Vanderbilt 101: In depth

SACRAMENTO--Vanderbilt can really shoot the trey and that means trouble for the Cougs. That's the consensus of many a reporter sizing up the Washington State-VU clash tipping off at 2:40 p.m. PT Saturday in the second round of the Big Dance. We, however, wanted a little more context and depth on Vandy, so we asked someone who knows the 'Dores inside and out: Don Yates, publisher of VandyMania.com.

First off, congratulations on your team's fine season. As a retired soldier who lived almost 10 years in the Tacoma area and only recently in January moved to Tennessee, I have witnessed some of the stunning development of the Cougars' program. I can tell you that the Cougs developed into my favorite team in the state of Washington and Pac-10. I dislike purple and gold about as much orange and white.

The media preseason hype started for Vanderbilt much like it did for Washington State. All the hype was for the Commodore's rival. Bruce Pearl and his Tennessee Vols were the media darlings much like the Huskies and Lorenzo Romar were in the Evergreen State.

Unlike Washington State, Vanderbilt started the season horribly, losing two of their first three including a very embarrassing 70-62 loss to Furman. Probably the biggest development in the improvement of the Commodore team took place during the Wake Forest game.

Alan Metcalfe, the starting power forward for Vanderbilt, was injured and missed the next 10 games. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings then did the unthinkable: He inserted 6-5 shooting guard Dan Cage as a power forward in place of the injured Metcalfe. The change added more 3-point shooting punch and ball handling skills to Vandy's new up tempo offense and also added a defensive stopper to the starting mix.

THE PLAYERS
Jermaine Beal, Fr. (6-3, 207) point guard, 17 mpg, 4 ppg - Beal, nicknamed "Dolla" Beal started the first two games at point guard for Vanderbilt and had unproductive outings. He was replaced by junior Alex Gordon in the third game. Beal is a defensive stopper who has developed well since losing his starting position. In several games he has actually played more minutes that Gordon because of his defensive abilities. Beal lately has shown more offensive ability. While not one of the better 3-point shooters (26 percent) on the team, he is streaky and can be deadly at times. He is very good at driving to the basket and a very good free throw (80 percent) shooter.

JeJuan Brown, Fr. (6-7, 226) Forward, 14 mpg, 3.3 ppg - Brown's a capable, athletic, backup that has great rebounding and defensive ability. He's a deadly shooter within 5-feet of the basket and makes 52 percent of his field goals. However, he's struggles from the free throw line making a team low 41 percent of his attempts.

Derrick Byars, Sr. (6-7, 230) forward, 31 mpg, 16.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg - Byars is the 2006-07 SEC Player of the Year. He's a smart player who has great leaping and shooting ability. He's a good ball handler who is also the best defender on the team and is frequently tasked with guarding the opponent's best scorer. He transferred from Virginia to Vanderbilt after his sophomore season.

Dan Cage, Sr. (6-5, 215) guard, 28 mpg, 11.1 ppg - What Cage lacks in athleticism he makes up for in heart. Dan Cage is a good defender who is also a deadly 3-point shooter (45 percent). The heady Cage is very accurate from the charity stripe, making 87 percent of his attempts.

George Drake, Fr. (6-4, 213) guard, 10.5 mpg, 2.8 ppg - Drake, who red shirted last season, made 2 of 2 three point attempts against George Washington on Thursday to help Vanderbilt build their early big lead. Drake's a versatile, athletic, player who can do a little of everything. He can defend and score offensively.

Shan Foster, Jr. (6-6, 200) forward, 32 mpg, 15.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg - Foster was recently selected to the second team All-SEC squad. Foster is a very athletic leaper and is very similar to Byars. Foster makes 35 percent of his 3-point attempts, 80 percent from the charity stripe and is an excellent ball handler.

Alex Gordon, Fr. (5-11, 164) point guard, 23.5 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 2.4 apg - Gordon is one of the four Commodores that are deadly from 3-point range as he has made 39 percent of 125 attempts. Gordon is a small but very quick and fearless point guard. While not as good of a defender as Beal, Gordon has great ball handling ability and can make the tough shot in a crunch.

Aubrey Hammond, Jr. (6-4, 184) guard- Hammond is a walk-on who has seen action in 10 games this season, scoring 10 points total.

Alan Metcalfe, Jr. (6-9, 265) forward, 8 mpg, 2.7 ppg, 2 rpg - Metcalfe, who came to Vanderbilt from England, is a physical banger who gives Vanderbilt solid depth at forward. He's has decent shooting ability and makes an occasional 3-pointer.

