GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. Georgia

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>> Tip-off: 3 p.m. CT, Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, GA
>> Television: None
>> Local Radio: 104.5 FM
>> Sirius Radio: Channel 130
>> Rankings: Neither team is ranked
>> Series Info: 123rd meeting; Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 77-45. Georgia leads 29-25 in Athens; Vanderbilt leads 47-13 in Nashville and 5-3 at neutral sites. Last Year's Meetings: Georgia won 74-73 in Nashville on Feb. 4 and Vanderbilt won 72-55 in Athens on Feb. 18.
>> Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (133-101)
and his 14th year overall (256-164); Dennis Felton is in his fourth year
at Georgia (48-54) and his ninth year overall (148-108).
Vanderbilt Commodores
3 - Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (7.9 ppg, 4.0 apg)
32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (15.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (14.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.1 apg)
20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (11.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Georgia Bulldogs
2 - Sundiata Gaines, G, 6-1, 205, Jr., Jamaica, N.Y. (8.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.0 apg)
33 - Mike Mercer, G, 6-4, 185, So., Snellville, Ga. (15.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg)
14 - Levi Stukes, G, 6-1, 205, Sr., Randallstown, Md. (12.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
42 - Takais Brown, F, 6-8, 250, Jr., Flint, Mich. (14.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
44 - Dave Bliss, C, 6-10, 255, Jr., Wausau, Wis. (4.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Georgia Scouting Report
Felton, in his third year at Georgia, appears to be getting some his pieces into place in his rebuilding effort in Athens. After taking over for Jim Harrick -- he of the infamous Basketball Strategy Final Exam -- Felton has tried to recruit from within his state first, while adding a few other key pieces from elsewhere in the region.
For Felton, rebuilding started in the frontcourt. Shortly after moving from Western Kentucky, Felton placed a call to local boy Mike Mercer, and the sophomore -- who ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring at 15.6 -- has begun to make Georgia into a formiddable SEC foe. The Bulldogs rank second in the SEC in field goal percentage (49.2 percent 3-point shooting (41.5 percent), and steals (9.86 spg), and are also rank third in points scored (81.4 ppg), rebounding (40.2 rpg) and blocked shots (6.29 bpg).
Senior Levi Stukes has finally begun to provide the leadership that has been sorely lacking in this program long before Harrick departed. And with the addition of freshman Albert Jackson, whom Vandy tried to recruit out of high school, Georgia has silently gone from a forgotten team to a potential NCAA Tournament invitee.
Felton made a big addition with JUCO Brown, who has made an immediate impact on the boards and in the scoring column. Neltner again faced foul trouble against Crews and Chsim Wednesday, who are very similar players. Expect Felton to try to post up Brown early and often today.
Though the Bulldogs are just 9-5, they own a respectable 76 RPI, due to their tough out of conference schedule (#32). All five of Felton's losses have come from opponents ranked in the top 67 in the nation: Western Kentucky (67), at Georgia Tech (38), at Florida (33), Wisconsin (13) and Clemson (6). The keystone win of their season this far was a December 16 upset of Gonzaga (56), 96-83, on a semi-neutral Duluth, GA court. That win could be enough to push Georgia into the Big Dance if Felton can hold their own in the SEC.
Notably, Georgia also beat Wake Forest (113) 87-86 in Winston Salem. Vanderbilt was soundly defeated by Wake 88-78, also in Winston Salem, two weeks earlier.
Georgia, like Vandy, plays small ball, essentially starting three guards, and going with a relatively average-sized four in Brown. And, like Skuchas, Bliss is a slow-ish five that is more of a garbage man than a go-to guy.
Georgia snapped a four-game losing streak this past Wednesday with an 80-56 win over SEC East rival South Carolina. However, it was learned after the game that Mercer hyperextended a knee while attempting a dunk. He says he'll be ready to go today, but Mercer has been very sore and practiced sparingly since.
Mike Rapp
Franklin, Tenn. Publisher
After losing their SEC opener to Auburn, Vanderbilt stared death in the face on Wednesday at pulled off a massive upset of Tennessee in Memorial. VU clearly faces an uphill battle in the SEC this year, but should learn something from the last-second win: Byars must play big; Vandy must rebound on the offensive end; and the Dores have to risk -- and rotate -- more on defense to make up for their depth and talent deficiencies.
Perhaps Vandy could also take something else from the win over UT: Despite another superstar performance from Chris Lofton -- 29 points on 11-15 from the field -- Tennessee lost. Similarly, Vandy has to realize that just because you can bomb in outside shots doesn't mean you can defeat SEC-level teams.
Georgia is in many ways a mirror image of Vanderbilt. They are small, not very athletic in the post, and shoot lights out on a good day. And Jackson plays very similar to Vandy freshman JeJuan Brown, who mysteriously got just five minutes of PT against Tennessee.
There's another similarity between these two teams: Both absolutely must win today to stay in a realistic race for the Big Dance.
