Finally, these guys again. If you aren't licking your chops at the thought of Vanderbilt getting revenge against the Gamecocks at Memorial Gym, you may have to check your fanhood. It's been almost a month since South Carolina's come-from-behind win in Columbia set the 'Dores off on a rocky path in conference play, and Vandy hasn't exactly responded to the beating well. The Commodores are just 3-4 since their humbling loss at the hands of Bruce Ellington and Sam Muldrow.
However, Memorial Gym won't afford South Carolina the same kind of momentum they were able to build in January's overtime win. Additionally, they'll be facing a Vandy squad whose injury deficiencies should be well compensated for by anger, both from the lingering memories of the SEC opener and Tuesday's dramatic OT loss to Florida. Simply put, if Jeffery Taylor can't snap out of his funk and play with purpose against the Gamecocks after Muldrow's hard foul in these teams' last meeting, then we may have to start giving up hope for him.
South Carolina looked to be on the road to legitimacy after a 3-1 start in conference play, but a home pasting at the hands of lowly Auburn took the wind from their sails and they now sit at 4-3 in conference play. The Commodores sit at 3-4 in the conference, but a three-game homestand will give them a chance to vault back into the SEC East race. Ken Pomeroy is predicting an 13 point Vandy win, but knowing this team it'll be a drama-filled 40 minutes of basketball.
Auburn had only one win this season against Top 200 ranked teams and just two against Top 300 ranked teams, so it was completely illogical that they'd roll into Columbia and beat the crap out of a very tough South Carolina team. Somehow, that's exactly what happened. The Tigers had averaged a 12 point loss for every SEC game they'd played before matching up with the Gamecocks, and USC simply had no answer for their opponents. Auburn led throughout the last 28 minutes of play and befuddled Carolina's backcourt to earn their only league victory to date.
Key to Destruction: Backcourt defense. This pains me to write, as sloppy backcourt defense has been a main factor in almost all of Vanderbilt's losses this season. However, Auburn wrecked the Gamecocks by shutting down SC's three guard set and rebounding their many misses. While Sam Muldrow had a solid game (14 points, nine rebounds, five blocks), the Carolina frontcourt had very little impact thanks to the ineffectiveness of their guards on the perimeter. Bruce Ellington, Brian Richardson, and Ramon Galloway combined to shoot 13-36 on the day and just 5-21 from long distance. Auburn simply scooped up the misses (30 defensive rebounds) and took advantage of their opponents' sloppiness.
Keys to the Game:
- Feed the post: Vanderbilt looked skittish at the end of the teams' first meeting thanks to Sam Muldrow's shot blocking prowess, but Rob Chubb's game against him in Auburn's upset win shows that Muldrow can be worn down even by inferior centers. Chubb came into the SC game averaging just 7.6 points and four rebounds per game, but put up 18 and 6 against the 'Cocks. The Tigers made him the focal point of their offense, giving him 17 shots, and while he wasn't the most efficient player, he still did enough damage to keep Carolina from making a comeback. While Muldrow ended up with five blocks on the day, only one came against the Auburn big man. Vandy has a considerably more talented center than Chubb in Festus Ezeli; can the team pound the ball inside and use Ezeli better than they did in the teams' first meeting in January?
- Efficient bench play: Auburn brought four players off the bench that played significant minutes, and every one was a factor in extending the team's lead. Combined, they shot 7-10 for 20 points and seven rebounds in 46 combined minutes. Despite the team's lack of premiere talent, everyone showed up to play against SC. Their work helped make up for some of the inefficiencies amongst the starting five (who shot just 36.5% for the game) and gave South Carolina little room for error. Though Vanderbilt's bench is depleted thanks to injuries, they still have the talent to stretch leads and provide meaningful minutes if they just play smart. That means no pull-up threes from Rod Odom, no stupid fouls from Steve Tchiengang, and Kyle Fuller doing the exact opposite of whatever his basketball instincts tell him to do.
- Jeffery Taylor; Sam Muldrow has your swagger. Go get it back, son: This has nothing to do with the Auburn game. With 4:50 left in regulation in the teams' first meeting, Taylor went hard at the hoop and right at Muldrow, who responded with a hard foul that laid the Swedish Eagle out on the floor. Taylor popped back up, jogged to the free throw line, and calmly sank a free throw before getting pulled thanks to a bloody elbow from the fall. While it seemed to energize the 'Dores at the time, South Carolina was the team that benefitted. Taylor wouldn't score for the rest of the game, finishing with three missed shots and two turnovers. Muldrow, conversely, finished off a triple-double by adding five points, two rebounds, and five blocks over the last 10 minutes of play. Simply put, Muldrow showed Taylor up, and if that performance doesn't inspire Taylor to come out and unleash a napalm carpet-bombing of dunks, steals, blocks, and other feats of magnificent athleticism, it will be a disappointment. The onus is on you, Eagle.