GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech

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• Tip-off: 4 P.M. CT
• Vanderbilt 218 RPI; 198 Strength of schedule; Georgia Tech: RPI 23; SOS: 20
• Sagarin: Vanderbilt- 69.50; Georgia Tech- 78.25
• Series Info: Vanderbilt leads series 37-31; Georgia Tech leads 23-16 in Atlanta; Vanderbilt leads 21-4 in Nashville; Georgia Tech leads 4-0 at neutral sites.
• Last Meeting: Georgia Tech won 76-67 in Atlanta on Jan. 3, 2006.
• Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (126-99) and his 14th year overall (249-162); Paul Hewitt is in his seventh year
at Georgia Tech (113-85) and his 10th year overall (179-112).
• Rankings: Georgia Tech is No. 25 in AP poll. Vanderbilt is not ranked.
• Radio: Vanderbilt-ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM)
• Television: ESPN2. Brad Nessler provides play-by-play alongside color analyst Jimmy Dykes.
3 - Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (8.6 ppg, 2.9 apg). Recorded nine points with six assists and one turnover against ETSU.
32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (16.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Posted first career double-double (29 points, 10 rebounds) against ETSU, but was just 1-7 vs. Lipscomb on Thursday.
4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (15.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 apg). Ranks eighth in the SEC in scoring (15.6 ppg).
20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (9.4 ppg, 2.0 apg). Has started the last five games for Vanderbilt.
41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Ranks fourth in the SEC in field goal shooting (61.4 percent).
Georgia Tech
1 - Javaris Crittenton, G, 6-5, 198, Fr., Atlanta, Ga. (14.8 ppg, 5.5 apg). Was one of the top recruits in the nation last year, and ranks third in the ACC in assists (5.5 apg).
0 - Lewis Clinch, G, 6-3, 195, So., Cordele, Ga. (18.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg). Ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring (18.0 ppg).
33 - Thaddeus Young, F, 6-8, 217, Fr., Memphis, Tenn. (12.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Another five-star signee who scored a season-high 19 points against Georgia State.
32 - Jeremis Smith, F, 6-8, 236, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas (10.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg). Netted 21 points on seven-of-10 shooting vs. Memphis.
35 - Zach Peacock, F/C, 6-8, 235, Fr., Miami, Fla. (8.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Tallied 12 points on five-of-six shooting vs. UCLA in Maui.
Vanderbilt is riding a three game winning streak, after outlasting crosstown rival Lipscomb on Thursday, 59-50. The Commodores played some of their best defense of the season against the Bisons, successfully executing several traps and helps that led to turnovers.
In addition, for the first time this season VU out-rebounded an opponent, after grabbing 14 more boards than LU in the second half.
It wasn't all peaches and cream for VU, though. The 'Dores had another virtually invisible performance from Foster, who went 1-7 for the game and actually sat the bench for much of the second half. Despite having more size than LU, Vandy allowed the Bisons to dictate the tempo of the game. Vandy scored just 21 points in the first half, and had its lowest scoring game of the season.
Transfers Byars and Neltner carried the team Thursday on both ends of the court. During this win streak, Byars is shooting 50.0 percent from the field (20-of-50) and 47.1 percent from three-point range (8-of-17)
Ross Neltner has scored in double figures in each of the last five games while averaging 15.6 points and shooting 70.0 percent (30-of-43) from the field. He has emerged as the most consistent player on the team thus far this season.
Georgia Tech is 6-2, but has hit a rough patch recently, having lost two of its last three games. The Jackets fell to ACC foe Miami 90-82 on December 3.
Tech returns six of its top seven scorers from last season's team, which handily thumped Vandy 76-67 in Atlanta last year. Anthony Morrow had a career-high 28 points for GT, torching Vandy fron three and in the lane (nine boards). Tech out-rebounded VU in that game by an astounding 35-18 margin.
But the buzz around the game centers on the arrival of all-everything recruit Thad Young, who prepped in Memphis and carried on a controverial whirlwind recruiting escapade that never seemed to go through Nashville. Young is already starting for Coach Hewitt, and will be Vandy's biggest match-up problem today.
