Vandy seeks road win at UF's raucous O-Dome

Still seeking its first SEC road win, Vanderbilt travels to Gainesville, Fla. Saturday to face No. 21 Florida. The Commodores (14-4, 3-4 SEC) meet Billy Donovan's Gators (13-6, 4-4) at the O'Connell Center at 6:30 CT / 7:30 ET (Fox Sports South TV, 95.5 WSM-FM). Vanderbilt won the previous meeting in Nashville, 86-72. VeeMan analyzes the matchups and makes a prediction.

Beating Kentucky is always special, and Vanderbilt's 66-60 win over the Wildcats last Saturday was probably the most pleasing event of the season to date. The way the win came added to the pleasure, as the Commodores overcame a ten-point Kentucky lead in the last twelve minutes, during which they played tough defense and yielded just seven points. Matt Freije led the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds; David Przybyszewski was the only other player who scored in double digits, with 13 points.

Now the Commodores must go on the road again, where they are 0-3 in conference play with losses to Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. Vandy defeated their next opponent, the Florida Gators, 86-72 at home on Jan. 17 and played one of their best games of the year. A victory in Gainesville would give Vanderbilt a 4-4 record in the first half of the conference schedule, and provide a lot of momentum.

Florida is 4-4 in conference play and will be coming off two very disappointing losses, 65-63 at Tenneseee and 68-65 to Kentucky at home on Wednesday. However, they still have two road wins (88-78 over Alabama and 65-62 over South Carolina), and home victories over Tennessee 95-57 and Auburn 68-52. They also lost on the road 79-68 to powerful Mississippi State as well as to Vanderbilt.

The Gators have been notoriously inconsistent. This is in keeping with their youth, as nine of their 11 scholarship players are either freshmen or sophomores. David Lee, 6-9 junior forward (right), is one of their stars, but his scoring average (14.7 ppg) has been slipping in recent games. He is also easily the leading rebounder (7.3 grabs per game). Lee's last really good game was a 24-point performance against Alabama.

The only senior on the team, 6-9 center Bonell Colas, is far from a star player. His figures to date are 5.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. He never shoots from anywhere except beneath the basket, and sometimes it seems like he just can't find the target even from that short range. Lately 6-9 sophomore Adrian Moss (5.8 ppg and 4.6 rebounds) has replaced Colas in the starting lineup, but he is erratic. 6-8 freshman Chris Richard (4.1 ppg and 3.3 rebounds) is potentially the best of the three, but his development has not been rapid. One would think that the combined scoring and rebounding figures of these three players (15.5 ppg and 11.1 rebounds) would add up to effective post play, but their effectiveness has been much less since conference play started. They do spend part of their time in relief of Lee.

6-9 sophomore Christian Drejer is the best passer on the team, but he played badly against Vanderbilt, then missed the next game (Mississippi State), and threw the ball away twice in the closing minute of the Kentucky game. He is essentially a "point forward" (3.8 assists per game, best on the team), also scoring 10.4 ppg and pulling off 4.9 rebounds per outing.

6-1 sophomore Anthony Roberson is nominally the point guard and handles the ball capably. But it is apparent that he feels more at ease looking for his shot than setting up his teammates. Since the Vanderbilt game he has been shooting and scoring consistently (performances of 17, 26, 21, 20, and 19 points). He is the best three-point shooter among the starters (43%).

6-6 sophomore wing player Matt Walsh (14.2 ppg) is always dangerous, either taking the ball to the basket or shooting from the outside. However, he is making only 32% of his threes and his play can be erratic. He is undoubtedly talented and if he learns to play under more control he will become an all-conference player.

A player that has emerged as a major contributor since the first Vanderbilt game is 6-2 freshman Lee Humphrey, of Maryville, Tenn. He is making 55% of his 3's and is a hustler who contributes strongly to the defense when on the court.

None of the other three scholarship players (slender 6-10 freshman Mohamed Abukar, 6-3 freshman point guard Ryan Appleby, and 6-3 sophomore Rashid Al-Kaleem) have been major factors. Their scoring averages are: Abukar 3.3 ppg, Al-Kaleem 2.9, and Appleby 1.2.

Florida is a team that has plenty of talented players, a weakness at the low post, and a lack of experience. On any given night they can be terrific or extremely disappointing. Apparently they haven't yet gelled as a team.

Trying to predict SEC games this year has mostly been an exercise in futility. Only Mississippi State has been consistent, except for losing at the last second in a home game to Kentucky. On any given night, any of the others seems to be capable of beating anyone else, at home or away.

Florida will be looking for revenge against Vanderbilt, and will be trying to snap back from the close losses to Kentucky (in which they blew a nine-point game in the last five minutes) and Tennessee. Vanderbilt is certainly capable of beating the Gators in Gainesville, but the Commodores haven't yet proved that they can put it together on the road in the SEC. The odds say that Florida will get a close win by two to six points.


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