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March 23, 2007Georgetown is a nightmare match-up for just about any team, as Commodore fans can certainly attest after an 86-70 season-opening loss at home to the Hoyas. GU has perhaps the most lethal starting frontcourt combination in the country between 7-2 goliath Roy Hibbert (a high school classmate of VU's Davis Nwankwo) and 6-9 Jeff Green, the Big East Player of the Year. They also have an outstanding crop of freshmen and a great distributor/clutch shooter in point Jonathan Wallace.
That said, Georgetown, arguably the hottest team in the tournament after winning 17 of their last 18 games including first and second-round wins over Belmont and Boston College, respectively, did not face the same Vanderbilt team as they are prepared to face now.
Way back then, SEC Player of the Year Derrick Byars was still the team's pass-first second-option and preseason SEC first-teamer Shan Foster was held to one of his worst games of the season, missing all five of his shots and only hitting two free throws against the team that finished bridesmaid to Vandy in his recruitment.
Vandy enters this Sweet 16 with revenge on their minds against a team that looked vulnerable against Boston College for much of the game. Hibbert's late outburst helped stretch the Hoyas' eventual game-winning lead. Likewise, Vandy's first order of business must be to hold Hibbert in a way that Belmont and BC could not.
"The first thing to do is throw a net around Hibbert," according to Blue Ribbon Notebook's 2007 Tournament Edition. "If he gets room inside offensively, the Hoyas won't be stopped. Deny him the ball, but be careful to keep Green from getting too many mano y mano opportunities.
"It sounds crazy, especially at a time when guards are so valuable in college basketball, but putting the game in the hands of Wallace and (Jessie) Sapp isn't such a bad idea."
Sound familiar? Vandy employed a similar strategy against No. 1-ranked Florida at home that proved to be ultimately successful, beating the Gators by roughly the same margin that VU suffered defeat to Georgetown. In that game, Vandy employed a shallow, 2-3 trapping zone which took reigning NCAA Tournament MVP Joakim Noah and Al Horford out of the game at times.
At times this year, Hibbert has been rendered similarly useless by zone defenses geared to crack down in the paint, forcing him to pass out of the high post. Green, however, is a different animal entirely, able to run the floor with ease and stretch defenses with a surprisingly reliable outside jump shot.
Freshman DaJuan Summers, Green's top backup, is nearly a clone in terms of his abilities and playing style. Patrick Ewing, Jr. brings [db]DeMarre Carroll-like hustle to their fourth frontcourt spot, making the Hoyas seemingly unstoppable in the paint and that's not including five-star freshman Vernon Macklin, a talent who has yet to comfortably acclimate to the GU system.
Such post depth would seem nearly impossible to guard against, right? In their first two wins of the tourney, Georgetown overpowered their way to the basket over athletically inferior opponents and seemed to will their way to convincing victories. Such a problem might seem to also be a huge red flag the second time around, with Kevin Stallings' comments about not having an extra athletic gear against Mississippi State.
However, the Hoyas have proved beatable this year under the right circumstances. "Teams that can penetrate and pass fare well against Georgetown," according to Blue Ribbon. "Attacking Hibbert early can get him off the court with foul trouble. That's what Villanova did but the big guy isn't going to foul to a fault. Teams must hit their threes against the Hoyas, the better to create some high-post opportunities, and everybody must rebound well."
While a hot three-point shooting team like Belmont had trouble getting any separation on the perimeter at all against the Hoyas, Vandy stands a better shot because of Ross Neltner's and Byars' abilities to create in the paint. Solving Georgetown's stout perimeter defense won't be easy, but Vanderbilt hasn't even had, by their standards, a "hot" all-around shooting effort in the Dance yet.
Meanwhile, while Wallace and Sapp can both be hot at times, they are pretty much it as far as GU's backcourt depth. Jeremiah Rivers, Doc's son, is immensely talented as a passer but is still largely unproven as a floor general. Sapp is capable of getting hot for stretches, as he showed in shooting 4-for-6 from three against Belmont, but he is also prone to disappear for long periods of time, as he shot abysmally throughout the Big East Tournament. Wallace, at 47 percent for the season when dialing long-distance, is about the only sure thing GU has on the perimeter.
As simple as it sounds, I believe Vandy will win this game if it can neutralize Hibbert's scoring in the paint and find ways to double-team and contain Green and Summers. If you can do that, let Wallace and Sapp shoot all they want. For all of this to occur, Ted Skuchas and Neltner need to play a big factor down low.
Offensively, Vandy needs to take aim at Hibbert down low via Byars and Neltner and try to draw the big man into early foul trouble (whoever the fouls favor early on could be a large indicator of how the game ends). And as most people probably don't remember, Vandy shot only 24 percent from three against Georgetown Nov. 15.
While I think Georgetown will key on the perimeter as much as possible to begin the game, I think the perimeter will eventually open up enough for the 'Dores to release their three-point barrage that worked so effectively for three halves against George Washington and Wazzu.
I predict crisp ball movement early on from the Commodores with Foster avenging his poor outing earlier in the season to having a game that comes close to a career-high.
As Vandy hits more shots while containing the Hoya bigs in the paint, Georgetown will cease controlling the tempo and start trailing until the final buzzer after a valiant but ultimately panicked and fruitless comeback effort.