GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss

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Vanderbilt (14-6, 3-2) vs. Ole Miss (13-7, 2-4)
Tip-off:: Noon, Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn.
The line: Vanderbilt by six
Official NCAA RPI as of 1/25/07: Vanderbilt is 55th, Ole Miss is 85th
Sagarin ratings through 1/25/07: Vanderbilt is 56th, Ole Miss is 76th
Series info: 107th meeting; Vanderbilt leads the series 68-38 overall; Vanderbilt has a 45-7 advantage in Nashville. Ole Miss owns a 4-3 advantage at neutral sites; Last Year's Meeting: Vanderbilt won 77-62 in Oxford on March 1.
Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (136-102) and his 14th year overall (259-165); Andy Kennedy is in his first year at Ole Miss (13-7) and his second year overall (33-20).
Rankings: Vanderbilt is not ranked, but received votes in each poll. Ole Miss is not ranked.
Radio: In Nashville, the game is carried on the ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM).
Television: Lincoln Financial Sports. Tim Brando provides the play-by-play alongside color analyst Larry Conley.
3—Alex Gordon, G, 5-foot-11, 164 lbs., Jr., Pensacola, Fla.
(8.2 ppg, 4.1 apg)
32—Shan Foster, G/F, 6-foot-6, 200 lbs., Jr., Kenner, La.
(15.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
4—Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-foot-7, 230 lbs., Sr., Memphis, Tenn.
(15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)
20—Dan Cage, G, 6-foot-4, 215 lbs., Sr., Indianapolis, Ind.
(11.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
41—Ross Neltner, F, 6-foot-9, 247 lbs., Jr., Ft. Thomas, Ky.
(10.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Ole Miss
50-Kenny Williams, F, 6-foot-8, 24- lbs., Jr., Miami, Fla.
(7 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
44-Dwayne Curtis, C, 6-foot-8, 280 lbs., Jr., Chicago, Ill.
(13.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg)
10-Todd Abernethy, G, 6-foot-1, 190 lbs., Carmel, Ind.
(10.7 ppg, 5.7 apg)
12-Clarence Sanders, G, 6-foot-1, 180 lbs., Phenix City, Al.
(15.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
20-Bam Doyne, G, 6-foot-4, 180 lbs., Sr., Little Rock, Ark.
(16 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Kennedy, in his first year in Oxford, has brought immediate respect for a Rebel basketball program that had bottomed out under former head coach Rod Barnes. Picked to finish last in the SEC West, Kennedy surprised many when he went 11-2 to open the season. Ole Miss' only losses were on the road at UConn (77-59) and Memphis (82-70).
Since then, though, Ole Miss' young and athletically-limited team has begun to show its weaknesses. The Rebels dropped five of their next six contests, including one to archrival Mississippi State, 77-67.
But last Wednesday, Kennedy pulled off one of the biggest shockers of the year by dominating No. 21 Tennessee, 83-69.
Vanderbilt hoops fans may see a striking similarity between this year's 'Dores and Rebels. Last year, both were among the most deliberate teams in the league; This year, both have switched sides and tried to push the tempo. And it's working for both of them--to a point.
Whereas the Commodores are taking, and making, more shots--they are also taking good care of the ball. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is proving to be a far less-lethal outside shooting team, and has a propensity for erratic ball handling.
Ole Miss is second in the SEC in field goal attempts (1,130). But the Rebels are 11th in field goal percentage (43.5).
Even more, Ole Miss' leading scorers - Bam Doyne and Sanders, are shooting just 25.5 and 31.3 percent in SEC games.
Perhaps more important to today's game is the fact that Ole Miss ranks 11th in the SEC in 3-point field goal defense.
Abernethy is having a teriffic senior campaign. A former high school AAU teammate of Vandy's Cage, Abernethy is 68-151 from the field (45 percent) and 30-74 from 3 (40.5 percent).
The Rebels don't rank in the top half of the SEC in any offensive category except free throw percentage (70 percent), but Vanderbilt ranks second.
