The Commodores enter Wednesday's game looking to build on a four-game winning streak after an eight-day layoff. In their most recent game, the ‘Dores made quick work of an overmatched Furman team, dispatching the Paladins by a score of 68-49. A.J. Ogilvy led all scorers with 22 points, and Jermaine Beal continued his hot shooting, converting three of his four three-point attempts en route to 15 points.
St. Francis At-A-Glance
The Red Flash (4-7), helmed by first-year coach Don Friday, have nearly matched last season's win total through just 11 games. St. Francis won just four games in the Northeast Conference and six overall last year, failing to reach the conference tournament for the third straight season.
St. Francis returned a bevy of upperclassmen, and despite losing their top two scorers from a year ago, the Red Flash had won four out of six heading into a six-game road trip. That momentum was abruptly halted when leading scorer Devin Sweetney broke his hand before a game at Iona. Sweetney, who was averaging 14.4 points, missed the Iona game and the following contest at St. Bonaventure, both of which the Red Flash lost. The junior swingman will not play against Vanderbilt.
Mislav Jukic – Junior, 6-7, 220 lbs. – Averaging 11.4 points per game, the Croatian forward is the Red Flash's leading scorer with Sweetney out of action. In the two games Sweetney has missed, Jukic scored a combined 34 points, proving that he can increase his output when presented with the opportunity. The junior is St. Francis's best low post scorer; not only does can he put up big scoring numbers, he does it efficiently, shooting 48.0 percent from the floor. Jukic is also a factor on the glass, snatching 5.6 rebounds per game and a team-best 23 offensive boards on the season.
Cale Nelson – Senior, 5-10, 180 lbs. – St. Francis's point guard has seen his scoring drop off a bit from his junior season, but he's been as effective as ever in his ability to lead the offense. Nelson is dishing out a career-high 4.5 assists per game this season, and he's cut down on his turnovers as well. The senior is his team's best perimeter shooter; he's made a team-best 14 trifectas on 33.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Nearly 75 percent of his 8.2 points per game come from three-pointers and free throws.
Marquis Ford – Senior, 5-10, 175 lbs. – Ford (9.9 ppg) gives the Red Flash another legitimate threat from the perimeter. His 13 three-pointers are good for second on the team, but the senior will be looking to rediscover his outside touch against Vanderbilt. After a four-game stretch in which he knocked down six of his ten three-point attempts, Ford has gone just 1-for-10 in the two games since. Along with Nelson, Ford makes up a pesky defensive backcourt; both senior guards average 1.3 steals per game.
Kurt Hoffman – Junior, 6-6, 210 lbs. – Hoffman is the type of rugged forward that does his team's dirty work out of the spotlight. Averaging 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, the junior has scored in double figures just once in his three seasons at St. Francis. Meanwhile, he ranks third on the squad in rebounding and second in offensive boards. At just 6-6, Hoffman is a bit small for the power forward spot; playing alongside the 6-7 Jukic in the frontcourt should prove challenging against an opponent with Vanderbilt's size.
Kyle Jackson – Senior, 6-3, 175 lbs. – The Red Flash's tallest guard has seen his minutes spike since last season, and though his scoring and rebounding totals have climbed, Jackson has struggled to find a consistent rhythm, shooting just 36.8 percent from the field and committing nearly twice as many turnovers as assists. Though he's never been a shooter, Jackson has been forced to take on an increased offensive role with the absence of Sweetney.
Already a relatively thin team, St. Francis has become even shallower with the loss of Sweetney. Two senior guards are the only non-starters to have played in all 11 games and averaging 10 minutes or better per contest. At 6-5, Grant Surprenant gives the Red Flash a bit of a different look on the perimeter. His 12 three-pointers put him third on the team, and he converted triples at a 52.2 percent rate last season.
The 6-5 Steve Profeta rounds out Coach Friday's paper-thin rotation. Averaging 3.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 15.4 minutes, Profeta could become an impact player for St. Francis if he could increase his shooting percentages to 37.0 percent from the floor and just 26.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Key to the Game
Pound ‘em – At just 6-7, Mislav Jukic is the Red Flash's biggest player. That bodes well for a team that has thrived establishing an inside presence lately. After a shaky start to the season, Ogilvy has come on strong during the Commodores' winning streak., averaging 19.8 points per game over the past four games. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's perimeter game has proven to be enough to spread the floor and give the post players some more room to operate. Getting enough room down low shouldn't be too tall a task considering St. Francis's lack of size. Barring injury and a severe outside shooting drought, Vanderbilt's points in the paint total ought to be astronomical on Wednesday. If so, the hosts will give the football team a victory to go out and match.
Prediction: Not even the unusually early start, the buzz surrounding the football game, or a case of holiday hangover will be enough to prevent the ‘Dores from capturing the win Wednesday against an undermanned and undersized St. Francis squad. Final score: Vanderbilt 72, St. Francis (PA) 55. (And for good measure: Vanderbilt 14, Boston College 13).