Despite having multiple leads of up to eight points early in the second half on Saturday, VU "fell apart defensively," as Brad Tinsley succinctly put it. Vanderbilt allowed a whopping 49 points in the second half at Athens to fall to the Bulldogs, 72-58.
The loss is significant for a variety of reasons. First, it moves the Dores into a tie for second place in the SEC East with Tennessee at 6-2 in conference play. Had Vanderbilt pulled out the Georgia game, a loss to the Vols this Tuesday night would only bring about a tie, with the two schools (under this scenario) splitting their head-to-head matchups. Because of the ambush in Athens, however, the Commodores will fall into a third-place tie with Florida if they cannot hold serve on their Memorial Gym home court. Keep in mind that VU still has to play road games at Ole Miss and the aforementioned Gators.
Second, while making the NCAA Tournament is not in danger, losing to Georgia certainly puts a damper on talks of a high seed. Before the Georgia game, the talk was that VU was in line for a No. 4 seed, possibly even a No. 3 depending how the rest of the schedule played out. For Vanderbilt to earn a relatively high seed – at this point, a No. 4 or No. 5 seed – it cannot drop games to so-called lesser opponents. Vandy will also need to grab one of the remaining marquee games with Tennessee and Kentucky, which are fortunately both in Nashville.
The final big element of the UGA loss is that it robbed Vanderbilt of the momentum it owned only a week ago. Vandy had a 10-game winning streak after its first defeat of its in-state rivals, 85-76, on Jan. 27 in Knoxville. That has disappeared, however, with two losses in its last three games, both on the road, at Kentucky and at Georgia.
This is a team in need of renewed focus, and coach Kevin Stallings's club has yet another opportunity to take down a top 15 program, one it has already demonstrated the ability to beat… and which will enter Memorial Gym for a nationally-televised tilt.
So what, if anything, has changed with Tennessee since the last week in January?
Tennessee is 3-0 since suffering at the hands of the Commodores. With the exception of Saturday's home win over South Carolina, the wins have not been easy for the Big Orange.
Four days after its loss to VU, Tennessee escaped with a one-point win at home over Florida, 61-60. Down by one, sophomore Scotty Hopson dropped in a well-defended jump shot from just inside the three-point arc to give UT the win.
Then, against last-place LSU, Tennessee had a 14-point lead with eight minutes left when the Vols decided to take a page out Vandy's book, referring to the MSU game. Over the final eight minutes, the normally high-flying Volunteers managed to score only seven points. The Tigers had a chance to tie with six seconds left, but they missed and Tennessee held on to win by five.
The ship was righted for the Vols against South Carolina Saturday afternoon with a 26-point blowout. The Vols demonstrated some defensive moxie, holding SEC-leading scorer Devan Downey to nine first-half points. While he did finish with 26, many of those points came late after the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.
Since the Vandy loss, coach Bruce Pearl's team has been making it a priority to establish Wayne Chism again inside. While shot selection has always been an issue with UT, the last three games have shown that Pearl's team is again running its offense through Chism, who scored 30 points, a career-high, against the Gamecocks.
Guard– Bobby Maze – Senior, 6'3", 195; 2009-10: 8.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.3 apg
Maze continues to be one of the keys to the Tennessee offensive attack. UT plays well when he penetrates a defense. Its offense stagnates when he settles for jump shots. He was excellent the first time out against the Commodores, with a 7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, while also adding 12 points. However, he took a couple ill-advised 3-pointers in that game that resulted in Vanderbilt points. Maze also struggled to score in the Florida and LSU games. Accordingly, Tennessee found itself in tough ballgames. The matchup between him and Jermaine Beal Tuesday night will be the battle to see.
Forward/Center – Wayne Chism - Senior 6'9", 246; 2009-10: 13.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg
As we mentioned the first time these two rivals faced each other, when Chism is using his athletic body around the basket, good things happen for the Volunteers. While he continues to look to shoot threes, his scoring has gone up since the Vanderbilt game because he's getting more looks inside. In his last three outings, Chism is averaging 15 shots a game and 22 points. In the three games prior to those, the final one of which was the VU game, Chism averaged only nine shots and scored under 10 points per contest. Chism scored only eight the first time he matched up with A.J. Ogilvy and Co. inside, but he has experienced tremendous success against Vanderbilt in the past couple of years. Should Pearl's players look to find Mr. Chism inside on a regular basis, which they did not do the first time they played VU, it will make it hard for the Dores to complete a regular-season sweep of the Vols.
