Vandy's Last Game
The ‘Dores were firing on all cylinders in a 71-61 win over the Rebels that was not as close as the final score indicated. A.J. Ogilvy's 17 points led four Vanderbilt players in double figures, and Lance Goulbourne exploded in a second half that saw the ‘Dores shoot 66.7 percent from the floor. The freshman forward scored 11 points on perfect shooting from the field, knocking down a pair of triples and slamming home a thunderous jam off an inbounds play.
On the other end of the court, Vanderbilt stifled the Ole Miss guard-oriented attack. Though Terrico White and David Huertas combined for 42 points, it took the duo 35 shots to get there as the Commodores contested every perimeter shot the Rebels hoisted. The ‘Dores held their guests to 36.4 percent shooting for the game, including a dismal first half in which the Rebs made just a quarter of their shots.
The Volunteers rode the shoulders of Wayne Chism to a decisive victory in Memorial less than a month ago, holding the Commodores to 34.5 percent shooting en route to a 13-point win. That game was the third of three wins in Tennessee's first four conference games, but the Vols have slipped a bit since their trip to Nashville. Bruce Pearl's squad has lost a pair of home games and a road contest at Auburn to fall into a three-way tie atop the SEC East.
Though they rank fourth in the SEC in conference field goal percentage defense, the Volunteers (15-8, 6-3) have been susceptible to interior scoring in recent games. Auburn's Rasheem Barrett and Korvotney Barber got whatever shot they wanted in the Tigers' one-point win over Tennessee, shooting a combined 20-for-27 from the floor. One game prior, Arkansas' guards were frequent visitors in the lane against the Vols' porous defense – Courtney Fortson and Stefan Welsh combined for 41 points in a two-point loss.
A somewhat suspect defense hasn't affected what continues to be a high-octane Tennessee offense. The Volunteers have shot 48.0 percent in conference play to lead all SEC teams, and their 53.4 percent shooting from inside the arc puts them in the top 25 nationally. Armed with good passers at nearly every position, the Vols also lead the league in assists (16.7 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.29) since the start of SEC play.
Wayne Chism – Junior, 6-9, 242 lbs. – Now with three huge games against Vanderbilt to his credit, Chism has become one of the Commodores' biggest nemeses. The junior forward drained two three-pointers in the first five minutes against the ‘Dores in Nashville and ended the game with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. With A.J. Ogilvy at less than perfect health, Vanderbilt had no answer for the versatile Chism, who has averaged 15.3 points per game since terrorizing the Commodores. Content in previous years to linger on the perimeter, Chism has become a force in the paint, ranking sixth in the league with 7.9 rebounds per game in conference play. Vanderbilt's hopes of winning on Saturday depend on reigning in the Volunteers' emotional leader.
Tyler Smith – Junior, 6-7, 215 lbs. – While Chism starred in the Volunteers' win over Vanderbilt, Tyler Smith quietly contributed 18 points of his own. The senior chipped away at the Commodore front line, making only five field goals but converting eight of his nine attempts from the charity stripe. After a roaring start to conference play, Smith has seen his scoring dip somewhat; the combo forward is averaging 15.0 points over the past six games, compared to 17.2 points per contest for the season. Though he shoots just 27.4 percent from three-point range, Smith has launched 22 trifectas – over a third of his season total – in his last four games. Over the same stretch, the junior has grabbed just 4.2 rebounds per game, down from an average of 5.8 on the year. Equipped with the athletes to guard him away from the basket, Vanderbilt will be content to let Smith roam the perimeter on Saturday.
J.P. Prince – Junior, 6-7, 205 lbs. – Prince broke out of a scoring slump against the Commodores in January, getting to the basket at will en route to 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Since the win over Vanderbilt, the lanky swingman has emerged as Tennessee's top distributor. Prince ranks fifth in the SEC with 4.1 assists per game in league play, and he leads the conference with a 3.36 assist-to-turnover ratio. Over the last four games, the former Arizona Wildcat is averaging 14.0 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per contest; he'll be an important focus for the Commodores in their quest to slow the Volunteer offense.