GT also features a true freshman point guard in Crittenton, who has secured another starting job. The 6-foot-2 Atlantan is already averaging 15 points a game, and has the sort of all-around game that has caused big problems for Vandy this season.
Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn. Publisher
My take: A new era in Vanderbilt basketball has truly arrived when fans are just thankful not to lose to Lipscomb. Even that game was a little too scary, as the Bisons led midway through the second half.
Yet, that's where the Commodore program is at this point: The team can truly lose to anyone on any given night.
That said, there were some signs for optimism this week. After the loss to Furman, the 'Dores rebounded with a clutch win over Toledo, and looked very impressive offensively in manhandling East Tennessee State. Foster and Byars finally looked more like the players we expected, and that makes a world of difference.
This afternoon will be a different story. Set the three wins aside, because Tech will bring a higher class of athletes to Memorial than Vandy fans have seen all year. I truly beleive this game will tell us a lot about the rest of the season.
Player to watch: Foster. The shooting slump came back against Lipscomb. The Commodores simply cannot beat good teams without Foster knocking down at least 40% of his shots and getting at least 15 points.
X-factor: Jermaine Beal. Gordon's problems defending opposing point guards are well-documented. If Gordon can't stop Crittendon, Beal could be called on to play extra minutes, and how well he stops dribble penetration could be a big factor in deciding the game's outcome.
Vandy wins if: Foster, Byars and Neltner are on their games, and Vandy gets big defensive stops down the stretch. Byars and Neltner have been remarkably-consistent of late, so really, it boils down more to Foster and the defense.
My prediction: Vandy is good enough to lose to Furman, but I also think they're going to upset someone they're not supposed to--maybe a couple someones--at some point in the year.
Who that victim or victims will be, I don't know, but I can tell you that it'll be a night where the 'Dores hit at least 10 three-pointers with a minimum of a 45 percent showing behind the arc.
Could it be today? Quite possibly, but I won't predict it. Vandy's got to show me they can compete wire-to-wire with a quality opponent first, and so far, they've not done so well in that regard. Let's hope I'm wrong, but I'm thinking more along the lines of:
Georgia Tech 85, Vanderbilt 75
Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn Recruiting Analyst
My take: With Vanderbilt's struggles to start the season, many people circled the Georgia Tech as another indication of what the program might be capable of when it heads into SEC play. The super athletic Yellow Jackets are light years more talented than Vanderbilt's last five opponents and many Vanderbilt fans have their concerns of just how might this Saturday's game go.
Georgia Tech has about a eight-deep squad where any of the eight could put on a Vanderbilt uniform tomorrow and possibly help the Commodores to the NCAA tournament, they are that strong of players. However, as the season has gone on for the formerly Top 25 Rambling Wreck program, the schedule has gotten tougher and some chinks in the armor have been exposed as Tech is just 1-2 in the last three games. Last Saturday, the Jackets dropped a 90-82 decision at Miami to open their ACC season with a 0-1 mark. After a week off to prepare for the Vanderbilt game, the Jackets could come out extremely hot and the 'Dores will have to be prepared for that. Vanderbilt must not let a Tech five minute punch, knock them out of the contest. With proper offensive spacing and a smart defensive game plan, these Jackets can definitely fall to the Commodores.
Key to a Vandy win: Energy. Georgia Tech has some of the most exciting young players in freshmen Thad Young and Jarvis Crittenton, sophomore Lewis Clinch, and junior Jeremis Smith. All four of these players have great athleticism and talent and will likely have the "us against the world" mentality when they come to Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt has to be the team with the most energy in the game. Forget the fact that this will be the fourth game in seven days for Vanderbilt because the three wins that Vanderbilt has achieved this week will be worth absolutely nothing, should Vanderbilt lose to the Jackets. If Vanderbilt is to make a run in the SEC and have hopes for an NCAA birth at the end of the season, the Tech game is very crucial. For this, they must forget being tired and play the game as though it is the last game they will play this season.
