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February 14, 2007

GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina

QUICK FACTS

Vanderbilt (16-8, 6-4) vs. South Carolina (12-11, 2-8), 7:00 CD tip-off, Memorial Gymnasium (Nashville, Tenn.)

RPI: Vanderbilt is 48, South Carolina is 96

Sagarin ratings: Vanderbilt is 54, South Carolina is 116

Line: Vanderbilt is favored by 11

Series info: This is the 39th meeting between the two programs. South Carolina leads the all-time series 21-17; The series is tied 9-9 in Nashville; South Carolina leads 10-7 in Columbia and 2-1 at neutral sites. Last year, South Carolina won 66-64 in overtime in Nashville on Jan. 18, and Vanderbilt won 57-56 in Columbia on Feb. 25.

The Gamecocks are 19-12 against VU since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1992.

Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (138-104) and his 14th year overall (261-167); Dave Odom is in his sixth year at South Carolina (112-81) and his 21st year overall (390-255).

Rankings: Neither team is ranked.

Radio: In Nashville, the game is carried on the ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM).

Television: None.


STARTING LINEUPS

Vanderbilt
3 - Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (7.7 ppg, 3.6 apg)

32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (14.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (15.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg)

20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (11.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (10.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg)


South Carolina
1 - Tre Kelley, G, 6-0, 190, Sr., Washington, D.C. (17.8 ppg, 5.1 apg)

4 - Bryce Sheldon, G, 6-4, 196, Sr., Torrance, Calif. (7.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg)

31 - Evaldas Baniulis, F, 6-7, 209, Fr., Vilnius, Lithuania (4.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg)

21 - Dominique Archie, F, 6-7, 208, Fr., Augusta, Ga. (8.3ppg, 4.9 rpg)

33 - Brandon Wallace, 6-9, 203, Sr., Jackson, S.C. (10.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg)


SCOUTING SOUTH CAROLINA

There are two SEC teams that always seem to have Vanderbilt's number, regardless of the talent on either team. One of those is Georgia, and the other is South Carolina. Somehow, it always seems that Vandy just can't seem to get over the hump when they play Odom.

That certainly proved to be true last year. The Commodores got a win in Columbia last year, but dropped the home game in a contest that went to overtime. In that game -- Carolina's first conference win of the season -- Kelley lit the Commodore defense up by shooting 10-of-15 from the field, including 6-of-8 from three, for a career-high 29 points. That loss was one of the low points of a very low home court season for Vanderbilt.

The rematch in Columbia was another one point margin, but this time Dan Cage came up with 13 points to rally VU from a nine point deficit. Notably, the Commodores were a dismal 7-of-23 from three for the game, but were 5-of-13 in the second half to seal the win down the stretch.

South Carolina was again enigmatic last season, continuing an odd trend for Odom's Columbia program. The 'Cocks always seem to have some good players, but their teams lack any kind of identity. Everyone had predicted Odom would be fired at the end of last season, but then SC took Florida to the wire in the SEC Championship game in Nashville. SC went on to the NIT, and Odom got an extension. Now, you have to wonder if there are regrets in Columbia, as this may be the worst South Carolina basketball season since Odom took over the program.

Kelley is the leader of this team, and may be the most unsung player in the league. The senior point guard plays as effectively on defense as he does on offense, which is notable since Kelley leads the SEC with 19.7 points per game since the start of league play. Kelley has been a Commodore killer for the past two years, and will no doubt be a big matchup for Gordon and Beal.

Like Vandy, Carolina doesn't have a lot of firepower in the paint. Gone are 6-9 center Antoine Tisby and Renaldo Balkman, the latter who left early for the NBA. Odom now relies on true freshman Archie and role player Wallace, neither who will be working out for pro scouts anytime soon.

Until this year, SC and VU were the two most deliberate offensive teams. Whereas Vandy graduated to an uptempo game, South Carolina has stuck with the slowdown. As a result, Carolina is the lowest scoring team in the league, averaging just 62.7 points in SEC games. Vandy averages 10 points higher.

On defense, Carolina is allowing 75 points per game in SEC play, with ranks just ninth in the league. They also rank last in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense, and 11th in 3-point field goal defense. As a result, Carolina is dead last in the league in scoring margin at -12. Vandy is almost even at -0.4.

One area to keep an eye on is free throw shooting, where VU holds a commanding edge. The Commodores rank second in the SEC at 71 percent, making 119 of 167; Carolina, by contrast, is last at 62 percent, and has attempted just 130 -- the lowest in the SEC.

South Carolina has lost their last four games, including a 73-54 setback at home against Georgia on Saturday. Vandy had been the hottest team in the league until Wednesday, when they were blown out of Thompson Boling Arena in their most lopsided loss of the year.


OUR TAKES

Mike Rapp
Franklin, Tenn.
VandySports.com Publisher


Vandy isn't as bad as they appeared on Wednesday, but the UT game showed just how poorly this team can play when they don't show up. But Tennessee, even when they are struggling, is much more capable than South Carolina is on a good day.

Carolina's style -- like Georgia's -- tends to cause problems for Vanderbilt. But SC simply doesn't have the interior talent or depth to play a rough-and-tumble game against anyone this year. And with their abysmal foul shooting ability, they can't capitalize on that style of play when they do cause fouls.

Vanderbilt can smell the Big Dance now, and I see no reason to believe (yet) that the debacle in Knoxville is a sign of things to come. That said, with Florida coming to town Saturday, this is a game that Vandy needs to win, or they could be looking at a losing streak that could turn things south quickly.

