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March 23, 2007

GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. No. 9 Georgetown

QUICK FACTS
Vanderbilt (22-11) vs. Georgetown (28-6)
Friday, March 23, 2007

Tip-off: 6:27 P.M. CT, Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ

Rankings: Georgetown is No. 9 in the AP poll and No. 9 in the ESPN-USA Today poll. Vanderbilt is not ranked in either poll.

Sagarin: 6-Georgetown (91.16); 37-Vanderbilt (84.53)

RPI: Georgetown-9 (SOS 14); Vanderbilt-47 (SOS 23).

Line: Georgetown is favored by 7.5 points.

Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (144-107) and his 14th year overall (267-170); John Thompson III is in his third year at Georgetown (70-29) and his seventh year overall (138-71).

Series: Today is the fourth meeting between the two schools. Georgetown leads series 3-1; Georgetown leads 1-0 at neutral sites and in Nashville. Vanderbilt leads 1-0 in Washington, D.C.

Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM.

Television: CBS Sports.

VU team headquarters: Crown Plaza Meadowlands


STARTING LINEUPS

Vanderbilt
3 - Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (7.9 ppg, 3.4 apg)

32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (15.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg)

4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. Tenn. (17.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.4 apg)

20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. Ky. (9.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.2 apg)


Georgetown

Roy Hibbert, C, 7-2, 272, Adelphi, MD (11.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.6 bpg)

Jonathan Wallace, G, 6-1, 178, Harvest, AL (11.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.4 apg)

Jeff Green, F, 6-8, 225, Hayattesville, MD (11.2 ppf, 6.1 rpg, 3.7 apg)

DaJuan Summers, F. 6-9, Baltimore, MD (8.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.6 apg)

Jessie Sapp, G, 6-3, New York City, New York (8.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg)


SCOUTING GEORGETOWN

There really aren't any secrets when it comes to Georgetown, especially for Vanderbilt's fans, coaches and players. The Hoyas' strength is their inside game, led by 7-2 center Hibbert and Big East Player of the Year Green. Both were unanimous first team Al Big East selections.

Georgetown is on a six game winning streak that includes a Big East Tournament
Championship victory over No. 11 Pittsburgh (63-42), and NCAA tournament wins over Belmont (80-55) and Boston College (62-55).

Georgetown, 28-6, has also captured 17 of their last 18 games. In addition to winning the Big East tournament, Georgetown claimed the outright conference crown with a 13-3 regular season record.

Green is the most versatile big man in the Big East, hitting 50 percent of his shots from the field. Summers has emerged as one of the most promising freshmen in the league.

Coach Thompson has continued to run the same Princeton-style offense that Stallings employed the three previous seasons at Vandy. As a result, Georgetown's season-opener against Vandy was almost like a practice session for VU's defense.

But, in the end, VU was still far too much of a work in progress in the paint to stop Georgetown's overpowering front line. VU lost 86-70, with Green, Hibbert and Wallace scoring 19, 18 and 16 points, respectively. The trio attempted 34 of Georgetown's 61 shots from the field. Hibbert and Green also posted 10 and eight rebounds, respectively.

VU was led by Alex Gordon's 15 points and Derrick Byars' 14. Neltner led Vandy on the boards with eight, while adding nine points in his Commodore debut.

VU actually held their own on the boards against Georgetown, but had a dismal night from three. The Commodores were just 5-of-21 from 3 for the game, with Foster missing all five attempts from the field -- four of them from 3.

For the game, Georgetown shot 52 percent from the field, compared to Vanderbilt's 41 percent.

That said, it's not entirely clear how much you can take away from the previous game. So much has transpired since then for Vanderbilt, which was testing their new offense for the first time against GU with quite obviously dubious results. Since then, the Commodores have turned their season around 180 degrees, as evidenced by the fact that we are doing a Game Day Report on the eve of the Sweet 16.

Vandy was actually down just four points at the half against Georgetown, and when you consider how poorly Foster shot the ball -- and the fact that he attempted only five shots all game -- you have to think that Stallings may try to get him the ball early and often against the Hoyas this time around.

Cutting to the chase, the Commodores play on the big stage today, with a chance to advance to the Elite 8. Looking ahead, that very well could be a match-up against North Carolina, with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Atlanta. The Commodores will be the deserved underdog against the Hoyas, if only by virtue of the sound beating VU took in the season opener. But, with all the marbles on the table, you can expect both teams to play to their highest potential from tip-off to final horn.

This should be one of the best games in the NCAA Tournament thus far.


OUR TAKES

Jason Holwerda
Former Vanderbilt basketball player
Nashville, Tenn.