Defensively, the Rebels struggle to guard the outside shot, and are not particularly effective on the boards or blocking shots. In fact, until Vandy's latest run, you could say these two teams were largely mirror images of each other on the defensive end of the floor.
As an aside, Vandy fans will get to see Andy Ogide. Ogide received some attention from Stallings this past spring, but ended up signing with Kennedy. So far, Ogide has been a non-factor for Ole Miss, averaging three minutes a game. He has attempted just six field goals so far this year.
Mike Rapp
Franklin, Tenn. Publisher
Needless to say, the Commodores are (finally) on a roll. With unlikely wins over nationally ranked Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Kentucky, Stallings has figured out a formula to make Vandy truly competitive in the SEC this year.
And he's done it exactly the same way Bruce Pearl did last year, and for the same reason. Playing without a true power forward, Stallings inserted Cage at the four, and he's had the exact same impact that Dane Bradshaw had in Knoxville last year.
Memorial should be rocking for the first time this season. And while these two teams are strikingly similar, Ole Miss' 3-point defense is abysmal. If Vandy is hitting its treys--and there's now no reason to believe they won't be--this should be a reltively-easy win for Vandy today.
Vanderbilt 76, Ole Miss 65
Tommy Crockett
Reno, Nev. Staff Writer
Dwayne Curtis, Bam Doyne and Todd Abernethy just stuck a knife in the Tennessee Volunteers' heart in the closing minutes of their game in Oxford. Alongside guard Clarence Sanders they have grasped Andy Kennedy's up-tempo style and are telling the rest of the SEC that the Rebs don't wish to be the conference whipping boy any longer.
Okay, so that was in the Tad Pad where victories often escape more talented visitors and UT played without their SEC POY candidate Chris Lofton, but while the Rebels were erasing a second half deficit where everything they threw up seemed to hit that strikes fear in the hearts of their future opponents.
All this does point to Vandy being unable to just throw up a zone and press on the inbounds and expect an easy victory in Nashville. Three of the four leading Ole Miss scorers are guards so if they get hot even with the strange looking fall-away Clarence Sanders sports it is effective enough to break a zone-up opponent's back.
Vanderbilt is the hottest team that nobody cared much about in the conference right now if Dennis Felton isn't arguably claiming that moniker for his squad. I have little doubt that Memorial Gymnasium will be filled to the rafters with Memorial Maniacs and it is never smart to buck a trend when that trend is a streaking Cage, Neltner, Byars and Foster pressing the up-tempo to perfection all fed by Red Gordon.
Vandy will move to 5-2 in the SEC just four games short of the mythical magic number many think will be their unbridled ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Vanderbilt 78, Ole Miss 67
Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn. Recruiting Analyst
Vanderbilt is riding high as is an improved Ole Miss squad after both got huge wins on Wednesday.
Looking at the matchup on the paper, the keys appear to be Vanderbilt's shooting from the perimeter and the Rebels ability to create turnovers. The past two weeks, Vanderbilt's been almost automatic from three-point range in huge wins against Alabama, Kentucky, and LSU.
Though the Rebels are just 2-4 in the league, they have been in every contest with posting over 10 steals in four out of their first six games. Look for the Commodores good ball movement to be a key as well as the Rebels ability or inability to guard the Commodores for the outside being the deciding factors.
An X-factor in the contest is likely going to be the play of Rebels senior guard Clarence Sanders. Sanders has been averaging 15.6 points per game because he is averaging over 17 shot attempts per contest.
Though he has shot for over 40 percent from the field during the season, he is actually shooting less than 34 percent in SEC play. If Sanders can get off in this game, it could be a difficult matchup for Vanderbilt's improved defense.
Earlier in his tenure as Vanderbilt coach, Kevin Stallings must have thought of Ole Miss as a thorn in his side. Despite the Commodores owning a 63-35 record against the Rebels heading into the 1999-2000 season, Stallings led Commodore teams were unable to defeat Ole Miss for his first three years at the school including the Commodores last loss in Memorial to Ole Miss during the 2000-2001 season.
