After Vanderbilt's loss to the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, 71-66 in Knoxville, Coach Kevin Stallings said it was "five against three." He was referring to the fact that the Commodores' two starting guards failed to score a single point. Yet it was a close game all the way and not settled until the final minute. Matt Freije and Corey Smith scored 18 points each for the Commodores and Brian Thornton added 16.
The Florida Gators are leading the SEC East with a 4-0 record. They have defeated Mississippi State (74-66) and South Carolina (77-75) in road games and Georgia (66-63) and Tennessee (77-64) at home. Their overall record is 15-2, the only two losses coming at Stanford (69-65 in Madison Square Garden) and West Virginia (68-66 in Morgantown VA). Their best non-conference victories were over Kansas, Maryland, and Miami (Florida).
Florida has a diversified attack, but the most consistent scoring threat is 6-10 senior power forward Matt Bonner. His 15.4 ppg leads the team and he is connecting on 46.7% of his three-point attempts (75-35). Bonner is also the second leading rebounder (5.8 per game). In the last two games, he scored 27 points against Tennessee and 19 against South Carolina.
Two freshmen, probably the best in the conference, are the next leading scorers. 6-6 forward Matt Walsh is firing in 14.9 ppg and makes 48.1% of his three-pointers (81-39); he is also a sharp passer and is second on the team in assists. 6-1 guard Anthony Roberson (13.9 ppg and a 40% three-point shooter) started the first five games but then gave way to 6-4 senior Brett Nelson; however he is still averaging over 26 minutes per game.
6-9 sophomore David Lee is the team's leading rebounder (seven per game) and is scoring 10.4 ppg. Shooting mostly from close-in, Lee makes 63% of his shots. He also easily leads the team in blocked shots (total of 27 to date).
The point guard is 6-3 senior Justin Hamilton, who is scoring 8.9 ppg. Although he doesn't shoot very much from outside, he is hitting 41% of his three-point attempts and leads the team in assists (about 4.5 per game). Hamilton is the team's top defender and usually guards the opposition's main outside scoring threat.
Nelson was injured when the season started and missed the first five games. Upon returning he was immediately inserted into the starting lineup and has been playing 25 minutes per game since. His shooting touch hasn't returned and his is making only 26.5% of his shots from the field and 24.3% of his three-pointers (74-18), but he is still firing away, although averaging only 5.8 ppg.
6-9 junior Bonell Colas (3.9 ppg) had a career scoring day against South Carolina, with 16 points. Usually he quietly spells Bonner and Lee and does nothing remarkable. 6-9 freshman Adrian Moss (3.0 ppg) has been playing more than Colas and is a good shot-blocker.
6-8 freshman Christian Drejer is said to be an NBA prospect. He did not play at all until the last two games because of an ankle injury and so far has seen limited action, to "get his feet wet" according to Coach Billy Donovan.
Also likely to play limited minutes are ponderous 6-6 freshman Mario Boggan, a 300-pounder, and 6-3 freshman Rashid Al-Kaleem. When Boggan gets his weight down somewhat, probably not until next year, he will be a load to handle. Also available are a pair of 6-1 walk-ons, sophomore Seth Haimovitch and freshman Chris Capko.
As to team statistics, the Gators show up better on offense than defense. They lead the conference in three-pointers made and are second in percent of successful three-point shots. They are third in points per game, third in assists, and third in assists/turnovers ratio. On the other hand, Florida is only tenth in rebounding margin and ninth in field goal defense.
Only two years ago Vanderbilt pulled off an upset in Gainesville, mainly on the strength of a last-minute eight-point scoring outburst by Brendan Plavich. But this game is the one that the Commodores are least likely to win of those remaining on the regular season schedule. O'Connell Center is a difficult place to play, and Florida places a lot of pressure on the opposition's ballhandlers. The Gators are a good team, bristling with talent including several high school All-Americans (Walsh, Bonner, Lee, Roberson, Nelson). It looks like a 10- to 20-point loss for Vanderbilt.