Guard – J.P. Prince – Senior, 6'7", 205; 2009-10: 7.6 ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.4 rpg
Prince entered the first VU game having taken only seven 3-point shots while making one. Naturally he surprised Stallings and his staff by going 2 for 2 beyond the arc, and finished with 22 points. He is better remembered by fans of the Commodores for the two technical fouls he picked up in that game; one for hitting Andre Walker with a closed fist (Walker also received a technical) and once for hanging on the rim following a fast-break slam dunk. You can expect his emotions will be high coming into Memorial Gym. The abnormal (abnormally good, that is) shooting performance may have had an adverse affect on Prince. Since the Vandy game he has taken five threes but is still waiting to connect on one. He continues to be at his best when he gets ahead on the break and scores in transition. He remains more of a slasher than a shooter.
Forward – Renaldo Woolridge – Sophomore, 6'8", 208; 2009-10: 4.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Woolridge has replaced Kenny Hall in the Tennessee starting lineup since the last in-state rivalry game. The jury is still out on the decision. Woolridge scored only three points in both the Florida and LSU games. While everyone else wearing orange was feasting on the Gamecocks, Woolridge had a single point in an 0-3 shooting performance. He has especially struggled from long distance. While as a reserve he could be counted on for scoring, Woolridge has gone 1 of 8 on 3-pointers since joining the starting lineup. Do not be surprised if Pearl, in an important road game, chooses to bring Hall back into the lineup. Regardless if he starts or not, it would not be surprising if the Commodore guarding him helps in the post on Chism, especially if UT is going to Chism regularly on the block.
Guard – Scotty Hopson – Sophomore, 6'7", 200; 2009-10: 13.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .411 3P%
While Chism has reemerged since the loss to Vanderbilt, Hopson has seen his scoring drop and may finally be hitting his sophomore slump if you believe in such things. He has only shot 10 of 31 from the field in Tennessee's three games since the VU loss. That is not an excuse for the Dores to ignore Hopson, however. He remains a tremendous threat from anywhere on the floor and was the hero of the LSU game. Despite his recent long-distance slump, he still is shooting over 40 % from three and can use his long, athletic frame to get himself into the middle of a defense. Being 6'7" allows him to post up within the framework of the Tennessee flex offense. Hopson's length also creates space on the perimeter for his shooting game, and allows him to play a two-man game from the perimeter in tandem with Chism, who operates on the low block.
As everyone who watches the Vols regularly knows, Bruce Pearl likes to use his bench. Twelve Vols played in the South Carolina game, but Pearl is not getting significant scoring from his bench. Melvin Goins figured to be a key player coming off his suspension due to his status as the backup point guard. Goins' return was supposed to mean more rest for Bobby Maze, but that scenario has not panned out yet. Goins was held out of the first Vanderbilt matchup and has scored only seven points in the last three games. Goins has done a great job, though, of protecting the basketball, turning the ball over only once in that stretch.
Skyler McBee, a 6'3" freshman guard, remains the main shooter off of the bench, but is still only connecting on 32.4 % of his (71) 3-point attempts. Kenny Hall's transition to his role as a reserve did not go well for the first couple of games. He only scored one point in the Florida game and had one single field goal in the LSU game while seeing his minutes decrease. Hall seemed to reassert himself in the South Carolina game, going 2 for 2 from the field while grabbing 11 rebounds.
Keys to the Game
- Protect the basketball. If this sounds familiar it should; it was one of the keys in the first Tennessee matchup. It remains so now. In that first game, the Dores had only 14 turnovers. While they lost the turnover battle (UT had 11), the Commodores did not allow Tennessee to steal easy transition points. While the Volunteers' length and athleticism poses matchup problems with Bruce Pearl's twist on the flex offense, they become much easier to defend when they are not getting the easy looks one might find on a fast break.
- Make Chism battle on the block. In past years, Wayne Chism has had his way with the Vanderbilt defense. That all changed the last time these two rivals matched up. Chism took only nine shots and three of those were from beyond the arc. As was stated earlier, going inside to Chism has become the No. 1 goal for UT once again. Chism's athletic ability might be too tough for the big Aussie (A.J. Ogilvy) to handle, but look for help coming his way from Andre Walker and Jeffery Taylor. While that means players like Prince and Woolridge might get open looks, that scenario is preferable to letting Chism dominate the paint because when that happens, Ogilvy gets into foul trouble, and the post players off the bench for Vandy just are not as imposing.
- Ogilvy avoiding foul trouble. While he has not fouled out of any games since the Middle Tennessee game on January 4, Ogilvy has picked up four fouls in three of the last four games. Obviously, when a player picks up fouls, he's on the bench. Ogilvy did have 12 points against Tennessee in the first matchup, but most of those were from the middle of the second half and onward. Vandy can live with that while Jermaine Beal continues to have a hot hand (that was the case, after all, in the first meeting with the Vols), but when push comes to shove and the Dores need a big basket on Tuesday, they'll likely need Ogilvy to operate in the low post and create good spacing for VU's halfcourt sets. Ogilvy was in foul trouble against Georgia and found himself on the bench when his leadership was needed on the court. That leadership – not to mention his size – will be required in a game of such magnitude.