Oregon basketball is on the rise. After a sub-.500 regular season in 2010-2011, the Ducks rebounded with a trip to the NIT quarterfinals in 2012. Now, they're widely considered a bubble team and could end up making the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.
Vanderbilt is on the opposite side of that projection. The 'Dores are reeling from the loss of their six most used players from 2012's SEC Champion team. Even worse, they'll be without hyped sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker as he sits out the second game of an indefinite, but definitely not short, suspension.
These factors will make Friday's showdown a very different game than last year's 14-point Commodore win in Nashville. Vanderbilt's returning players scored only 11 of the team's 78 points in that game, and they combined to shoot a dismal 2-18 from the field. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, every one of those players - led by Kyle Fuller and Kedren Johnson - have significantly improved since the first game of the 2011-2012 season.
Oregon will be led by seniors Carlos Emory, E.J. Singler, and Tony Woods, but it has been their freshmen who have stood out early in 2012. Dominic Artis, a top-five point guard recruit this spring, leads the team in scoring and steals but has also struggled with turnovers, averaging four per game against mid-major competition. Damyean Dotson, a smooth-shooting 2 guard, has been and efficient presence in the backcourt, producing 12.5 points and six rebounds per game from the bench. Willie Moore, a first-year player from Cincinnati, has ended up as a starter for UO as well.
The biggest X-factor tonight will be Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi was granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA on Thursday, making him eligible to play against the 'Dores. He averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Owls last season, and he could end up coming through in a big way against an undersized Vandy team.
The Ducks will give the Commodores a good early test. Like Vanderbilt, Oregon has been using three-guard lineups to accomodate a roster that is short on big men but heavy on scoring from the backcourt. Woods gives Oregon a long and stable presence in the center, and he could be due for a solid performance against Vandy's untested bigs. Backup Waverly Austin, who has bulk the 'Dores can't match at 270 pounds, could also end up frustrating Kevin Stallings's team all night.
Vanderbilt will need a big performance from their guards to pull off the road upset, but Johnson and Fuller showed that they're ready to handle that load in last week's win over Nicholls State. They'll have to prove that they can step up in a hostile environment against a more experienced team that plays a similar small-ball style as they do. If the 'Dores pull this one out, it will be on the backs of their little guys.
Likely lineups and rotations:
|G -||Kedren Johnson||25||6||6||G -||Johnathan Loyd||5||1.5||3|
|G -||Kyle Fuller||15||3||6||G -||Dominic Artis||13||2.5||2.5|
|G -||Kevin Bright||15||8||1||G -||Willie Moore||4.5||1.5||2|
|F -||Rod Odom||7||7||1||F -||E.J. Singler||9||5.5||2.5|
|F -||Shelby Moats||8||2||1||C -||Tony Woods||10.5||5||0|
|F -||Sheldon Jeter||3||3||1||G -||Damyean Dotson||12.5||6||0.5|
|F -||James Siakam||4||1||1||F -||Carlos Emory||11.5||4.5||1.5|
|C -||Josh Henderson||3||2||0||C -||Waverly Austin||7.5||5.5||1|
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