Can Vanderbilt end its NCAA losing streak?

The NCAA has given the Commodores another tough draw in the first round of the Big Dance. In 2010 it was Murray State whose last-second jump shot made Vanderbilt's tournament stay short lived. This year Vandy gets a 27-7 Richmond squad which stormed through the Atlantic-10 Tournament and earned an automatic bid.

Last season Murray State used smaller, quicker players who can shoot well to knock the 'Dores out of the tournament. This season Richmond presents a complicated Princeton offense that poses more problems that the normal Ivy League edition.

Richmond has won 6 of its last 8 games against ranked teams including a 65-54 upset over Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings' alma mater, Purdue. In that game the Spiders limited the Boilermakers to just 30 percent from the field while out-rebounding their Big Ten opponents, 44-35.

"I told our team...this could have been a lot worse than it was," said head Purdue head coach Matt Painter after the Spiders defeated his squad to win the Chicago Invitational.

"They run a hybrid of the Princeton offense," said Brian Gregory, head coach of Dayton. "When you think of Princeton, it's slow down, a lot of passes, all of that. They are a high-octane, drive-it, push-the-ball-in-transition team. They're great in the open court.

Defensively the Spiders are solid as well having forced an average of over 12 turnovers a game while limiting their opponents to just an average of 40 percent from field goal range and 30 percent from the 3-point arc.

"One thing people always forget is they play the Princeton defense, too, which is a switching man-to-man," said Gregory. "They steal the ball a lot and force a lot of turnovers.

Defensively for Vandy, one daunting question for the Commodores is what to do about Justin Harper, a 6-foot-10, 225 pound sharpshooter who averages 18 points, 7 rebounds and shoots 78 percent from the line while making over 46 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Harper has caused a lot of teams problems this season. While Harper is excellent from 3-point range, he can beat you in other ways. In the Spider's win over Purdue Harper was 0-of-2 from 3-point range but made 6-of-11 shots from that field and 2-of-2 from the line to finish with 14 points.

Harper, a senior, has steadily developed into a solid weapon for the Spiders since his freshman season in Richmond. A local recruit from nearby Meadowbrook high school, Harper chose the hometown Spiders over offers from East Carolina, Providence and Temple. Both major recruiting services rated Harper a 2-star prospect but Harper has developed into a player that has given Spider opponents fits.

While Harper is still not a household name in college basketball some experts have taken notice.

"(He's) one of the most unheralded players in the country," said ESPN's Jay Bilas. "Harper is versatile and is a future pro."

One glaring similarity of Vanderbilt's past two NCAA opponents was the stellar point guard play of both Murray State and Siena.

Along with Harper, another key player for the Spiders is point guard Kevin Anderson. The six-foot Anderson, a senior from Atlanta, has been a lethal weapon of the Spiders.

Anderson (photo at right), who has scored over 2,100 points in his career, has averaged more than 26 points in four Richmond wins over ranked opponents. Anderson has been called one of the best point guards in the nation over the past 20 years and was recently named as one of the finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation's best point guard.

Can Kevin Stallings' squad end the awful string of opening round exits from the NCAA tourney? The Commodores will need a solid all-around performance on Thursday to beat a talented Richmond Spider squad.

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