Things didn't go well for Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, but at least they cracked the 40-point barrier.
The Commodores got drubbed by a superior Florida team on the road, extending their millennial record at the O'Connell Center to 2-12 with a 66-40 loss. Vanderbilt fell behind early, and while the team's defense held up in the first half, it wasn't enough to keep an efficient Gator team at bay. After scoring only 14 points in the opening frame, Vandy rallied to make it to 40 and escape the ignominy of being trapped in the 30-point range for the third time this season.
Fortunately for the 'Dores, they'll have the chance to close out the regular season on a high note when South Carolina comes to Nashville. On a night normally reserved for honoring seniors, this young Vandy team will try to rally the momentum that could carry them into a NCAA Tournament berth in 2014. They've already beaten the Gamecocks once this season, and a win on Saturday would ensure that Vanderbilt would earn a bye on the opening day of the SEC Tournament.
The 'Dores are currently tied with Texas A&M for the 10th spot in the conference. In the re-tooled, 14-team league tournament, the schools seeded 11-14 will face off on Wednesday in Nashville. Depending on how Saturday shakes out, Vanderbilt could end up as high as ninth (if they win and Georgia loses) or as low as 11th (if they lose and A&M wins). Earning an extra day of rest would be huge for a young team that needs every advantage that they can get as their rebuilding season winds down.
South Carolina, on the other hand, will be playing for pride after a disappointing season. They're likely headed to a matchup with Auburn in the 12/13 game of the opening round, and like Vanderbilt they'll be hoping to make a strong run in the last week of the season to build for 2014. Talented freshmen Michael Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas are a nice building block for coach Frank Martin, but he'll have to get busy on the recruiting trail to lift the Gamecocks from the lowest level of the SEC.
The 'Cocks have lost to the two worst teams in the conference this year, dropping games to both Auburn and Mississippi State. Can Vanderbilt take advantage of the flaws that Auburn exposed in their road win back in January?
South Carolina (14-16, 4-13 SEC, unranked)
Other Losses: at Mississippi State, vs. Clemson, vs. Elon, 12 others.
- Take advantage of Carolina's deficiencies up front. Rob Chubb, a solid but underwhelming center, needed just five field goal attempts to drop 16 points on the Gamecocks. He added another 10 rebounds as well. Despite six turnovers, Chubb was the Tigers' motor in the front court, and his scoring helped free up Frankie Sullivan and Brian Greene Jr behind him. Vanderbilt, with Josh Henderson up front, could coax another efficient shooting night from their big man against USCe. Hendo has a soft touch around the rim and the length to shoot over Carolina's undersized front line.
- Attack Michael Carrera. Carrera has been Frank Martin's bright spot in 2013. The undersized freshman is a hustle-driven forward who has become a double-double threat for the Gamecocks. He's also whistle-prone and has trouble staying on the court for extended stretches. He fouled out in 24 minutes against Auburn and has fouled out twice in his last four games - in 33 total minutes. If Vanderbilt can attack him underneath - like Auburn did with Chubb - they'll earn plenty of free throws and keep USCe's main weapon in the front court on the bench.
- Crash the boards. South Carolina held a 16-shot advantage over Auburn thanks to some hustle on the glass. The Gamecocks pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and created several second chances that kept the Tigers from pulling away despite being the better offensive team. Frank Martin's team isn't blessed with a lot of height or great rebounders, and a lot of their offensive boards could have been prevented by stronger defensive positioning on Auburn's end. That's something that Henderson, Rod Odom, and Kevin Bright will have to pay close attention to when they jockey for space around the rim.