Vandy's Last Game
Though Vanderbilt led for most of the first half, the absence of A.J. Ogilvy hurt the Commodores during a second-half Kentucky run that pushed the Wildcat lead to 20 points. Without their go-to scorer, the ‘Dores simply didn't have the firepower to match a Kentucky team that got 22 combined points from role players Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris.
During the six-game winning streak that preceded Saturday's loss, Vanderbilt's three-point shooting had improved tremendously from the beginning of the year. In Rupp, though, that shooting touch abandoned the ‘Dores, who shot just 28.0 percent from beyond the arc. Brad Tinsley and Jermaine Beal, the keys to Vanderbilt's perimeter success, combined to shoot 4-for-14 from long range.
Vanderbilt, the SEC leader in both scoring and field goal percentage defense, only partially executed its defensive game plan. The Commodores' length on the perimeter bothered the explosive Jodie Meeks, who managed 21 points on just 5-of-16 shooting.
Despite guarding the outside well, the ‘Dores uncharacteristically failed to protect the paint. According to Ken Pomeroy, Vanderbilt boasts the nation's top two-point field goal percentage defense (37.1 percent), yet Kentucky converted exactly half of their attempts from inside the arc. If Ogilvy, who remains questionable for Wednesday's game, returns to action, the Commodores' interior defense should be much improved against a strong Georgia frontcourt.
The Bulldogs (9-7, 0-1 SEC) enter Wednesday's game having lost three straight, including an SEC opener in which they led Tennessee for much of the second half. The loss of Sundiata Gaines and Dave Bliss has left Georgia coach Dennis Felton with a young team that has yet to find any consistency. Losses to Loyola-Chicago and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi marred a frustrating non-conference slate.
Though three of its top four scorers are guards, Georgia's success in conference play will depend on its talented but inexperienced frontcourt. With just one proven scorer in the backcourt, the Bulldogs' young big men could give the team an edge against several SEC teams light on size.
The Bulldogs have struggled offensively, ranking last in the SEC in both scoring offense and field goal percentage. Georgia's ability to put up points has been hindered by a lack of playmakers and a high turnover rate; the Bulldogs' 16.9 turnovers per game trail only Kentucky's 18.1.
Terrance Woodbury – Senior, 6-7, 221 lbs. – Though a tenth of a point keeps him from being Georgia's leading scorer, Woodbury is the Bulldogs' most dangerous offensive player. Averaging 14.2 points per game, the senior swingman has seen his shooting percentages dip as a result of being asked to take more shots. Though he's shooting a career-worst 39.9 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from three-point distance, Woodbury has actually increased his scoring efficiency due to more frequent trips to the free throw line. He's scoring 1.19 points per shot this season, up from 1.09 a year ago. Since returning from a four-game absence from the Bulldog lineup, Woodbury is averaging 20.0 points per game over the past three contests.
Howard "Trey" Thompkins – Freshman, 6-8, 245 lbs. – Thompkins, a highly-regarded rookie and Georgia native, leads his team with 14.3 points per game in his first year in Athens. The versatile forward is at home both in the paint and on the perimeter. His 50.0 percent shooting from the floor is tied for tops on the team, and he's knocked down 16 three-pointers this season, converting them at a team-high 48.5 percent clip. Thompkins' offensive versatility complements Woodbury's inside-outside game and allows Georgia's more traditional post players to operate in the paint when necessary. The freshman also leads Georgia in rebounding, grabbing 6.8 boards per game, and is tied for the team lead in blocks with 19.
Zac Swansey – Sophomore, 6-1, 179 lbs. – Swansey has taken over as the Bulldogs' point guard with the departure of Sundiata Gaines and leads the team with 4.3 assists per game. A steady if unspectacular ball handler, Swansey has the ability to penetrate and score in the lane on occasion. Averaging 6.5 points per game, the sophomore can also step back and hit the perimeter jumper, though he generally defers to his teammates on the offensive end. Swansey has turned himself into a solid perimeter defender this season, leading Georgia with 1.5 steals per game.
Corey Butler – Senior, 6-3, 195 lbs. – Georgia's "glue guy," Butler contributes across the board for the Bulldogs. Though he doesn't take many shots, he's very efficient when he does shoot, averaging 7.4 points per game on 1.45 points per shot. Butler leads the Bulldogs with 24 three-pointers, converting them at a 45.3 percent clip. The senior also chips 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, and his 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio is tops on the team. Though a bit undersized to guard some wings, Butler is Georgia's best perimeter defender.
Albert Jackson – Junior, 6-10, 265 lbs. – Jackson has inherited the role of enforcer from the departed Dave Bliss. Georgia's biggest body, the junior is a strong defender and rebounder, averaging 1.3 blocks and 4.1 rebounds per game. Though he doesn't do much scoring (4.1 ppg), Jackson has the size to create space in the post and score around the basket when he asserts himself. If nothing else, he'll give the Bulldogs a physical presence inside for Ogilvy to contend with if the Aussie plays.
Two freshman guards and two sophomore forwards add depth to the Georgia squad. Travis Leslie, a 6-4 scoring swingman, ranks third on the team with 8.1 points per game. Though adept at getting into the lane and scoring in the mid-range, Leslie does not pose a threat from the perimeter. Dustin Ware, a 5-11 combo guard, gives Georgia a shooter off the bench as well as an extra ball handler; his 2.8 assists per game are second only to Swansey's 4.3.
In the frontcourt, 6-8 bruiser Jeremy Price provides offensive firepower off the bench. Slowed by injury early in the season, Price's numbers have fallen across the board from last year. With a bulky, strong frame and quick feet in the post, Price should be able to increase his current output of 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Chris Barnes, a 6-7 power forward, doesn't provide the scoring threat that Price does, but he can replace Jackson or Thompson without the Bulldogs losing ground on the glass (4.1 rpg).
Keys to the Game
Whither Ogilvy? – Against Kentucky, Vanderbilt's prized center was missed for his defensive presence almost as much as he was for his scoring ability. With Festus Ezeli limited by back trouble, the Commodores need Ogilvy back sooner rather than later in a conference built around physical play. In particular, the ‘Dores could use the 6-11 Aussie to force rebounding machines like Albert Jackson and Trey Thompkins to play consistent post defense. If A.J. can play, expect the hosts to get him the ball plenty in the first half in an attempt to draw some early fouls on Georgia's bigs.
Turnover Battle – Both Georgia and Vanderbilt are near the bottom of the SEC in turnover margin. The Commodores don't cough up the ball very often, but they also struggle to force their opponent into mistakes. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have had their share of ball control problems, but they've also been able to create turnovers. Georgia has averaged 19.9 turnovers in their seven losses; if the ‘Dores can force at least 15 or 16, their defense should be enough to hold a mediocre Georgia offense at bay.
Confidence Booster – With four tough games (@MSU, vs. UT, vs. FLA, @USC) following Wednesday's match-up, the young Commodores need to go ahead and grab their first conference win. Vanderbilt has the talent to beat anyone in the SEC, but after most of the underclassmen struggled against Kentucky, they need a shift in momentum before facing some of the league's better teams.
Prediction: Georgia nearly knocked off Tennessee in its first conference game, but the Volunteer defense has since been exposed. The Commodores, meanwhile, boast the conference's stingiest defense; as long as they don't give the Bulldogs too many second chances, they should be able to stifle a Georgia team without many scoring options. Final score: Vanderbilt 73, Georgia 63.