Player to Watch: Georgia Tech's Ra'Sean Dickey. He has been inconsistant during his career at Georgia Tech, but he's just the kind of big man to give Vanderbilt's interior defenses fits. With Alan Metcalfe injured, Vanderbilt will have to smartly defend Dickey and Jeremis Smith in this game as they will not have Metcalfe's five possible fouls to give for the game.
X-Factor: Shan Foster's shooting. When Shan Foster's shot is on, there are few that are more deadly and more key to their team's success. When Foster's shot is off, the team generally loses one of their offensive options. Often when Foster is not scoring he doesn't just disappear from the offense because he can't get a shot to fall, he also disappears sometimes cause his teammates seem to forget him. A All-SEC first team Shan Foster will be needed in this game if Vanderbilt is to win.
And the winner is: Georgia Tech has struggled through their last four games. Despite the fact that they are 2-2, the Yellow Jackets were 16 points down against Memphis weeks ago and looked horrible. Georgia Tech did come back in that game, but was handled by UCLA, barely defeated Penn State, and lost their ACC opener to Miami. However, Tech is rested after a week off while Vanderbilt has played three games in five days. It's hard to pick Vanderbilt in this game given their struggles this season, but it's also hard to pick Tech given that they have struggled against almost all decent competition this season. Could this be a game that Memorial Gym makes a difference? Who is to say, but for some strange reason, I think this one goes to the wire.
Vanderbilt 87, Georgia Tech 86
Mike Rapp
Franklin, Tenn Publisher
My take: We've seen some improvement in Vanderbilt over the past week, but is that because of VU or the weak competition they've faced? Fact is, Vandy has not yet beaten a team that is likely to be in the Big Dance, and the two major conference foes they have faced beat them soundly here at Memorial.
The Commodores are getting good numbers from Byars and Neltner, and occasionally from Foster. But Skuchas is not a factor, and though Brown has been the surprise of the year thus far for VU, he is going up against a team that is absolutely loaded with big time frontcourt athletes.
Another thing. Though the offense has certainly changed, it is hardly of the fast-break variety. Vandy couldn't even control the tempo against Lipscomb, getting just four fast break points for the entire game. If Vandy can't run on Lipscomb, they aren't going to run on anyone at Tech's level.
Tech is a work in progress as well, due in part to the fact that they are starting a freshman at the point. But Hewitt has more talent on the bench than Elon, Furman and Lipscomb have combined.
Give CKS credit, as he has done a workman-like job to mix and match this team together. But he doesn't have the quality or number of pieces that Hewitt has, especially in the frontcourt.
Player to watch: Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I plan on focusing my camera an awful lot on Thad Young...if only to see what all the recruiting hype was about.
Key to a Vandy win: Foster has to have another shooting day like ETSU for Vandy to even have a chance today. And Neltner cannot get into foul trouble.
X-factor: Again, it's Foster. He has been far too inconsistent to be considered a major player in this league. If he shows up, VU will have Memorial rocking.
And the winner is: I've watched VU play every game this year except ETSU, and I see some very exciting and promising things out there. But Tech is just a much better team, with much better talent, and much more depth. I don't expect to see the Jackets in the Final Four this year, but they will definitely make the Tournament. Chins up, Vandy fans.
Georgia Tech 92, Vanderbilt 75
Jake Lowrey
Atlanta, Gergia Contributing Writer
My take: Georgia Tech is an even stronger team than most people think. With the well-documented strength of their freshman class, many people either forget about or underestimate the veteran talent that now provides depth to this talented team. With world-class talent both in the post and on the perimeter the Yellow Jackets are a very balanced team, and there's not much an opponent can do to get them out of their "comfort zone". But Vanderbilt's best chance is to do exactly that.
Don't be surprised if Vanderbilt becomes much more aggressive on defense than they have been so far, even in the full court. The Commodores will need to shoot well and force some turnovers if they are to win this game.
