The game is also important for the Georgia Bulldogs. Like the Commodores, the Bulldogs' record in the SEC stands at 4-7, but UGA's sights have been set lower than the Dores' all season long. Georgia's fan base, as a whole, has the realistic hope and expectation of an NIT appearance as the next stage in their recovery from NCAA sanctions incurred by Jim Harrick's administration of the program. After the matchup with Vanderbilt, Georgia will have home games against South Carolina and Arkansas, as well as road contests at Florida and MSU. Assuming that Georgia loses the game at Florida, a loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday will end their hopes of a non-losing record in this year's SEC season.
In nine out of the last ten meetings between the two squads, the home team has emerged victorious. The only exception was Georgia's victory in Memorial earlier this season. In that contest, the Commodores were led by Derrick Byars' 21 point effort – Shan Foster contributed 15 points, and Julian Terrell added 16 points and 8 rebounds in a strong performance. However, the Commodores' post presence was not enough defensively – each of Georgia's post players exceeded their season averages in scoring by significant margins. Also, the shots fell from the perimeter for the Bulldogs. Levi Stukes collected 12 points on 4-of-6 three point shooting, and the entire Bulldog squad made more than 50% of their two point and three point shots. Channing Toney led the Bulldogs with 14 points, but inconsistent big man Steve Newman had perhaps the most surprising performance with 12 points on 5-9 shooting.
Vanderbilt's record on the road this season is a paltry 3-5. In SEC play, it is an anemic 1-4. However, their toughest road games are behind them. Having already traveled to Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama, the Dores' remaining road games are at UGA, South Carolina, and Ole Miss. The poor road record to date could easily reflect the strength of the Commodores' opponents more than it reflects a general inability for the ‘Dores to win on the road.
The keys to the game all reflect the point that Vanderbilt is still a more talented team than Georgia. If Vanderbilt plays at or near its potential, they should win this game. Therefore, all the Commodores need to accomplish in order to beat the Bulldogs is to correct what have been the team's greatest weaknesses in recent games.
(1) Vanderbilt's post players must improve their defense enough to neutralize Georgia's sub-par post game. Julian Terrell has 30 blocks and 20 steals on the season and will be key to Vanderbilt's efforts. Don't expect Ted Skuchas to see more minutes against the Bulldogs than he has seen in the last couple of games. Georgia's post players, including the athletic Idrissi and the three-point-shooting Newman, are better suited for DeMarre Carroll and Davis Nwankwo to defend alongside Terrell. Newman this season has only made three pointers from the top of the key – Vanderbilt needs to deny him any shots from that area, but they may guard him more loosely if he attempts to shoot from the corner.
(2) Perimeter players for the Commodores absolutely must do a better job of rebounding. Vanderbilt's probable starters on the perimeter are Alex Gordon, Derrick Byars, and Shan Foster. As a trio, they average 8.0 rebounds per game. Georgia's perimeter starters average 11.4. The Commodores absolutely must box out Sundiata Gaines, who is the overall leading rebounder for Georgia.
(3) Derrick Byars and Shan Foster must come to the same realization that DeMarre Carroll has already arrived at. Carroll's offensive output improved dramatically when he began to drive to the basket within the flow of Coach Stallings' offensive set – as the set and the coaches encourage. If Byars and Foster – especially Byars – begin to diversify their offensive threats in a Carroll-esque fashion, the Vanderbilt offense will be too potent for the Bulldogs to stop.
Vanderbilt wins this game not because they succeed in all three of the above areas of the game, but because they finally figure out one – the post defense. Davis Nwankwo is coming into his own as a defensive player, and he gives Vanderbilt's post defense the necessary depth to give a full effort on defense on each trip down the court. Georgia might match its shooting performance from their trip to Nashville earlier this season, or they may not. However, because their post players will not be as productive, it won't matter.
Vanderbilt 75, Georgia 70
Vanderbilt MVP: DeMarre Carroll
Georgia MVP: Sundiata Gaines