Ross Nelter, Jr. (6-9, 247) forward, 25 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg - Neltner transferred to Vanderbilt after his sophomore year at LSU and sat out last season due to transfer rules. He's a heady player and is Vanderbilt's leading rebounder. While not one of Vanderbilt's four primary 3-point shooters he is accurate and has made 39 percent of his 28 attempts.

David Rodriguez, So. (6-2, 180) guard - Rodriguez is a first year walk-on who has seen action in two games this season. He scored the first point of his college career on Thursday against George Washington.

Ted Skuchas, Sr. (6-11, 242) center, 15 mpg, 4 ppg, 2 rpg - Skuchas was a late bloomer who has really turned it during his senior year. "Skooch" is a crowd favorite and a shot blocking specialist. Although he doesn't start he plays a significant amount of quality minutes. He's not a great scorer but has this little hook shot that's fairly difficult to defend. An excellent defender, Skuchas often comes in late in close games when a defensive stop is needed.

COMMODORE STRENGTHS
Shooting. Vanderbilt has four guys, Cage, Byars, Foster and Gordon, who can shoot the three. Vanderbilt plays smart, team ball. Against George Washington in the first half the Commodores had an assist for each of the 15 field goals. The Commodores, like the Cougs, rarely turn the ball over.

COMMODORE WEAKNESSES
Vanderbilt's defense, while good at times, is not the stingiest and allows 70 points per game. Vanderbilt frequently is out-rebounded. THE COACH
Kevin Stallings is in his eighth season at Vanderbilt. Stallings is 143-107 at Vanderbilt and 266-170 overall in 14 years of his career which includes 6 years at Illinois State. Stallings led both Vanderbilt and Illinois State to two NCAA Tournaments each. His peers in the SEC recently named Stallings the SEC Coach of the Year. Stallings played at Purdue under Gene Keady and served as an assistant to Roy Williams at Kansas for five years.

THE SEASON
Vanderbilt started to improve defensively after the slow start, getting more confident on offense and were able to string together three straight wins over the likes of Toledo, East Tennessee State and Lipscomb. However, many Commodore followers weren't convinced and No. 25 Georgia Tech provided a true test in an early December game. Vanderbilt prevailed easily, 74-64.

It was off to Puerto Rico in late December for the San Juan Shootout. Vanderbilt won the first two games convincingly over Tennessee Tech and Division III Puerto Rico-Mayaguez but stumbled in a final against a dangerous Appalachian State team that had defeated Virginia earlier in the tournament.

Lopsided wins over Rice and Alabama A&M completed the Commodores preseason schedule and it was time for the real season to start: the SEC. The Commodores dropped their opener against an athletic Auburn team, 68-65, and the grumblers were grumbling again in Nashville.

Tennessee, then ranked No. 16 nationally, came to Nashville expecting another win over Vanderbilt. In a high scoring, close game, Vanderbilt's Shan Foster tipped in a Derrick Byars miss at the buzzer to give the Commodores an exciting 82-81 victory over the local media's dearest.

After a disappointing loss at Georgia dropped the team's record to 1-2 in the SEC, it was time for a visit to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky for a meeting with the Kentucky Wildcats.

During the 2005 season Vanderbilt had beaten the Wildcats for the first time ever at Rupp Arena, which was built in the early 1970s. Few gave Vanderbilt a chance to repeat the task. The Commodores responded with a 72-67 win over the then No. 25 Wildcats. A win at ranked LSU and a home victory against Ole Miss gave Vanderbilt a spiffy 5-2 SEC record as a trip to No. 1 Florida loomed.

Vanderbilt stormed out to a 41-30 lead over the defending champions and led much of the second half before the Gators rallied to win, 74-64. The Commodores then won a hard fought home game against Georgia but were hammered at unranked Tennessee, 84-57.

After a home win against SEC cellar dweller South Carolina, Vanderbilt faced Florida again, this time in Nashville. In a nationally televised game Vanderbilt ended the nation's longest winning streak by defeating the Gators, 83-70. Vanderbilt Foster and Byars each scored 24 points to lead the Commodores. With four regular season games left Vanderbilt stood at No. 17 in the nation with a 18-8 (8-4 SEC) record.

After an ugly loss at Mississippi State, Vanderbilt again faced Kentucky, this time in Memorial Gym. The Commodores won for the fourth straight time over the Wildcats but it wasn't easy. Vanderbilt never led until the final seconds as the Commodores picked up a hard fought 67-65 win.

After a 99-90 win at improved South Carolina, Vanderbilt finished its regular season with a home loss to Arkansas and then faced the Razorbacks again six days later in their SEC Tournament opener in Atlanta, losing again 72-71 after a last second shot missed.


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