Goins – Senior, 5-11, 180; 2010-11: 7.7 ppg, 3.0 apg
A mantra commonly repeated by analysts is, "Great teams have great point guard play." If true, that statement explains a lot about the Volunteers this season. Goins fails to hit important shots, turns the ball over just as much as he gets assists, and gets lost defensively. That will not cut it in the SEC. Dores' fans however probably remember his key rebound late in the first battle of these two rivals. If he's anything, Goins is tough.
Guard – Cameron Tatum – Junior, 6-6, 190; 2010-11: 9.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Tennessee's reputation nationally is that it lacks discipline on offense. Tatum is the poster child for this reputation. Tatum is 6-6, has an ability to consistently attack the basket off the dribble, but too often is content to shoot jump shots from long-range. At his size, Tatum typically has a smaller defender guarding him, but does not look to take that defender inside as often as he should. A staple of The Flex is the ability to post numerous players but Tatum does not regularly do this.
Guard – Scotty Hopson – Junior, 6-7, 200; 2010-11: 17.4 ppg, 3.4 apg, .391 3-PT %
Hopson is both UT's best player and most consistent player. He has improved every year too. His scoring has improved by five points a game from a season ago, despite little change in the amount of minutes he has played. This is mainly due to his improved shooting ability. A year ago, the reputation of Hopson was that of an athlete who could hurt you in transition and off the bounce. Now, this season he is an almost 40 percent 3-point shooter and improved his foul shooting almost 14 percent from a year ago. Hopson has been particularly impressive in his last three games, scoring 77 points while making 8 of 18 from beyond the arc. One bonus for Vandy in matching up with Hopson is that with the return of Andre Walker, it can free up Jeffery Taylor to spend more time guarding Hopson.
Tennessee continues to use a deep bench, playing 11 players on its roster 10 minutes a game or more. Pearl's problem is he does not get any scoring from anyone, partially due to no one getting enough minutes to establish himself as a reliable third or fourth option. Four guards come off the bench, Josh Bone, Trae Golden, Skylar McBee, and Pearl's son, Steven Pearl. Of the four, McBee is supposed to be the key shooter to come off the bench and provide an offensive spark but in two years has not developed into a consistent shooter. Bone is a physical defensive-minded player. Fields, a 6-9 forward mentioned earlier, lacks post offense but is a tough defender who grabs 3.3 rebounds per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Limit Tennessee to one-shot possessions. In January, though overall rebounding was equal, UT doubled up VU on offensive rebounds, 16 to eight. In a game that boiled down to one possession, those offensive rebounds made a difference. Tennessee ended up shooting the ball 23 more times from the field than Vanderbilt. Even though Vandy outshot the Vols, the Dores went down to defeat because of the extra opportunities they gave away.
2) Don't forget Festus. Playing an up-and-down team like UT can take a team out of rhythm on offense. This clearly happened when the Commodores last faced off with Tennessee. In that game, Festus Ezeli inexplicably only took five shots. Meanwhile Brad Tinsley took eight. When the ball goes inside for Vanderbilt on offense, good things tend to happen. Too often it seems Vandy passes up open post feeds to settle for jump shots. Not that jump shots are bad, VU does happen to be one of the best shooting teams in the country, but when you have a physical post presence like Fes, he needs to get touches. Ezeli should get double the number of shots he took in Knoxville.
Scouting Report: Tennessee
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