However, Stallings and his Commodores have reeled off five straight wins in the series and in this game, it appears that the Commodores could win the sixth straight. This game will be hard fought as first year coach Andy Kennedy has the Rebels on the rise, but if Vanderbilt brings the same defensive intensity and steady shooting they have brought in the last couple of weeks, the Commodores win going away.
Vanderbilt 82, Ole Miss 70
Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn. Publisher
The interesting thing about this game is that both teams start very similar lineups, the only difference being that Vandy starts essentially four guards, and the Rebels three and an undesized center (at least in height). Therefore, defending the unusual Commodore lineup may not be as difficult for Ole Miss in terms of changing its usual lineup to accomodate for Vandy's perimeter-oriented game.
On the other hand, Ole Miss hasn't been particularly-good at defending the 3-point shot... and as we all know, the one thing Vandy can do remarkably-well is shoot the 3-ball. Therefore, it would seem foolish to expect anything but a barrage of outside shooting from the Commodores.
It's not just Vandy's style that's bad for Ole Miss, either: Memorial Gym has always presented the Rebels with problems. In fact, Ole Miss has one exactly once in Nashville since the 1984-84 season. Plus, Vandy has owned the Rebs in recent years, winning five-straight overall.
If Vandy shoots as well as they have recently, it's hard to imagine Ole Miss overcoming its defensive achilles' heel and a vocal Commodore crowd that will certainly be out nearly in full-force with Vandy on the verge of a national ranking.
If the shots don't fall, they watch to see who wins the battle between Abernethy and Gordon. Both have been two of the league's best point guards of late, and that could determine the winner.
One more thing: Ole Miss won't go away easily. The Rebels have won five games when trailing at the break, including Wednesday's comeback from 10 down in Oxford to beat Tennessee by 14. The game before, Ole Miss trailed by 20-plus points before putting a scare into Florida at Gainesville.
But, the Commodores seem to be a very mature squad, and with five starters who can all shoot the 3, it's hard to believe at least a couple won't get hot today. The Rebels will hang close, but once again, Vandy wins in Nashville.
Vanderbilt 84, Ole Miss 75
Robbie Smoot
Nashville, Tenn. Contributing Writer
This game has TRAP written all over it. Which, in itself, is a good thing, meaning, Vandy has put themselves in a position to be trapped by their recent excellent play. But, if they take Ole Miss for granted, they could be caught!
Ole Miss is no pushover by any means. They played both Florida and LSU tough on the road, and beat Tennessee by double digits on Wednesday night. They have two of the top six SEC leading scorers in Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders. And, they have a wide body inside that can cause major trouble in Dwayne Curtis. Add to that another double digit scorer in senior guard in Todd Abernethy, and this team has weapons and experience.
Ole Miss can win this game, but if Vandy shows up, I would not expect it. If you take a look at Ole Miss's two leading scorers, their field goal pct has dipped dramatically between non conference and conference play. Sanders was shooting 42% and Doyne 41%. In conference games, Sanders is shooting 34% and Doyne 31%. So, if VU clamps downs on them and doesn't give them wide open looks, they should be able to slow down the tandem.
Also, Ole Miss will take bad shots and does not exhibit enough patience in getting the ball into Curtis. To prove this, Curtis has shot 55% from the field in SEC play, but only taken 65 shots in six games, while Sander has taken a whopping 106 shots, and shot a much lower percentage. If Vandy will just play good defense, Ole Miss will throw up some prayers.
Another telling stat is Ole Miss is 11th in the league in defending the 3-point shot. When you have Cage, Foster, Byars and Gordon patrolling that line, I don't think I have to say anything else.
If I felt there was no way VU could lose this game, I would pick them. But, since I do believe this is a losable game if VU starts reading their press clippings, I'm not going to be the one to change the way I have been predicting lately. So, VU gets complacent, and the ball bounces the wrong way, and the following dampers everyone's spirits.
Ole Miss: 74, Vanderbilt 73