Hoyas pose first real test for Commodores

Vanderbilt has already played three Division I opponents, but the Georgetown Hoyas, in many ways, present their first real challenge. The Commodores have their first major-conference opponent and their first road game on Saturday at the MCI Center, and they don't plan on going down without a fight. Tipoff: Noon CT

Georgetown is a member of the Big East, which is arguably the best men's basketball conference in America in recent years. Despite receiving votes in both the media and coaches' polls, the Hoyas are seen as a middle-of-the-road Big East team. However, no matter how you choose to explain it, Georgetown is given more media attention and more credit than the Commodores, despite seemingly similar levels of ability and potential. Georgetown fans see Vanderbilt as a "lesser opponent," "a team we should beat," and "a mediocre basketball team from a mediocre basketball conference." As Vanderbilt's team has largely gone under the radar with regards to national media, this game is a huge opportunity for them. A win over a Big East team, on the road, would answer some of the questions that plagued the Commodores last season.

The Commodores missed the NCAA tournament last year, but they could have been considered a "bubble" team up until the SEC tournament. What kept the Commodores out of the tournament? Painful, painful road losses. In November, Vanderbilt lost to Arizona State and Southern Illinois at the Las Vegas Invitational. In December, the Dores fell at Oregon and at Cincinnati. There were many excusable road losses in the SEC schedule, but the team and the coaches made no excuses for losing at Georgia and to Auburn (at a neutral site) in the SEC tournament. The Commodores disappointing road schedule in recent years makes this early road game all the more important.

The Dores face a tough, young Georgetown team. Roy Hibbert, a 7-2, 280 pound center, is the early headline for the Hoyas this year, but the team last season was led by Brandon Bowman. The Hoyas' official website proudly boasts that Hibbert has averaged 21.5 points per game this season, and that he has scored at least 20 points in each game. However, the season is only 2 games old, and comparisions between Hibbert and Wilt Chamberlain are clearly premature. Last year, Hibbert averaged 16 minutes, 5 points, and 3.5 rebounds per game. His numbers were roughly the same in conference and non-conference play. Hibbert made 47% of his field goal attempts and 66% of his freethrows. So far this season, Hibbert looks as though he has made substantial improvement, if you judge by the points he has scored. However, Hibbert's field goal percentage this year is at an unsustainable 79%. Also, if Hibbert had improved as much as his scoring average would indicate, his coach would be giving him more minutes: Hibbert has played only 21 minutes per game so far this season, good for sixth on the team.

Hibbert will likely match up against Ted Skuchas and Davis Nwankwo for the Commodores. Nwankwo, a former teammate of Hibbert, is a very athletic player with excellent defensive skills. There is speculation that, because of this matchup and the emotional significance of the home-town game for Davis, Coach Stallings will feature Davis in a relatively larger role on Saturday. However, so far this season, Ted Skuchas has played well at the center position. Odds are that Skuchas will continue to play the bulk of the minutes at center, and that Hibbert will be a smaller factor than most people assume.

Georgetown's two biggest offensive threats are Brandon Bowman and Ashanti Cook. Each has averaged over 31 minutes per game this season and over 32 mpg last year. Cook, a 6-2 guard, had 80 assists and 36 steals last season. As a senior leader of this year's team, Cook's contributions will be more important than ever. He is a decent three point shooter, but in his 162 three point attempts last year, he made only 61 (37.7%). In conference play, his percentage fell under 35%. He is considered a relatively solid defensive player on the perimeter, but he had 56 personal fouls and only 36 steals on the season last year. Cook is very important to Georgetown's offense, but his passing efficiency is not up to what Vanderbilt gets from Alex Gordon and Mario Moore.

The real test for Vanderbilt's defense will be Brandon Bowman. Bowman is the team's best scorer, as well as one of the team's best three point shooters and rebounders. Bowman is also a good defender, leading the team in steals last season. Bowman contributes to Georgetown in a similar fashion to how Shan Foster contributes to Vanderbilt. However, this year Bowman has gotten off to a slow start with only 15 points and 6 rebounds in two games.

This is a tough non-conference matchup for both teams, and both expect to come out of the game with the win. Because the matchup is so even, the winning team will have to execute very well, and probably catch a couple of breaks along the way. With that in mind, here are the keys to the game for Vanderbilt.

(1) Shan Foster and Derrick Byars must outplay Brandon Bowman. Foster, the Commodores' defensive player of the year last season, will probably be on the court just as long as Bowman is, and he will likely defend the Hoyas' best offensive player. Bowman is a slightly larger player than Foster and Byars, but Vanderbilt's swingmen must not let that hurt their offensive efforts. Byars will likely be defended by a smaller player, and he will need to take some of the pressure off of Foster by being a solid offensive player throughout the game.

(2) Ted Skuchas and Davis Nwankwo must stop Roy Hibbert from having a comparable performance to his first two of the year. Roy has helped Georgetown overcome two mediocre performances from Bowman, Jeff Green, and Jonathon Wallace. If Vanderbilt lets the true sophomore put up comparable numbers, it will be tough for them to defeat the Hoyas. Skuchas and Nwankwo are very good defensive centers, and both need to pull their weight on the offensive boards.

(3) Julian Terrell has an opportunity to have an excellent game against a good opponent. Julian is coming off of a scary foot injury, which appears to have almost completely healed. However, Coach Stallings has remarked that Julian is still playing at less than 100%, and his timing is a bit off. Julian has had several days to practice and to heal. If Julian has a performance to rival his efforts at LSU near the end of last season, he could swing the game in the Commodores' favor. Hibbert is a good defensive post player with size and blocking ability, but Julian has excelled in big games against great post players in the past.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 79, Georgetown 70

Vanderbilt MVP: Julian Terrell

Georgetown MVP: Brandon Bowman

Georgetown's Brandon Bowman (1) takes a shot past Rutgers' Byron Joynes (21) during the first half at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J., Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005. Georgetown defeated Rutgers 61-56. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

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