Scouting Report: Vanderbilt visits depleted Dawgs

Vanderbilt (11-6, 2-2 SEC) travels to Athens, Ga. Saturday to take on Sundiata Gaines and the Georgia Bulldogs (6-8, 0-4). Can the Commodores take advantage of a Bulldog team depleted by scholarship sanctions and defections? VandyMania's <B>VeeMan</b> takes an in-depth look at the Georgia roster and makes a prediction.<P> <I>Tipoff: 3 p.m. CST<br> Radio: 104.5 The Zone<br> Television: None</I>

After the first week of conference play the Vanderbilt Commodores looked like a team that could go to the Final Four. After the second week it appeared that might not make the NIT. Following a rather timid showing against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, the Commodores came out flat against the Florida Gators, unresponsive to a large and spirited (but disappointed) audience. The Gators took control at once and coasted to an easy 82-65 victory in which Vanderbilt never produced any real challenge, losing by double digits for the sixth time this season. Shan Foster and Jason Holwerda played the best, scoring 18 and 10 points respectively, with Mario Moore and Dawid Przybyszewski adding eleven and ten.

The Georgia Bulldogs have scrambled to a 6-8 record, their only victory over a major opponent being a 76-74 squeaker in Athens with Pac-10 cellar-dweller Oregon State. They lost to Western Kentucky, Nevada, Stetson, and by 38 points to Georgia Tech. Their first four conferences games have produced home losses to Tennessee and Kentucky and road losses to South Carolina and Mississippi. One scholarship player, sophomore Marcus Sikes, was dismissed from the team before the season began and another, redshirt freshman Corey Gibbs, went down to injuries again after playing in just nine games. With only six available scholarship players, none of them juniors or seniors, their problems have been just about what one might expect.

Head Coach Dennis Felton (right) is in his second year at Georgia, arriving to take over a program in shambles. In his first season with the Bulldogs he had no depth, but four senior starters carried the team to a decent 16-14 record. Previously Felton was at Western Kentucky where his teams posted an overall mark of 100-54 in the five years in which he was head coach, making three trips to the NCAA tournament. Before Western Kentucky, he had been an assistant coach at seven schools, including four years spent at Clemson. He is a no-nonsense coach who expects his players to also be decent students, the antithesis of his predecessor, Jim Harrick.

Georgia's point guard and second leading scorer is 6-1 freshman Sundiata Gaines(left) who plays 34 minutes per game. He is very quick (2.5 steals per game) and strong, but his assist/turnover ratio is barely above 1.0. He drives well to the basket, but has not been a consistent outside scoring threat (29.2% three-point shooting). He attended a New York City high school, has savvy, and should be an excellent SEC point guard in a year or two.

The leading scorer is 6-1 sophomore shooting guard Levi Stukes (right), who was a starter last season and is the most experienced player on the team. He is scoring 16.3 ppg and hitting 32.7% of his threes, and averages over seven tries a game from outside the arc. He plays 35 minutes per game and takes an average of 15 shots per game. Stukes hasn't been providing Gaines with any significant help in the playmaking area, but he does scoop up 3.7 rebounds per game.

A third starter is 6-4 freshman Channing Toney (left), son of former NBA player Andrew Toney. He is scoring 10.1 ppg and has made 34.6% of his threes, while playing 30 minutes per game. He has been the best free throw shooter on the team, making 90% of his shots from the line.

It is underneath that Georgia is weakest. 6-10 freshman Dave Bliss (right) was a late signee who had been largely overlooked by recruiters. However he has contributed 6.7 ppg and grabs a team-best 5.6 rebounds. He isn't likely to retain his starting role after this season, but for the present he is doing a decent job of using his 240 lbs to battle against other SEC frontliners. The fifth starter is 6-8 sophomore Steve Newman (8.1 ppg), an active 230-pounder (4.3 rebounds per game) who plays 27 minutes per game. A redhead who physically resembles former Florida Gator star Matt Bonner, he unfortunately has not shown Bonner's shooting touch.

The only other scholarship player is 6-9 freshman Younes Idrissi, who is from Morocco and has a limited basketball background. He plays about 13 minutes per game, averaging 3.0 ppg.

Coach Felton uses walk-ons extensively. The one who plays most is 6-1 freshman Kevin Brophy, a native of Australia. Seeing 16 minutes of action per game, he spells Gaines, Stukes, and Toney. He is averaging 2.8 ppg and has to date made 37.9% of his threes. It wouldn't be surprising if he receives a scholarship for next season.

The other walk-ons likeliest to play are three freshmen, 6-9 Sam Greavu, 6-3 Alex Evans, and 6-5 Matt Womack. None of them has made much of a statistical dent. Three others that could get into the Vanderbilt game are 7-0 sophomore Joey Waldrop, 6-5 senior Tommy Wainscott, and 6-1 junior Jay McAuley.

Georgia's strength has been its defense, which has usually held opponents to 70 points or less. Felton has his inexperienced team hustling, but they just don't have enough scoring punch or depth to do more than manage the occasional close game with SEC rivals, and maybe pull off an upset somewhere along the way.

The Commodores are not without their weaknesses, especially an inability to get much scoring on the inside. However this is a game with a badly outmanned opponent, one they should win, and they are picked here to defeat Georgia by a seven to fifteen point margin, and get their second conference road victory.

Photo credits: Sundiata Gaines, Channing Toney, Dave Bliss all by Dean Legge; Levi Stukes by AP's / Jeff T. Green; Dennis Felton by University of Georgia.


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