Senior Night is big, but UT game is bigger

The Vanderbilt men's team closes out its home schedule Wednesday vs. Tennessee, in a game loaded with SEC and NCAA tournament ramifications. The Commodores (18-7, 7-7 SEC) tip off vs. the Volunteers (14-11, 6-8) at 7 p.m. at Memorial Gym (no TV, 650 WSM-AM). Tennessee won the previous meeting in Knoxville, 76-66. VeeMan provides this pre-game analysis.

Vanderbilt gave it the old college try last Saturday, but just could not quite break the conference road winning ways of Mississippi State. The Bulldogs maintained a small margin of points almost all the way and won out in the end, 72-69. It was a game in which both teams shot "lights-out" in the first half and both went cold in the second. Vanderbilt's inability to stay on the boards with the Bulldogs and prevent second-chance baskets largely cost it the chance to win. Matt Freije once again led his team in scoring with 26 points; Mario Moore (10 points) was the only other Commodore to score in double digits.

As Freije, Scott Hundley, Russell Lakey, and Martin Schnedlitz play their final home game Wednesday evening, the Tennessee Volunteers are an appropriate opponent for Wednesday's festivities. Typically it is a night when emotions run high, and the presence of a bitter rival is certain to make the occasion that much more festive.

Tennessee enters the game 14-11, 5-9 in conference play. Wins have been few and far between for the Vols as the season has progressed, but they managed one last Saturday, beating Auburn at home, 75-69. Buzz Peterson's Vols defeated Vanderbilt in Knoxville 76-66 on Jan. 14, one of the most disappointing games the Commodores have played this season. Other conference victories for Tennessee, all at home, have been over Florida 65-63, Arkansas 69-65, and Mississippi 83-66. Their only road victory this season is at Massachusetts 74-66; they have lost at home to Kentucky (69-68), and to non-conference foes Louisville (65-62) and Georgia Tech (77-62).

A glance at team statistics reveals that Tennessee is at or near the bottom in most defensive categories. They are twelfth in points yielded per game and in steals, tenth in scoring margin and 3-point shot defense, and eighth in blocked shots. In offensive statistics the Vols are third in free throw percentage and assists, fourth in points scored per game and points scored on 3-pointers, and fifth in rebounding margin.

Tennessee continues to be led by 6-5 junior Scooter McFadgon (18.3 ppg and 4.2 rebounds), but Scooter has been in-and-out as the season has progressed. His shooting from the field has fallen to 40%, although his three-point accuracy is almost the same (39.5%); but he is a great free throw shooter (92.5%) who gets to the line quite often. Holding McFadgon down from the outside is a major key to beating Tennessee.

6-10 senior Brandon Crump is the big threat on the inside, where he averages 15.0 ppg and grabs 7.1 rebounds. Vanderbilt has had a lot of trouble containing him in the past. He gets to the free throw line as often as McFadgon, making 69% of his charity tosses. Crump was ejected after a brawl in Saturday's game against Auburn, but the SEC ruled him eligible to play vs. Vanderbilt Wednesday.

The third prong of Tennessee's attack, and arguably their most valuable player, is 6-2 sophomore C.J. Watson (11.0 ppg and a surprising 4.3 rebounds). Watson is an excellent passer who maintains a very favorable assist/turnover ratio (5.3 to 2.5). He makes the team go, hits his free-throws (79%), and is a good 3-point shooter (41%).

Five other players get significant minutes. 6-8 transfer sophomore Jemere Hendrix (7.4 ppg) and 6-3 sophomore John Winchester (5.8 ppg) have started most frequently, but 6-5 sophomore Stanley Asumnu (5.8 ppg) and 6-10 freshman Major Wingate (3.2 ppg) have started almost as often. 6-3 freshman Dane Bradshaw (3.3 ppg) has started only once but has played 14 minutes per game while backing up Watson. Hendrix has been especially effective on the boards (6.7 rebounds per game) and Wingate and Asumnu help out there too. For Vanderbilt, rebounding has been a weak point in conference play, and Tennessee presents another stiff challenge in that area.

Two other Tennessee players who see seven or eight minutes of action per game are 6-6 junior Justin Albrecht (2.0 ppg) and 6-10 sophomore Boomer Herndon (1.8 ppg). Tennessee uses ten players in almost every game, giving them more depth than many of the teams in the SEC.

With three good outside shooters (McFadgon, Watson, and Winchester) coupled with a pair of inside scorers and rebounders (Crump and Hendrix), the Volunteers can't be taken for granted. However, their leaky defense should be exploited by the more experienced Commodores. Look for a 10-to-15-point victory by Vanderbilt and a pleasant farewell for Vanderbilt's four graduating seniors.

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