There are no secret to understanding this Georgetown team. They have one of the best if not the best frontcourt in the tournament, they are extremely athletic and they are a very disciplined and well coached team. They are a completely different team than the one VU faced several months ago and they present a formidable challenge.

On the other hand VU is also completely different as I am sure all of the Vandy faithful will attest and they present several match up problems of their own.

In addition to GU's size they also have the guard play to support their guys up front. In particular a point guard by the name of Jessie Sapp, who does a nice job of distributing the ball and running the offense. In addition, Jonathan Wallace is shooting an impressive 48% front behind the three point arc, and adds an outside dimention which tends to open things up for their big guys.

Georgetown still runs the Princeton style offense that VU formerly ran except they have added several opportunities for their play makers to break off and work one-on-one, rather than the offense being strictly continuity.

Overall VU needs to play a very complete game on both ends of the floor and their shooters (all of them) need to be outstanding.

As if the challenge for VU matching up against GU was not enough add to the equation that they (Georgetown) will be playing only a few hours from home and the crowd, just like in Sacramento will largely be rooting against the Commodores.

There is nothing quite like the Sweet Sixteen environment. From the fans to the media to all the local attention and just the energy in the building; other than Ted and Dan the rest of the guys will have no idea what to expect. Coach Stallings did a good job during our run and will do a good job of preparing the guys for this experience and help to keep them focused on the task at hand. Having been to several final fours, Stallings knows the affect that the pressure, the expectations and the attention can have on a player.

There is no question that he will have this team ready to play and give us a good show.


Mike Rapp
VandySports.com Publisher
Franklin, Tenn.


Pinch me.

Vandy in the Sweet 16? That would have been grounds for committal just two months ago.

And yet, look at where we are today. As you read this, both Chris Lee and I will be flying to East Rutherford to cover the biggest VU basketball game in three years.

Clearly, Georgetown has the talent advantage on the front line. But, the fact of the matter is, all of the big wins VU has notched this year came against teams that supposedly had the same sort of advantage in the paint. With the Commodores' flex-like offense, mixed with a touch of the high post slip screens and back door cuts -- this is a dangerous team in every respect.

The X-factor for VU is the degree to which Georgetown may not be prepared to face the offensive and defensive team Vandy has become since they played in November. There really is no comparison, and if Georgetown comes out and takes Vandy lightly, the Commodores could torch the Hoyas just as they did Kentucky, Florida and Alabama.

But let's be real and say here and now that, if the entire Vanderbilt team doesn't bring their proverbial "A" game, they won't win. Byars and Foster have to be special today -- as they have been more often than not since January. But Cage has to hit his open shots when Georgetown doubles Byars. And Neltner simply has to be tough and smart on defense without fouling.

For the Hoyas, I expect they will try to pound the ball inside to try to put Neltner and Skuchas on their heels. It is absolutely imperative that both stay out of foul trouble before halftime for VU to have any realistic chance of surviving down the stretch.

I genuinely like the Commodores today. Vandy is playing at their highest level of the season with their torching of George Washington followed by their thrilling double overtime win over a bigger Washington State team that was the region's three seed. This team is playing like they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

I love their moxy, and I definitely like our chances if Cage and Foster come up big today, as they did in the tournament's first two games. You can count on me shooting non-stop today, so watch for our photos and courtside commentary in the biggest VU hoops game in years.

Bring on Southern Cal, who I predict will beat UNC in the nightcap.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 78, Georgetown 75


Chris Lee
VandySports.com Publisher
Nashville, Tenn.


At first glance, this is one of the worst-possible matchups for the Commodores, as the Hibbert-Green duo is a load for anyone to handle, much less a Commodore team that's height-challenged with a center in Neltner who too often gets in foul trouble. Plus, the Hoyas are on a huge winning streak, and playing as well as anyone in America.

But flash back to just over a month ago, when a Florida team with Joakim Noah and Al Horford came to town. As good as Hibbert and Green are, I'd take Florida's duo; after all, they do have a title. And in the backcourt, the Hoyas are also good, but I don't think they present the challnges of Green-Humphrey-Brewer. The difference, of course, is that game was in Nashville.

On paper, I don't really like the matchup for Vandy, and this is where I had them going out in my bracket. And when I dissect the matchup now strictly by the numbers, it doesn't look a whole lot better. I'm sure Georgetown and its fans feel the same way, and I don't blame them, especially after seeing what they did to Vandy in Memorial in November, though anyone watching Vandy then and now knows it's not even close to the same team.

