The point guard position has been a big story for both squads this season. Florida's star rising-senior point guard, Anthony Roberson, decided to become a professional basketball player, leaving the untested Taurean Green at the wheel. Green has done an amazing job all season long, and seems to only get better as the season progresses. He has become quite adept at scoring from the point as well as coordinating the rest of the offense. Many, if not most, basketball fans would pick Green as the finest sophomore point guard in the country – ahead of even Kentucky's Rajon Rondo.
However, for Vanderbilt, only inconsistency has come from the point guard position. Mario Moore's struggles culminated in a medical leave of absence from the team recently, which seems to have aided him as he recovers his usual good spirits. Mario attended the recent home victory over Kentucky and was filmed shooting around in Memorial before a practice this week. He will not return to the team for this game, but there is reason to think that he might come back before the season is over. In Moore's stead, Alex Gordon has been somewhat more consistent as a point guard, but has not shown the same penchant for organizing the Vanderbilt offense. Also, due to Gordon's bumps and bruises, Derrick Byars and DeMarre Carroll have been forced to bring the ball down the court and set up Vanderbilt's offense. Things have been working though, as Coach Stallings has decided to push the tempo on offense with great results, while mixing in some zone on defense to allow his starters to play more minutes than ever before.
So in this game, important for both teams, it stands to reason that the performance of the point guards will have a lot to do with the outcome. Here, it is clear that Florida has the edge, but Vanderbilt's defense has recently proven that it can stop a team's guards from dribble penetrating much more frequently than earlier in the season. In fact, the point guard position will not even be the biggest edge for Florida, judging by the teams' previous meeting in Gainesville.
The post positions are Florida's biggest advantages, and it will take a huge game from Julian Terrell and DeMarre Carroll for Vanderbilt to neutralize this Florida edge. Carroll and Terrell each average double figures in scoring (11.2 and 10.3 respectively), and Terrell ranks 5th in the SEC with 7.5 rebounds per game on the year. Carroll is coming off an 22 point, 12 rebound performance against Kentucky, and has performed with consistant excellence since being moved to a starting role. However, Joakim Noah and Al Horford look even more impressive.
At first glance, Horford and Noah are similar to Terrell and Carroll. Horford averages the same amount of rebounds per game as Terrell (7.5) and scores roughly the same amount of points (11.8 per game). Likewise, Noah has similar rebounds and scoring numbers as Carroll (13 ppg, 6 rpg). However, the duo will hold a considerable height advantage as the 6'11" Noah will match up against the 6'7" Carroll. Noah's athleticism and size make him a better answer for DeMarre than any other SEC power forward. Horford's performance in the last Vanderbilt/Florida game (16p, 16r, 6a) was a big reason behind Florida's impressive margin of victory. However, with the help of talented reserve Davis Nwankwo, the Vanderbilt players hope to improve on their performance. Vanderbilt's increased use of the zone defense should make it easier to defend the post players, but this benefit comes at the risk of allowing more second chance points on offensive rebounds.
Vanderbilt's only true edge comes at the wing positions, where Shan Foster (16.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Derrick Byars (11.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg) face off against Walter Hodges (4.9, 1.4) and Corey Brewer (11.9, 4.9). Vanderbilt will need a hot shooting night from its wing players in order to exploit a matchup problem for the Gators. Walter Hodges is listed at 5'10", while Foster and Byars each top 6'6". Don't be surprised to see Byars or Foster post up on Hodges when Florida is in a man defense.
So with Vanderbilt's edge at the wings and Florida's advantage at the point and in the post, who will win the game?
(1) The team with better perimeter shooting – Florida will want to shoot Vanderbilt out of the zone defense, and Vanderbilt will try to make Byars and Foster the team's leading shot-takers and scorers if possible. A hot shooting night by either team could decide the game. But if neither team is especially hot or cold…
(2) The winner of the power forward battle – DeMarre Carroll could change the direction of the game if he is successful against Noah. Vanderbilt's win over Kentucky had a lot to do with UK's foul trouble in the post. DeMarre and Julian would love to cause similar foul problems for Horford and Noah. On the other hand, Horford was very successful against Terrell et al. earlier this season – if he repeats his 16 point, 16 rebound performance on Wednesday then a win will be out of Vanderbilt's reach. But if neither team clearly wins the Noah/Carroll prizefight…
(3) The team with more transition points – Vanderbilt is sometimes type-cast as a half-court, slow, methodical, boring, unathletic squad. In the last several games, the offense has opened up and much more fast break opportunities have been taken advantage of. Florida is also a quick team with plenty of athleticism. Fast break points (and the turnovers that lead to them) are huge momentum swings and can radically alter the course of the game. It's time to see what Vanderbilt's transition offense is really made of against the cream of the SEC crop.
I was surprised to see the Commodores beat the Wildcats (Kentucky did at least cover the spread), and I will be surprised if the Commodores beat the Gators, too. I hope that I am wrong again, but the shooting ability of Green and Brewer could easily force the ‘Dores into man-to-man defense, which exacerbates any difficulty in the low post while creating depth problems for the suddenly shallow Commodore bench. This game could easily swing Vanderbilt's way if Shan Foster or Derrick Byars out-shoot their Florida counterparts.
Another interesting possibility would emerge if Julian Terrell wakes up and has late-season heroics comparable to last year's performance at LSU. He is capable of dominating a game occasionally, and I believe he will take over one of his remaining regular season games as a team captain and senior. If this is that game, then Terrell's performance could possibly overcome even a great shooting night by the Florida guards.
I do not think this will be Julian's day, but I do expect Vanderbilt to continue its excellent offensive efficiency. This game will come down to the end, but Florida will probably take the W.
Florida 80, Vanderbilt 77
Florida MVP: Taurean Green
Vandy MVP: Shan Foster