GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. Furman

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• Records: Furman (3-2), Vanderbilt (1-2)
• Tip-off: 7 P.M. CDT
• Series Info: Vanderbilt leads the overall series 5-0;Vanderbilt leads 4-0 in Nashville and 1-0 at neutral sites.
Last Meeting: Vanderbilt won 81-60 in Nashville on Nov. 20, 2005.
• Rankings: Neither team is ranked.
• Radio: Vanderbilt-ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM);
• Television: None.
• Tickets: 615-322-GOLD.
Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (13.0 ppg, 3.3 apg)
Owns 52.4 FG% (11-of-21) and 50.0 3FG% (8-of-16) this season
Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Netted game-high 23 points at Wake Forest (8-17 FGs, 3-10 3FGs)
Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (13.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg)
allied 8 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists against Elon
Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (10.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Scored 17 points and hit 5 3-pointers in first career start against Elon.
Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (11.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Posted a game-high 18 points (6-9 FGs, 5-6 FTs) vs. Elon.
Eric Webb, G, 6-2, 185, Sr., Grand Rapids, Mich. (12.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.2 apg)
Posted a season-high 18 points (6-8 FGs) vs. Erskine
Robby Bostain, G, 6-6, 200, Sr., Duluth, Ga. (17.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.4 apg)
Has recorded two double-doubles this season for Furman
Gerad Punch, F, 6-4, 200, Sr., Phoenix, Ariz. (6.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Tied a career high with eight rebounds vs. Erskine.
Moussa Diagne, F, 6-8, 220, Sr., Theis, Senegal (12.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Recorded a career-high 27 points (10-15 FGs) at North Dakota State
Stanley Jones, C, 6-9, 240, So., Miami, Fla. (4.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Named to 2006 Southern Conference All-Freshman team
Furman is under the leadership of new head coach Jeff Jackson, who took over the job last spring after serving as Coach Stallings' recruiting coordinator for the previous seven years. Jackson inherited a team with a lot of returning players, including four starters. That's the good news. The bad news is, Furman was just 15-13 (8-7) last season, and finished fourth in their SoCon division. This season, the Paladins were picked to finish seventh in theie conference this season.
Furman is 3-2 so far this season, defeating Charleston Southern, and 88-69, Erskine, 67-55, at home, and Bowling Green of the MAC in Ohio, 63-59. They fell to Clemson 67-58, and lost to North Dakota State this past weekend.
While Furman clearly doesn't have any player of the athleticism of Foster or Byars, Vandy's move to a four-guard offense -- with the 6-3 Cage playing the four -- means this is a game that has as many match-up issues for VU as it does for Furman. The problems begin for Vandy with preseason All-So Con pick Robby Bostain, a 6-6 senior forward who is averaging 19.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. Jackson also relies on Moussa Diagne, a 6-8 senior forward, who is averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 boards. Senior guard Eric Webb is averaging 13.7 points.
In his first interview after taking the Furman job, Jackson let it slip that he was not in favor of the Princeton-style high post offense Stallings used while he was an assistant in Nashville. In Monday night's call-in show, however, Coach Stallings said game tape revealed that Jackson seemed to have installed at least some of the offense at Furman. So, one of the interesting side stories to tonight's game will be which style of play both coaches employ against each other.
Jackson's schedule is filled with directional no-names, and there is no question that a win over his former Southeastern Conference employer would be a huge feather in his cap . The Paladins lost at Vandy last season 81-60, but the game was close until the final minutes -- and that was with DeMarre' Carroll and Julian Terrell.
Vanderbilt remains a nearly total work in progress. After losing decisively to Georgetown and Wake Forest, VU then lost junior center Alan Metcalfe to a broken foot, one of just four frontcourt players on the roster. The Commodores managed to beat a completely out-manned Elon team on Saturday for their first win, but gave up 49 second half points to a team that scored 48 and 49 points in total against their only previous D1 opponents (Wake and Georgia Tech). Senior guard LaVonn Jordan had 22 points in the second half alone, which seemed eerily similar to many of the too-close mid-major preconference games from last season.
Dan Cage got his first start on Saturday and responded with 17 points, three steals and two assists. Cage was 5-7 from three from the power forward position, which may foretell the strategy for the coming season for Vandy. The Commodores didn't have anyone foul out for the first time this season, which is certainly good news for the now nine-member roster.
Mike Rapp
Franklin, Tenn Publisher
My take: Take the names off of the jersies and you might not see much of a difference between these two programs right now. There are rumblings among the media that Vandy will likely lose to at least one of their pre-conference mid-major opponents, and if so, this game would have to be a heavy favorite.