However, I just like the look of this team. It seems that when Vandy comes to play, they can beat ANYONE, as proven by ending Florida's 17-game winning streak, or by winning at Rupp Arena. I think they'll go in with the belief they can win, and I think Stallings will be playing the "nobody repsects us" card to perfection all week for added motivation. I think Foster and Byars will give 40 of the best minutes of their careers, and in the end, the Commodores are as good as anyone at pulling out close games (which I think this will be) in the clutch.

I wouldn't have believed I'd think this a week ago, but now, my gut says, "Vandy."

Vanderbilt 74, Georgetown 72


Jake Lowery
VandySports.com Guest Writer
Atlanta, GA


When Vanderbilt and Georgetown originally scheduled their home-and-home series less than two years ago, the matchup was intriguing because of the teams' similarities, but now the matchup is intriguing because of the team's differences. Since the beginning of the series, Georgetown's post game has risen to national prominence, while Vanderbilt has continually become more wing-oriented while losing post players to graduation, transfer, and medical conditions. So the question now is not about which team can run the slow-tempo Princeton gameplan better. The question is even more fundamental - what will this game be about?

If Vanderbilt wins, this game will be about guard play, turnovers, shooting, running and scoring in the open floor, and Georgetown's inability to contain the SEC player of the year. If Georgetown wins, this game will be about post play, rebounding margin, getting points out of the half-court set, and Vanderbilt's inability to contain the Big East player of the year. Oh yeah, and Roy Hibbert's pretty good too.

So how can the Commodores make this game play to their strengths? Here are some ideas of what Kevin Stallings will try to accomplish in an effort to shape the game:

• Force Green into foul trouble - not only is he the Big East player of the year, but Vanderbilt was only 4 points behind Georgetown at the half earlier this year (despite 14 points and 7 boards by Hibbert) because Green only played 7 minutes of that half. If Green is asked to play defense on the perimeter, this could be easier for VU.

• Let Foster and Byars reign downtown - the player who shut Foster down earlier this year (Marc Egerson) is now unavailable for the Hoyas, whose perimeter defense is a weakness. Shan and Derrick should be able to get open, and Vandy's chances are very good if this game is about whether these two can hit open threes.

• Emphasize the defensive boards - Georgetown's offense is extremely efficient in part because they thrive on second chances. They are the 7th best offensive rebounding team in the country, and rule number one for Vanderbilt's post players will be to limit Georgetown to one shot per possession.

Georgetown is certainly anticipating this basic strategy by the Commodores, and aside from generally trying to play their brand of basketball well, the Hoya X-factor will be how they try to defend Foster and especially Byars. I expect Georgetown to keep everything "pure vanilla" and simple, in hopes that their talent, size, and depth will carry the day.

A Vanderbilt win will take either excellent 3pt shooting, an amazing coaching job by Stallings, or perhaps both. If this isn't the time for optimism, I don't know what is. I expect Foster to have quite a game this time, and Byars to give another of his consistent star performances.

Cage and Skuchas will also shine in a game that will showcase the unselfishness, smarts, and work ethic of the Vanderbilt seniors. Vanderbilt takes Memorial Magic on the road once again.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 71, Georgetown 70


Tommy Crockett
VandySports.com Basketball Board Moderator
Reno, Nevada


The Big East champions and the second best team in the regular season from the SEC square off and the unlikely possibility that Vanderbilt's season could be sandwiched between Hoya games seems to be interesting press fodder.

Georgetown at 28-6 and 13-3 is an interesting match up for Vandy. The Hoyas rank 11th in the Big East in scoring but 1st in the Big East in scoring defense making them on paper a tough nut for the Commodores to crack. Vandy's SEC stats of 4th in scoring and 10th in scoring defense seem about par for the course in an effort to provide an entertaining yet difficult game for Vanderbilt fans to enjoy.

Green and Hibbert are capable of completely taking over a game as they did their last time out against Boston College. The last few minutes when the game was on the line completely belonged to them. Skuchas and Cage as well as Ross and Alan will have a "tall" order with which to deal, but the more interesting view might be in how Coach Stallings approaches the defense. Green and Hibbert look to be perfect candidates to roll in and out of "switch up" defense thus giving the Commodores a shot at great rebound positioning.

I'm not sure if this game will be decided by the 3 or not. Vanderbilt needs to play their game, but I'm not convinced that the team is simply, "live by the three or die by it." This team is much more complex and fouls will certainly play a huge part. If the Commodore lads end up with early interior fouls that force them to leave the game plan then it could be a long game for Commodore fans.

That said, Byars and Foster will have to dragged away from the floor screaming if they haven't been given the opportunity to give their all to extend the season.

Vanderbilt 74, Georgetown 73


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