Vanderbilt needs an upset win over Florida to make a case for an accommodating seed at the NCAA Tournament. What better time to do that than on a night when the heart and soul of this team will be honored?
The Commodores will honor their seniors before tipoff tonight, saying goodbye to Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli, Brad Tinsley, Lance Goulbourne, Steve Tchiengang, and Aaron Noll on the brink of their last ever game in Memorial Gymnasium. It will be an emotional night in one of college basketball's most hallowed grounds as the memories of four roller-coaster years flood a beleaguered Vanderbilt team. Despite racking up 86 total wins (and counting), this senior class has yet to win a NCAA Tournament game. Losses to Murray State and Richmond (and for a redshirting Ezeli, Siena) have left seasons in ruin for an otherwise successful core of Commodore student-athletes.
Regardless of outcome, they'll leave Memorial for the last time as heroes. However, they have the opportunity to rip down a season-affirming win with an upset of the Gators. If Vanderbilt can close out their home schedule with a victory, they'll clinch a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament and sew up a seed in the top half of the NCAA Tournament. Both would be huge advantages for a Commodore team whose postseason past suggests that they'll need every benefit that they can get.
Vandy's chances of catching Florida in a trap game took a big hit with the Gators' most recent loss. Florida trailed for the entire 40 minutes of their showdown with lowly Georgia to fall to 10-4 in the SEC and give Vanderbilt a shot at finishing second in the conference.
Can the Commodores capitalize on Georgia's gameplan to earn their second win over a top 25 team? Let's take a look at how the Bulldogs did it.
Florida (22-7, #16 in the AP rankings, #18 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Florida did nothing but trail in their blowout loss at Georgia, going down 0-2 before the clock even started thanks to Casey Prather's pre-game technical foul. The Gators were behind by nine at the half and cut UGA's lead to just five points with 1:50 to play, but their cold shooting doomed them in Athens. The 'Dawgs hit their free throws down the stretch to keep this one out of reach and recorded their biggest win of the season with the upset.
Key to destruction: Defend the perimeter. Georgia was ready for Florida's long range shooting attack, focusing on man-to-man defense and closing hard on shots outside of the three-point line. As a result, they were able to hold the typically hot-shooting Gators to just 5-23 shooting from long range. This shift allowed a depleted Florida frontline to grab 13 rebounds, but was enough to take them out of their game and allow the Bulldogs to run away with a double-digit victory.
Keys to the Game:
Limit long rebounds and make UF's forwards beat you on the glass. Florida recently lost their toughest rebounder when Will Yeguete went down against Auburn with a broken foot. That leaves Erik Murphy and Patric Young to do the dirty work inside for the Gators. Both are solid in the paint, but neither will provide the spark that Yeguete did around the basket.6'3" guard Bradley Beal led the team with 12 rebounds against Georgia, and he's been on a tear despite his size, averaging 8.4 rebounds per game in his last eight contests. Vanderbilt will have to work hard to keep him out of the paint when he's not shooting the ball, as his scrappy play leads to lots of second chances for Florida. Vandy has an advantage inside with Lance Goulbourne and Ezeli working the paint. They'll have to utilize that to help negate Florida's shooting strengths.
- Protect the ball. Florida forced only 10 Georgia turnovers, allowing the Bulldogs to post a 16:10 assist-to-turnover ratio. In Vanderbilt's first meeting with the Gators, they turned it over 17 times and had just 12 assists, sapping their efficiency and sinking them down the stretch. This is a simple one - if the Commodores can protect the ball and limit their mistakes like Georgia did, they'll have more chances to attack Florida inside on offense and keep the Gators into a half-court set on defense where the Vandy is more effective.
Harness the home crowd. It's senior night, where special things have been known to happen. Can Jeffery Taylor embrace the spirit of Shan Foster? Can Brad Tinsley tap into Jermaine Beal's swagger? Can Ezeli access his inner Ted Skuchas???The fans will be rabid on Tuesday night. They'd better be. We've watched these kids develop in front of us for the past four years, and all have improved dramatically in the course of their four (or five) years in Nashville. This is their chance to close out Memorial Gym with something special. The players have to embrace that, because it's going to be one of the biggest homecourt advantages that any team could ask for.