The Vanderbilt Commodores have completed the pre-conference schedule with a record of 10-3, as almost everyone predicted they would. Most people expected that their three losses would be to Connecticut, Notre Dame (in the Hawaii Thanksgiving Tournament), and Western Kentucky. However, the Commodores defeated Western Kentucky and didn't play Notre Dame after being upset by the Monmouth Hawks. They lost to Connecticut, as expected, and their third loss was to Tulane in New Orleans.
Of course, pre-season predictions had supposed that Vanderbilt would have the services of Russell Lakey, but he has played a total of only 66 minutes to date.
As expected, Matt Freije is the leading scorer (16.7 ppg). Also averaging in double digits are Chuck Moore (12.8), Sam Howard (12.8), and Brendan Plavich (11.1). Five other players (Jason Holwerda, Scott Hundley, Dawid Przybyszewski, Corey Smith, Brian Thornton) have been seeing substantial duty. Freije has edged ahead of Przybyszewski as the leading rebounder, with Thornton a close third. Plavich leads in assists, steals, and three-point shots made (but Howard is very close in the latter catagory).
The Georgia Bulldogs completed their non-conference play with a surprising 11-2 record. Their only two losses were at Georgia State (83-78) and Hawaii (54-44). Their best victories were over Georgetown (73-59 on a neutral court), Colorado (81-73), Minnesota (77-55), Georgia Tech (95-82), and Pepperdine on the road (91-74). They have also defeated Furman, Georgia Southern, Samford, South Alabama, Arkansas State, and Miami (Ohio). The Bulldogs last game was on December 22, so they have had an uusually long layoff.
What makes Georgia's fast start remarkable is that Coach Jim Harrick has only seven scholarship players, plus two walk-ons who play significant minutes. Harrick was left short-handed when all four of his freshman signees failed to qualify academically. At some point this season, the lack of depth is likely to take its toll and the Bulldogs may fade from contention.
The leading scorer is 6'4" junior Ezra Williams (17.8 ppg), who is also the second rebounder (6.3 per game). Williams has made 41.7% of his three-point shots and fires away at that distance often, but also attacks the basket. Since Chuck Moore usually draws the opposition's top scorer, we may expect to see him on Williams.
6'6" sophomore Jarvis Hayes is scoring 16.6 ppg. He is a transfer from Western Carolina who drives to the basket for most of his points. He will also shoot the three, but has made only 29.1% of his long-range efforts to date. He averages 4.5 rebounds.
With Williams and Hayes on the wings, Rashard Wright, 6'0" sophomore, handles the point. Wright is not much of a threat from the outside (only five threes to date), but scores 8.5 ppg, leads the team in assists (4.5 per game), and turns the ball over remarkably little. His backup is 5'11" junior transfer Tony Cole (6.1 ppg). Cole, who is extremely quick, makes a lot more turnovers than Wright and sometimes pouts when his playing time falls off, but he can hit the three.
High post player Chris Daniels, 6'7" sophomore, is third leading scorer (12.2 ppg) and leading rebounder (7.6 per game). He is a workhorse who leads the team in steals and blocks. He is quick and a capable defender, who takes his shots from fairly close range.
Steve Thomas, 6'8", 230 lbs, is a sophomore who plays underneath the basket. He averages 8.4 ppg and 6.2 rebounds. He is not noted for his ability as a shooter and, over the long haul, may prove to be the weak link in the starting five.
Jonas Hayes, 6'6" sophomore, and twin brother of Jarvis, is also a transfer from Western Carolina. He has been playing with a broken finger, which is taped to another finger to serve as a splint. He is scoring 7.1 ppg and making over 55% of his shots from the field.
The two walk-ons who play are Mike Patrick, 6'4" junior, and Ryan Pevey, 6'5" senior. Patrick (2.6 ppg) plays on the wing and Pevey (230 lbs) has helped significantly under the basket in the five games in which he has appeared. Patrick is a three-point threat, but doesn't shoot often.
Harrick has coached exceedingly well to bring his team to a good record while playing eight of the first thirteen games on the road. However, and even though the Bulldogs will have the home court advantage, this is a game that Vanderbilt can win. The Commodores have more good shooters, and superior height and depth. In recent years, Vanderbilt has played better against Georgia in Athens than in Nashville. If the Dores play as well as they did against Western Kentucky, Hampton, and American, they could score an upset.