Coach Kevin Stallings hopes to see his team play its best brand of basketball for all 40 minutes on Wednesday, as the Commodores return home to face the Oregon Ducks.
Last year, at the Pape' Jam in Portland, Oregon, Oregon sent Vanderbilt back to Nashville beaten and disappointed. Ian Crosswhite scored 16 points and landed 11 rebounds for the de facto home team, and two other Ducks (Aaron Brooks and Brandon Lincoln) scored in double figures. For the Commodores, Julian Terrell and Mario Moore led the way with 14 points each, but it was not enough to overcome the team's foul trouble. Five players for the Commodores finished the game with four or more fouls, while none of the Ducks reached that point.
Oregon's 2004-05 campaign seemed to all come down to Ian Crosswhite, who led the Ducks to victory over Vanderbilt. In 2004, Crosswhite led the team in rebounds in seven out of ten games, and twice led the team in points. In 2005, he never led the team in points (averaging only 5.5ppg) and led the team in rebounds only twice in seventeen games. He was dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy in February. While Ian was strong in 2004, the Ducks went 9-1; while he struggled in 2005, they put up a 5-12 record.
Vanderbilt is 3-2 all time against Oregon, including a 2-0 mark at Memorial. Since the start of the 2003-04 season, Vanderbilt is 35-4 in home games, and 27-0 in non-conference home games since losing to Connecticut on 12/1/02.
All this history won't decide the outcome of this year's game, but that doesn't mean it's irrelevant. Every Vanderbilt player who will play in Wednesday's game was with the team for last year's bitter defeat, and Coach Stallings is undoubtedly using last year's loss to prevent any letdown in effort after the big win at Georgetown. The team had its weekly day off of practice on Sunday, to give them a chance to rest and heal before preparing for the Ducks.
Let's take a look at how the Ducks and Dores match up:
Oregon: Aaron Brooks, (photo right) 6'0" 160, Jr. (7.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3.5 rpg)
Vanderbilt: Alex Gordon, 5'11" 165, So. (7.0 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.0 spg)
This matchup looks fairly even. Brooks played well for the Ducks last season, leading the team with averages of 14.7 points and 33.1 minutes. He is a 37% 3pt shooter and an excellent freethrow shooter. In 2004-05, he had 125 assists – more than any other 2 Ducks combined. Alex Gordon comes in with less experience, but has played fantastic basketball this year. Through four games, Gordon has 21 assists and only 4 turnovers. Additionally, to say the Commodores have more depth at the point would be a huge understatement. Vanderbilt's leader in points last season, Mario Moore, will again come off the bench in this game. Expect to see Moore and Gordon share the court occasionally, especially if Dan Cage remains unavailable due to his illness. Despite Vanderbilt's good depth, the basketball equivalent of a "quarterback controversy" may be brewing under the surface, and Brooks has what it takes to play 35 minutes if needed.
Oregon: Bryce Taylor, 6'5" 205, So. (11 ppg, 1.0 apg)
Vanderbilt: Shan Foster, 6'6" 200, So. (19.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.8 apg)
This matchup is no contest. Foster has lived up to the preseason hype of being named preseason First Team All-SEC by the coaches. His 20 points against Georgetown were essential to the Commodores' comeback against the Hoyas. Bryce Taylor started every game for the Ducks last year as a freshman, averaging 26 minutes and 11 points on 37% three point shooting. Taylor is a smaller offensive threat than Oregon's point guard, but he is also more careful with the ball and less prone to turnovers. Ultimately, Shan Foster is not only a much more potent scoring threat from the perimeter, he can also crash the offensive boards and play more effective defense than Taylor
Oregon: Malik Hairston(photo right), 6'6" 200, So. (13.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg)
Vanderbilt: Derrick Byars, 6'7" 223, Jr. (9.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 apg)
Derrick Byars has been a solid starter for the Commodores, but he has failed to show even a moment of true dominance. Byars is incredibly athletic and versatile, possessing both skill and talent, but he is still new to the Vanderbilt system. Coach Stallings' complex offense may be taking Byars' mind off of his natural game, but when everything clicks for Derrick, he still has the potential to dominate a basketball game. However, Oregon's Malik Hairston has played slightly better than Byars this season. Last year, while Byars waited out his transfer season, Hairston was arguably the most important part of Oregon's team (excluding the dismissed Crosswhite). Hairston plays bigger than he is, especially when it comes to rebounding, but his Achilles' Heel is his shooting touch. Much like Vandy's DeMarre Carroll, Hairston struggled on freethrows (47%), but is said to have focused on that part of his game in the offseason. While Byars has more potential to decide a game's outcome on his own, Hairston is a more reliable player who will make the Commodores fight for every rebound and loose ball.
The Post Players
Julian Terrell, 6'9" 248, Sr. (10.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.8 bpg)
Ted Skuchas, 6'11" 250, Jr. (7.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
Maarty Leunen, 6'9" 215, So. (9.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg)
Ray Schafer, 7'0" 235, So. (7.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
This is potentially the biggest edge that Vanderbilt has against Oregon. Losing the powerful Crosswhite was a huge blow last season, and the Commodores have much more muscle and experience in the post than the Ducks. Leunen was an important reserve player on last years' Oregon squad, starting only 4 games but averaging 20 minutes. He demonstrated adequacy in the post, but nothing spectacular came of his freshman season. His numbers this year seem to indicate some improvement, but the lanky forward has faced post players from overmatched teams such as Savannah State and Bowie State. Likewise, a major contributor to Ray Schafer's 7.3 ppg average was his 15 point performance in the Ducks' 83-23 win over Savannah State.
The Commodores will look for Julian Terrell and Ted Skuchas to dominate the battle of the boards at both ends of the court. Both players have put on significant muscle since last year, and outweigh their counterparts from Oregon by a combined 48 pounds. Terrell made critical baskets in the Commodores' comeback against Georgetown, while Skuchas shut down the Hoyas' Roy Hibbert, who entering the game was averaging 21.5 ppg. If Skuchas can give the Commodores a similar effort on Wednesday, it is hard to imagine any Oregon post player scoring in double figures. Also, credit the Dores with a stronger sixth man in DeMarre Carroll, who should be able to hold his own against the Ducks' forwards.
Overall, expect the Commodores to come out motivated to avenge last year's loss to Oregon. Dan Cage will likely have either limited or zero availability, so some of the Dores' advantage in depth might be neutralized. Expect Kevin Stallings to emphasize post offense early – both to exploit Oregon's weakness and to potentially create foul trouble where the Ducks cannot afford it.
Oregon will likely attempt to put the game in the hands of Aaron Brooks and Malik Hairston. If the shots are falling for these two, the Ducks could easily hold the lead at halftime. However, without the balance that comes with a scoring threat in the low post, the Commodores' defense should be able to deny Oregon's shooters any open three-pointers, which is a crucial step towards containing Brooks and Hairston. It will take a truly amazing performance from Hairston and Bryce Taylor in the second half if the Ducks are to stay close to the Commodores, as Vanderbilt's depth at point guard begins to catch up with Brooks.
Predicted Score: Vanderbilt 72, Oregon 60
Vanderbilt MVP: Julian Terrell
Oregon MVP: Malik Hairston