Coach Jackson knows every single player on the VU roster, and knows them as well as Stallings does. In some cases, maybe even better, since Jackson recruited them all to Vandy. And, Jackson inherited a Furman program that had a lot of returning experience and a couple of legit D1 basketball players in Bostain and Webb.
Normally, venerable Memorial would be a decided advantage for VU, but if the crowd is anything like the Elon game, there will be about 10,000 fans disguised as empty seats. And, it's not as if Jackson isn't familiar with coaching from the end zone.
All things considered -- and there are an awful lot of things to consider here -- this is a scary game for a shaky Commodore club that is already fighting for their lives.
Key to a Vandy win:: Get an early lead, as they did against Elon, and force Furman to play from behind. You give this coach, and this team, some confidence, and this game is almost certain to go to the Paladins' favor.
Player to watch: Dan Cage for Vandy, and Eric Webb for Furman. The two may be guarding each other, and the game will likely be determined by which of the two wins the defensive battle.
X-factor: Too easy: Jackson's (and former VU player and assistant James Strong's) return to Nashville, and how well he can get his kids to bother Foster, Byars and Skuchas.
And the winner is: I have a very bad feeling about this one. If Vandy doesn't shoot it well from outside, this one will be a defeat for VU. Cage is the key, as he was against Elon. I won't pick against the senior, but...
Vanderbilt 88, Furman 85
Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn Recruiting Analyst
My take: While the Commodores' win over Elon on Saturday was less than impressive, it was still a start for a team that is still trying to find a positive identity. While the defense again struggled, allowing the Phoenix to score 49 points in the second half, they at least had multiple players come on offensively.
The Paladins have played well in Jackson's first season. A few weeks ago, Furman battled ACC foe Clemson on the road and gave a respectable showing. For Vanderbilt, this will be a tough matchup as Furman's senior center Diagne is probably the best player in the Southern Conference. Diagne will present a tough force to defend on the inside. Vanderbilt has overall better talent, but this does not look to be an easy game for the Commodores.
Key to a Vandy win: Keep the pace from Saturday's game. While the defense still looks mediocre at the very best, the Vanderbilt offense got a shot in the arm from a couple of players including senior guard Cage, junior forward Ross Neltner, and freshmen forward JeJuan Brown. For Vanderbilt to win, they will likely need similar performances from either two or all three of these players as well as their typical scoring from Foster and Byars. If VU can't stop others from scoring, they must score in bunches themselves.
Player to watch: Furman senior Eric Webb, who has been a consistant scorer for the Paladins and is around a career 40% three-point shooter. Last year, Webb lit up the Commodores for 21 points when he was 5-of-6 from the arc. Given the fact that Diagne will probably draw attention, and Coach Jackson knows of Vanderbilt's problems guarding the perimeter over the year, Webb could be the deciding difference.
X-Factor: Shan Foster. Foster has rebounded since the Georgetown game to score 40 points in the last two games with the majority of his points coming from Foster taking the ball inside the arc, not relying on the outside. As a matter of fact, Foster has scored 10-of-12 shots from inside the perimeter. Last season against Furman, Foster scored 25 points and was 7-of-11 from inside the arc as well as hitting 3-of-8 shots from behind the arc. Vanderbilt should be able to count on more of that from Foster. When he's using all of his talent, he can be an unstoppable player.
And the winner is: This game will be a tough one because Jeff Jackson knows everyone's strengths and weaknesses. Still, I do believe that Vanderbilt will pull this one out as long as they are able to keep the positives from last Saturday's game and eliminate the negatives as best they can.
Vanderbilt 76, Furman 68
Jake Lowery
Atlanta, GA Contributing Writer
My take: Much has already been made of Coach Jackson's return to Memorial. There's no doubt that he will engineer a gameplan that will challenge the 'Dores, and he will be more prepared than most opposing coaches to prepare for the unique challenges that the baseline benches present. Vandy has the best athletes in this contest, but the talent gap is not as wide as some will assume. Furman has the ability to score points at a rapid pace if Vanderbilt does not put up a decent defensive effort.
Key to a Vandy win: Vandy's move to a four guard offense against Elon does seem to efficently utilize their talent, and that choice of personell will help Vanderbilt come away with this victory.
Player to watch: Dan Cage and Moussa Diagne. The Elon game proved that Vandy can win when one opposing post player is on fire, but remember that Chris Chalko had a poor night. If Diagne can serve as a compliment in the post, Furman will have a very effective offense. Dan Cage's defense will be critical to prevent this situation.