That said, I think VU simply has better players, better coaching, and a big home court advantage that will give them a "W" tonight.

Vanderbilt 85, South Carolina 73


Tommy Crockett
Reno, Nev.
VandySports.com Staff Writer


It is fairly hard to fathom how badly this season is going for the Gamecocks of South Carolina. You just don't generally see Dave Odom bring a team to Nashville that just got manhandled by anybody on their own court. USC-Columbia isn't shooting well, they aren't hitting the boards and outside of Mr. Reliable, Tre Kelley, this is the most pedestrian Gamecock team in Coach Odom's tenure by far.

Of course, conversely Vandy comes into this game having made the move from surprise of the conference season to ugly ducking having been taken to the woodshed in Knoxville.

It looks as though any team can fold for an afternoon. Or conversely stand up and be dominant for the moment. Look no further than West Virginia's Jekyll and Hyde act of last week. As Coach Stallings noted, "We haven't had one like this all season long," in reference to his team's performance (or lack thereof) in Knoxville.

It has been said by some of the more studied posters on the VandySports.Com message boards that this game may be the most "important" game of the season for the Commodores. If we, the observers, know this so well believe me the lads in gold and black know the importance of this game as well.

I expect the Vanderbilt subs to take charge and following up the poorest game of his career expect George Drake to step up any minutes he gets and make an impact. We know USC-Columbia wants desperately to end their four game losing streak, but it won't happen in Nashville.

Vanderbilt 77, South Carolina 61


Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn.
VandySports.com Publisher


Carolina is the Commodores' ever-present nemesis. It seems as if both years, teams are evenly-matched, yet the Gamecocks always win in Nashville. Last year, it was Tre' Kelley doing Vandy in with a career game to follow the formula once again.

Kelley presents some problems with his dribble-penetration skills, and Brandon Wallace inside is also a force to be reckoned with on the glass (and, it seems as if he hurt Vandy from the outside last year, too).

But the problem is, there's not much around those two. The Gamecocks take care of the ball, but shoot poorly and struggle to score. I would expect them to keep the number of possessions down and try to beat Vandy in physical matchup... which seems to be what they always do, and do well.

On the other hand, I think Vandy can spread Carolina out, get some shots around the perimeter, and maybe a few easy looks inside, too. And if this gets to be a foul-shooting contest, that should favor the Commodores, too.

In looking at this matchup, the only things the Gamecocks do better are block shots and hold the score down, though the past, the matchups haven't really seemed to matter, as the Gamecocks always win in Nashville anyway.

However, the Commodores have proven they can win games at either tempo, and I think that Vandy should be good and ticked off after Saturday's embarassment in Knoxville, and I look for them to respond appropriately. I do have reservations about picking against the Gamecocks at Vandy given recent history; however, I think the teams are usually evenly-matched in terms of talent, but that's not the case this year. There is both senior leadership and toughess on this Vanderbilt team, and I expect to see Byars and Cage take the bull by the horns on Wednesday and move this team one step closer to an eventual NCAA Tournament bid.

Vanderbilt 72, South Carolina 61


Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn.
VandySports.com Recruiting Editor


This is the make or break game for Vanderbilt. Strange as that may sound with a 6-4 record, the fact is, Vanderbilt can not lose to South Carolina in Memorial this year.

The Gamecocks are not the South Carolina team most are familiar with. They are the lowest scoring team in the conference and have one of the worst defenses in the league.

The main reason for their struggles is the fact that if Tre Kelly doesn't score, Carolina doesn't score. Because Kelly has to take a majority of his shots from outside the arc, South Carolina is the worst rebounding team in the league.

Simply put, there is a pretty good reason why the Gamecocks have the worst record in the league. But even some of the worst South Carolina teams have been able to come into Memorial and take the game away from Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt needs to treat South Carolina like they have the best record in the league and be the aggressor and take over the game early.

The Commodores must shoot better than they did at Knoxville and have to defend better as well.

The X-Factor to the game is Cage. When Cage was involved with the offense this season, VU has been one of the better teams in the league; When he somewhat disappears, the team has looked very average. Cage has to get at least six or seven shots in the game and get to the free throw line.

Last year's loss to South Carolina in Memorial broke the team's back. VU can't let that happen yet again. But the Gamecocks are not nearly the kind of team they have been in the past, and the 'Dores need to prove that Saturday's loss at UT was just one game and get back on track.

Vanderbilt 79, South Carolina 72


Jake Lowery
Nashville, Tenn.
VandySports.com Staff Writer


South Carolina may be sixth in the East this year, but that does not make them a weak team. The SEC East has five of the top six teams in the toughest conference in basketball.

While the loss of players like Renaldo Balkman has somewhat changed the Gamecocks' identity as a team, Dave Odom always seems to find a way to disrupt Vanderbilt's offense and make the game "ugly".

The players to watch today are Tre Kelley and whatever Commodore is tasked with defending him. Vanderbilt has been vulnerable to point guard scoring threats in the recent past, and Kelley is one of the best. Don't be suprised if Jermaine Beal and/or George Drake get more playing time than usual to defend this threat.

The X-factor will be the turnover battle. I predict that the team with fewer turnovers will take this game, and a game with more turnovers favors Vanderbilt as a more transition-oriented team than SC. I believe Vanderbilt will take good care of the basketball, as usual, on the way to a convincing win.

Vanderbilt 80, South Carolina 65


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