Bobby Maze – Junior, 6-2, 185 lbs. – After averaging 10.7 points per game in the six games leading up to conference play, the Tennessee point guard has seen his production slip recently. Maze was a virtual non-factor against Vanderbilt, and he's averaged only 8.0 points per game since visiting Nashville. Still Tennessee's season assist leader, the junior has become a more effective distributor, joining Chism and Smith in the SEC's top ten in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Scotty Hopson – Freshman, 6-7, 185 lbs. – Tennessee's prized freshman has continued his mercurial ways well into SEC play. Though Hopson (9.2 ppg) is capable of hanging 15 or more points on any given night, he's been just as likely to disappear offensively – look at his 1-for-6, two-point outing at Arkansas for the most recent example. Despite some questionable shot selection, he chipped in 11 points against the ‘Dores in Memorial, and his size makes him a worry for any Vanderbilt lineup containing both Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley. Though he could just as easily shoot Tennessee out of the game, if Hopson is shooting well from the perimeter, Vanderbilt could be in for a long afternoon.
A major part of the Tennessee offense coming into conference play, freshman guard Cameron Tatum has disappeared since a 12-point outing against South Carolina. In the seven games following the win over the Gamecocks, the sharpshooting Tatum has averaged a meager 3.7 points per game and has seen his minutes decrease along with his production.
Fellow freshman Emmanuel Negedu and sophomore Brian Williams fortify the Tenensse frontcourt. At 6-7 and 230 pounds, Negedu has the size to be effective in the post and the athleticism to move out to the perimeter at times. Williams, meanwhile, is a 6-10 behemoth whose primary value comes on the glass (5.8 rpg).
Junior guard Josh Tabb rounds out the Tennessee rotation. Though he's a limited scorer, the 6-4 Tabb is a steadying influence on the Volunteer offense and a strong perimeter defender.
Keys to the Game
Revenge of the Aussie – Vanderbilt's first meeting with Tennessee was the first in a stretch of three losses in which A.J. Ogilvy scored a total of 14 points. Since then, the sophomore center has recovered from both illness and injury to average 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds over the Commodores' last three games, all wins. A healthy Ogilvy should make a world of difference on both ends on Saturday; not only will he give the ‘Dores a big body to combat Wayne Chism on defense, but the big Aussie's versatility will force Chism to play defense, something he didn't have to do much of the first time these teams met. Chism has shown a propensity to get into foul trouble; if Ogilvy comes out aggressive on the offensive end, he can make the Tennessee junior work to stay in the game.
Confidence Men – Vanderbilt's current three-game winning streak has seen the hesitancy of the Commodore freshmen melt away. Jeff Taylor has converted 15 of his 22 field goal attempts and been a menace on the glass and on the defensive end over the past three games, while Brad Tinsley and Lance Goulbourne have not been shy about launching daggers from beyond the arc. Though Steve Tchiengang hasn't put up the numbers that his classmates have, his energy and tenacity on the boards have played a key role in the Commdores' run. With all that said, Saturday will be the youngsters' first game in Thompson-Boling Arena, one of the toughest the SEC has to offer. If the Vanderbilt freshmen can keep their composure and maintain their level of play from the past three games, the ‘Dores have more than a puncher's chance of knocking off the Vols.
Perimeter Pressure – The Commodores have the SEC's worst three-point defense in conference play, allowing league opponents to shoot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. Tennessee is not a particularly good shooting team, but Maze, Hopson, Smith, Chism, and Tatum are all capable of knocking down multiple triples if left alone. Vanderbilt fell victim to a patented Volunteer run when Chism drained two early three-pointers in Nashville, and the ‘Dores never recovered. By forcing the Volunteers – especially Smith and Chism – to put the ball on the floor, the ‘Dores can exploit the moderate size advantage they have on the interior.
Prediction: Knoxville has not been kind to the Commodores lately, as the Vols have beaten Vanderbilt at home by at least 20 points in each of the last two seasons. The batch of talented Vanderbilt freshmen adds a potential X-factor to Saturday's game, however. If Taylor, Tinsley, and company can ignore the raucous crowd and play like they did against Ole Miss and Alabama, the Commodores will keep it close for 40 minutes. Until the ‘Dores get over that Thompson-Boling hump, though, it's too tough to predict a Vanderbilt win. Final Score: Tennessee 72, Vanderbilt 66.