X-Factor: JeJuan Brown. As a freshman, there is still much we have to learn about him, and the slightest bit of foul trouble, injury trouble, or fatigue could thrust him into a critical role. Make no mistake, when Brown can be an offensive threat and an effective rebounder, Vanderbilt is a much stronger team.
And the winner is: Vanderbilt wins if it can play to its strenghts. For Furman, there is no overcoming Byars and Foster at their best. Vanderbilt loses if they are unable to keep dodging bullets in the post. Without Metcalfe, there are many things that could derail not only this game, but also the rest of the season.
Vanderbilt 80, Furman 74
Tommy Crockett
Reno, Nevada Basketball Board Moderator
My take: Vandy seems to be searching for a defensive identity. For a team that has prided itself on defense during the Stallings era this seems to be as head scratching as anything that has ever occurred since 1999-2000. Oh, throw away that night in Lexington 2003. Will Vanderbilt find itself against the Paladins?
Key to a Vandy win: Score and score often then score again. Of all the no-name teams that come to Memorial Gym this year this is the team best equipped for a shocking upset. Put a body on Bostain and push him around. Sounds like a job for a foul prone center to me.
Player to watch: I pick two this game. Byars and Cage are the guys that matter most. Vanderbilt needs to get the most out of these guys and Coach Jackson knows better than anybody how to defend them. If Cage can score as well as defend as a front court guard then Vandy can walk away with this game.
X-factor: Ted needs to play enforcer. Ted needs to make the Furman frontcourt pay for every point. Can or will he pull it off? He has performed well against mid-majors in the past.
And the winner is: Vanderbilt 79, Furman 77
Robbie Smoot
Nashville, Tenn Contributing Writer
My take: Well, believe it or not, I think this is a very losable game for Vandy. But, at this point, I really can't say any game is an automatic win.
Vandy did show life last game, especially in the first half vs Elon. But, they sputtered on defense again in the second half. And, this Furman team is a better team than Elon.
VU needs to show they can play 40 minutes. And, the second game without Metcalfe, while playing a smaller lineup with Cage getting most of his minutes at the four spot, should be better than the first.
Key to Vandy win: Simply, play well, and play for 40 minutes. If they do, they won't lose, as they overmatch Furman in overall talent. But, I haven't seen them play well yet, except maybe the 1st half vs. Elon, but I really think that was more of VU shooting well, and Elon not.
Players to watch: Dan Cage, in his second game at the four spot. Elon seemed to not be ready to have their four man step out and guard Dan, especially early, and he made them pay with tree early threes that game, and five overall. My bet is Jeff Jackson won't let that happen this game.
X-Factor: It has to be Jeff Jackson coming back to Vandy. If any opposing coach knows the VU players this year better, you show them to me. Jeff will know what needs to be done to stop VU players individually, no matter what style they play. But, will he be able to get his players to follow through with what he knows?
And the winner is: Vandy has better talent, they are at home, its their fourth game so they should be getting better. But, I can't get over them allowing 49 points the second half to Elon. I'm not convinced at this point they can control anyone, and with Jeff Jackson being the coach, I wouldn't be shocked with a Furman win. But, if Stallings wants to keep this ship afloat, he absolutely cannot lose this one, and he has to know it. In a much tighter one than most thinks, VU wins.
Vanderbilt 77, Furman 71
Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn. Publisher
My take: Furman starts with an advantage because Jackson should know both teams' personnel better than anyone. Meanwhile, tonight would be a good night for Vanderbilt to start proving they can defend someone. Elon broke the 70-point mark after being held under 50 by Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
Normally, a game like this might not give a team any extra motivation, but perhaps the Commodores will come ready to prove they can play some on the other end of the floor, too.
Key to a Vandy win: Motivation. Watching the film of the first four games (including the exhibition) should provide Vanderbilt with plenty of it. If not, it's going to be a very, very long season.
Player to watch: Jermaine Beal. The highly-touted point guard has just one point in three games. Even if he's not starting, the Commodores need to get him going.
X-factor: Ted Skuchas. Skuchas has had the occasional eight-to-10-point, six rebound games against smaller non-conference foes a couple of times a year. Could this be the night?
And the winner is: There's no question that this program has slipped badly since the Sweet 16 season of 2003-04. However, Vanderbilt has a lot more talent than Furman, and Jackson or no Jackson on the other sidelines, there's no question the Commodores should win. I'm not sure they play good-enough defense to blow out many Division I opponents at this point, but I do think they can still win comfortably.
Vanderbilt 75, Furman 63