The players to watch are Neltner and Brown. Matching up against Tech's biggest freshman star, these Commodores must hold their own on the boards and prevent easy baskets. Neltner's consistant offensive contributions have become increasingly important to the Dores, so he will need to accomplish his tough defensive task without succumbing to fatigue and/or foul trouble.
X-factor: Vanderbilt's coaching staff. To win a game against what appears to be a more talented foe, Stallings and company would be well served to pull something unusual out of the toolbox and hope to rattle their young opponents. A high pressure defense could be the answer. If Vanderbilt wins this game, fans will likely be able to point to a significant strategy change that caught the Yellow Jackets by surprise.
Key to a Vanderbilt win: Shoot well, and create Yellow Jacket turnovers. As a 4-guard team unlikely to consistently out-rebound ranked opponents, Vandy must find a way to make up that deficit. How can a guard-heavy squad do that? A positive turnover margin means that, while Tech will probably still get more shots than VU, hot shooting from Byars and/or Foster could lead to a Vanderbilt win.
And the winner is: In a game where both teams are likely to play at a faster than average tempo, I think that Georgia Tech's superior depth and athleticism will come out ahead in the end. Barring a career night from Byars or Foster, or a decision by Stallings to ratchet up the aggression on defense, Georgia Tech beats the Dores in an entertaining matchup.
Georgia Tech 90, Vanderbilt 78
Robbie Smoot
Nashville, Tenn Contributing Writer
My take: Vandy will get its toughest test all season in the Yellow Jackets. Yes, they are young, but boy, are they athletic and can play some hoops. Most of us in Tennessee have heard of Young, probably the most ballyhooed of all their freshmen. But, to date, Clinch has been their most consistent scorer, and Crittenton has been running the show as the teams starting point guard. In other words, they have three freshmen that will match any three freshmen on one team in the nation (and, yes, that includes both Ohio State and UNC).
As good as their freshmen are, Vandy could have the most trouble with junior Jeremis Smith, a rugged, undersized (in terms of height) interior player that eats up the boards. He is exactly the type of player VU teams have had trouble with in the past, and if most remember, they struggled with him last year.
The thing Vandy could have going for them is, with Tech's youth, they are not accustomed to playing on the road. Yes, they did win two neutral games vs Purdue and Memphis (huge comeback in the game), but in their only true road test, they lost to Miami Fl (a team that had lost games to Northwestern, Buffalo & Cleveland St.).
If Vandy wants it, Georgia Tech will run all day with them. So, expect a very high scoring game, as these Yellow Jackets are averaging 86 points a game.
Key to a Vandy win: Vandy has to shoot the basketball well this game. I will be shocked if VU can defend Georgia Tech like they did Lipscomb and ETSU, so putting the basket in the bucket consistently is a must. Also, if VU can put some runs together, and get Memorial rocking, they may can rattle the young Yellow Jackets enough to pull off the upset.
Player to watch: JeJuan Brown. This will be the most athletic, physical interior team VU has played since Alan Metcalfe went out with an injury. I'm not sure VU can get away with a small lineup, so I suspect Brown will get plenty of minutes to match up with the Yellow Jackets. VU will need a good game from Brown to win this game.
X-factor: Memorial Gym. This is the first big name opponent to come into Memorial since the Furman loss knocked the Dore fans into some discontent with this year's version of the team. If the gym gets packed and rocking like we all know it can, it could really make a difference in how a team led by three freshmen plays.
The questions are: 1. Will the gym get packed? 2. Will the Dores give the crowd a chance to get rocking? If both happen, watch out.
And the winner is: Get your track shoes on, as I don't really see how this game can be low scoring. I just don't know if VU can control the quickness and athleticism of Crittenton, Clinch and Young, as other than the last two games vs lesser opponents, they hadn't showed they can. But, regardless, if VU can have a hot shooting afternoon, and Memorial gets rocking, VU is going to start getting the hopes up of all those disenchanting fans with a high scoring, electrifying win that even last week I never thought was possible:
Vanderbilt 91, Georgia Tech 90