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January 17, 2008They've been together for only 17 games, so it's a bit premature to compare them to other dynamic duos. But there is no denying the impact of the Vanderbilt tandem of Shan Foster and A.J. Ogilvy. Together they've propelled the Commodores to the best start in school history and a No. 16 national ranking.
Foster, a 6-foot-7 senior swingman, and Ogilvy, a 6-11 freshman center, rank 1-2, respectively, in scoring in the Southeastern Conference. For some perspective on that, no two players from the same team ever have finished atop the scoring race in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 or Pac-10. The last time it happened in the SEC was when Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld did it at Tennessee from 1975-1977.
Coincidentally, the Commodores (16-1, 1-1) and the sixth-ranked Vols (14-1, 2-0) renew their rivalry Thursday night in Knoxville. It's a huge game for both teams, but Vanderbilt especially. Six of its first nine SEC games are on the road, and it already lost at a middling Kentucky team on Saturday in overtime.
"We're disappointed in how we played against Kentucky," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said. "We've got a lot of progress to make if we're going to go over there and play well at Tennessee. We need to make improvement in every area. We were dominated on the boards, we turned it over too much, we didn't execute on offense."
It was one of the few occasions this season when Stallings' team didn't execute on offense. Vanderbilt is second in the SEC in scoring at 86.0 points per game, which also ranks fifth nationally. The Commodores have Foster (20.6 points per game, 51.1 percent from 3-point range) on the outside and Ogilvy (19.4 points per game, 63.9 percent) on the inside. Foster is a leading candidate for SEC Player of the Year honors; Ogilvy is the same for SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
Opposing coaches already knew Foster was a handful. Ogilvy arrived as a highly skilled offensive player whose impact this soon even Stallings only dreamed about.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl knows his smallish lineup will get a big dose of the big Aussie.
"He's going to be a professional basketball player someday," Pearl said. "His size, his athleticism, his ability to use his body and seal, high IQ, great hands ? he's the real deal."
The only challengers to Foster and Ogilvy near the top of the SEC scoring race appear to be Alabama forward Richard Hendrix (19.4 points per game) and South Carolina guard Devan Downey (19.1 points per game). No other player in the league is averaging even 18 points.
Could Foster and Ogilvy finish 1-2 in scoring in the SEC?
"I think it's definitely possible because it's an inside-outside combination," Pearl said. "Foster is the best 3-point shooter in the league. His size and length make him an incredibly difficult cover because he can shoot over you. You have to cover him before the catch.
"I don't see anything changing. He'll keep shooting the 3-ball, and Ogilvy from 'two' and from the free-throw line. They don't compete with one another as far as their shots. It's a tremendous inside-outside combination. The two of them arguably are the best at their positions in the league."
As good as they might be, they're not the threat King and Grunfeld were during their days in Knoxville in the 1970s. King led the league in scoring in 1975 and 1977, with Grunfeld second, and Grunfeld took the top spot in '76 with King runner-up.
"I don't think we thought about it too much, but obviously if it hasn't happened in 30 years, it was a pretty big deal," said Grunfeld, now the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. "We weren't really concerned with how many points we averaged. We were just concerned with winning."
The Vols won the SEC title in Grunfeld's senior season with a 22-6 mark, including 16-2 in the SEC.
"I go back to the record of the team," Grunfeld said. "Players can put up big numbers, but how much is it worth unless you're winning?"
McCLELLAN'S PICK SIX
Each week basketball editor Bob McClellan will pick six things to watch for over the weekend:
1. O.J. Mayo vs. Kevin Love. The Trojans (10-6, 1-3) have no chance of beating the Bruins (16-1, 4-0). In fact, they'll get blown out. But Mayo will do everything he can to outscore Love, with whom he appeared on a Sports Illustrated cover in the preseason. The two are friends, and each is capable of putting up big numbers. Mayo has six games already this season in which he has attempted at least 20 shots. USC is 2-4 in those games.
2. The emergence of a No. 4 team in the Big 12. The top of the Big 12 is well established with Kansas (17-0, 2-0), Texas A&M (15-2, 1-1) and Texas (13-3, 0-1). Which team will emerge from the next group that includes Baylor (14-2, 2-0), Kansas State (11-4, 1-0) and Missouri (11-6, 1-1)? We'll find out a lot more this weekend when the Bears play at Nebraska (11-4, 0-2), the Wildcats play host to the Aggies and the Tigers plays host to the Jayhawks. An upset by Kansas State and/or Missouri would be huge come NCAA selection time. The Texas A&M-Kansas State matchup also features three five-star freshmen ? Michael Beasley and Bill Walker of the Wildcats and DeAndre Jordan of the Aggies.
3. Clemson at Duke. The Tigers (14-3, 2-1) have a chance to prove they're a threat in the ACC at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Easier said than done against the Blue Devils (14-1, 2-0). Clemson appears to be back on track after consecutive losses to North Carolina and Charlotte. They responded with victories over Florida State and N.C. State, but those don't build a resume like winning at Duke. Clemson is 4-55 all time against the Blue Devils as a visitor.
4. Notre Dame's road show. The Irish (13-3, 3-1) have been somewhat of a surprise nationally (though Rivals.com's preseason top 64 countdown listed them 36th), but there's a reason for it besides the terrific play of sophomore forward Luke Harangody (19.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg). It's called home cooking. Sixteen games into the season and Notre Dame has played only one true road game (it has played a few neutral-site contests). It got drilled in that one game, 92-66 at Marquette. The Irish now face a two-game Big East road swing starting Saturday at Georgetown (13-2, 3-1). The Hoyas need a win, too, after being upset at Pittsburgh on Monday night.
5. Mississippi State's winning streak. The Bulldogs (12-5, 3-0), after stumbling to a 5-5 start, have righted the ship with seven consecutive wins. They're surrendering only 50.7 points per game in three SEC victories. They play at Alabama (11-7, 0-3) on Saturday, and the Tide needs a win badly. Mississippi State would love nothing more than to carry its eight-game winning streak into a showdown with rival Ole Miss in Starkville on Jan. 26.
6. Oregon at Washington State. The Ducks (12-4, 3-1) had fallen to 9-4 when they lost at Arizona State to open the Pac-10 slate. Since then, they've won three in a row in the conference, including victories over Arizona and Stanford. But they have the two-game Washington road swing beginning Thursday night against the Huskies (9-7, 0-3) before calling on the Cougars (14-1, 2-1). Oregon swept Washington State last season, handing the Cougars two of their eight losses.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.