One X-factor today is that Vanderbilt's stunning loss to Georgia in Memorial last year signalled the death knell for the season. I've heard many a Vandy player refer to what many media and former Vandy players publicly said about this program after that loss, and it should serve as real motivation to seniors Cage, Byars and Skuchas today.
That said, Georgia has the home court advantage, and I never, ever trust SEC officials to call an even game on the road. I fear this will be a letdown game for Vandy, with plenty of foul trouble against Felton's typical push-and-shove style.
My prediction: Georgia 86, Vanderbilt 81
Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn. Publisher
Wednesday night was encouraging, but can Vandy build from it? Unfortunately, Saturday's game is no picnic, as South Carolina found out, as Georgia is quickly getting better.
The Bulldogs can fill it up from the outside, and just came off a brutal stretch of games against ranked opponents, and may be getting hot at the right time. The Commodores have not played well on the road this season, and with the exception of last year, Vandy never seems to play well in Athens.
The key to this game for Vandy will be Byars; if Wednesday night was the start of a breakout for him, this team has a chance to approach .500 in the league. But right now, I need to see a road win against a quality opponent before I can jump out on limb and predict one to happen.
My prediction: Georgia 78, Vanderbilt 69
Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn. Recruiting Analyst
Vanderbilt may have just changed its season with Wednesday's win over Tennessee. The Commodores didn't really play that much over their head and UT did not necessarily just have their worst game of the year either... it was a legit win.
Now the Commodores take it to the road at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum and try to get their second straight win in Athens. The Bulldogs are young talented team led by guards Mercer, Stukes and Gaines, but it's junior college forward Brown that the 'Dores are going to have to worry about. Brown is a strong 6-foot-8 forward who can get boards and score in double figures almost each and every night.
The Commodores will need to have the same Derrick Byars, Shan Foster, and Dan Cage to win in Athens. I think it will be a very tough fight with the Commodores new found emotional drive being the difference as they take their second straight in Georgia and move the all-time series to a 26-29 record in Athens.
My prediction: Vanderbilt 87, Georgia 82
Robbie Smoot
Nashville, Tenn. Guest Writer
Can Vandy sustain the momentum or will they have a hangover from the great win Wednesday night in Nashville? I have seen many teams get hot after a great win and go on a roll and win a lot of games vs good teams, but I honestly don't remember a time when the Dores have done that.
This Georgia game is almost a show me game. Show me the UT win wasn't a one time fluke win. Show me that the Furman, Appalachian State and Auburn losses are behind you. Show me the heart and soul you put in the UT game can be sustained. A win vs a solid Georgia team (a 13 point home win over Gonzaga, and a road win versus Wake Forest) that is improving can do just that.
With a following schedule of games vs top 20 teams Alabama and at LSU, sandwiching a game at Kentucky, a loss to Georgia has Vandy staring at some very tough games with not much margin for error. To let the team breathe a little easier, VU needs to keep Stukes cold, as he is in a recent slump. If Vandy can keep him from busting out, while at least limiting Mercer, Gaines, and Brown, this again is a game Vandy can win.
But, they have to play with the intensity that they did vs Tennessee.
This game is a coin flip in my mind. I could really see this game going in a bunch of different directions. But, I'm going to say the Dores have found something here. They have outrebounding the last two opponents, and found a way to win without a lot of threes, two things I didn't think would happen for this team. They had success in Georgia last year, and with them coming off the emotional win, their confidence is high. Riding the play of their top three scorers Foster, Byars, and Cage, the Dores bring home a win from Athens.
My prediction: Vanderbilt 77, Georgia 73
Tommy Crockett
Reno, Nevada Basketball Board Moderator
There are a myriad of reasons why I'll defer the statistic counting to my more learned colleagues, but looking at the numbers surrounding the Bulldogs just leads one to scratch their head. You can search the numbers all you want, but the biggest number that counts is that no matter how few backsides are in the seats at Stegman Coliseum Vanderbilt seems to struggle in that particular venue.
The bottom line is that either of these teams can be capable of putting their former woes behind them and taking home the victory here. Vanderbilt is capable of perimeter defense and if the Tennessee game shows us anything at all they can score in the interior though slow to retreat on defense. Even though Georgia has lost four or their last five the mystique of Athens will probably be the deciding factor.
One team will walk away with its one game win streak broken.
My prediction: Georgia 91, Vanderbilt 87
Jake Lowrey
Atlanta, Georgia Guest Writer
Georgia's biggest strengths this season have been forcing turnovers, getting offensive rebounds, and shooting 3-pointers well. Vanderbilt has done a great job of preventing their opponents from doing those things. The team that wins most of those strength-on-strength battles will win the game.
The Vandy/UT game demonstrated that the Commodores will take good care of the ball even against a tough foe, so the game will be decided on Vandy's defensive boards and perimeter defense. Skuchas's defensive rebounding skills are underrated -- he is the Dores' best defensive rebounder, and will likely be given the task of keeping Brown away from the boards.
If the Dores can defend Stukes like they defended Lofton, and the Vandy post players can keep Brown off the offensive glass, they stand a good chance to win.
My prediction: Vanderbilt 75, Georgia 73