February 21, 2011

Previewing Tennessee at Vanderbilt

What: Tennessee Volunteers (16-11, 6-6) at Vanderbilt Commodores (20-6, 8-4)

Where: Memorial Gymnasium (14,316), Nashville,Tenn.

When: 8:00 p.m. CST, Tuesday


Radio: Nashville: 97.1 FM

Rankings: VU is 18th in both polls; UT is unranked

Warren Nolan RPI: Vanderbilt 17, Tennessee 33

The line: Vanderbilt by 6.5

Sagarin prediction: Vanderbilt by 9

Pomeroy prediction: Vanderbilt 76, Tennessee 67 (VU has an 80 percent chance of victory)

Series record: Tennessee leads 109-69; UT won earlier this season in Knoxville, but VU swept last season

PlayerHt.Wt.Cl.PPGRPG Pos.PlayerHt.Wt.Cl.PPGRPG
Brad Tinsley6-3210Jr.10.84.0 PG Melvin Goins5-11180Sr.7.73.3
John Jenkins6-4215So.19.93.1 SG Cameron Tatum6-6192Jr.9.93.3
Jeffery Taylor6-7225Jr.14.55.7 SF Scotty Hopson6-7205Jr.17.43.4
Rod Odom6-9207Fr.4.63.0 PF Tobias Harris6-8226Fr.14.47.4
Festus Ezeli6-11255Jr.12.46.2 C John Fields6-9222Sr.3.03.3


Rivalry games are always interesting, but Tuesday night's contest between Vanderbilt and Tennessee has enough sub-plots to make any movie director jealous of this script.

Among them:

* After being buried for dead, a sixth-straight win on Tuesday might give Commodores an outside shot at a regular-season Southeastern Conference title, something they haven't won since 1993.

* Another good game by VU guard John Jenkins would continue to make the case for the sophomore to win the league's player of the year honors.
* Vanderbilt will have revenge on its mind after blowing a 17-point lead in the meeting between the two teams last month in Knoxville.

* The Volunteers, a top-10 team about this time two months ago, are now battling for their NCAA Tournament lives after dropping 11 of their last 20 games.

* Their embattled coach, Bruce Pearl, could conceivably be making his last visit to Memorial Gymnasium depending on the outcome of an NCAA investigation into Pearl's violations of NCAA rules, and then his lying to the NCAA regarding the offending activities.

Throw in the fact that these teams don't like each other much, and that the Commodore student section will likely be peppering Pearl with catcalls and signs sure to catch the eye of an ESPN crew, and you have all the makings of a game that you don't want to miss if you're a fan of either team... or just a fan of college basketball, in general.

Other than those things, it'll be just another night on the hardwoods at Memorial Gymnasium.

The Commodores return home after winning two on the road. Against both Georgia and Auburn, VU's offense short-circuited in the first half, with defense keeping the 'Dores in the game until Jenkins caught fire in the second half.

As everyone knows now, Jenkins was scoreless in the first half of each contest, but blistered the nets for 20-plus points after the break. UT's Scotty Hopson, who has about a three-inch height advantage on Jenkins, will likely be the latest to try to stop him. No SEC team has held the 6-foot-4 guard to fewer than 18 points.

Vandy's Festus Ezeli has been the glue to hold the team together on the defensive end. The junior has blocked 12 shots in 50 minutes over the last two games and pulled 14 rebounds, but just as importantly, has collected just three fouls over that span.

When Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor stay in the game (Ezeli has fouled out four times, and Taylor, three), the Commodores are tough for anyone to beat.

Taylor's other issue has been offensive consistency. While Taylor's production had ebbed and flowed over the course of games-he dominated several games early in the year, then seemed content to let teammates pick up the slack later-what the 'Dores get from him lately has been anyone's guess.

Taylor had scored at least 13 points in 14-straight games until Feb. 1, when coach Kevin Stallings benched him to start the game. Since that time, Taylor has had games of four points once, and seven, twice, including a 2-for-18 showing at Georgia.

The struggles seemed to get in Taylor's head, as the closer the shot, the more likely the junior seems to be to miss it lately. But a 20-point, 10-rebound game at Auburn that included some big buckets as the Commodores made a second-half run to break open a tie game could be the tonic to get the talented forward over the hump.

Taylor's defensive consistency, however, has been well above reproach. More than likely, he'll be charged with slowing Hopson. The former McDonald's All-American might have been the talk of the league of late if it weren't for Jenkins, given his 25.7-point average over the last three games.

Hopson has been one of the few things the Vols have going for them of late. Losers of four of their last five games, UT has broken the 70-point barrier just once, that coming in a 73-67 victory in Knoxville over South Carolina.

Part of the Vols' problem is at point guard, where Pearl has threatened to bench Melvin Goins. The senior shoots 36 percent from the field, and averages fewer than three assists per game.

Benching Goins seems to be an empty threat, though, considering Pearl's other options. Freshman Trae Golden is an even worse shooter, and neither Josh Bone or Skylar McBee, who's now the backup, are really cut out for the job.

McBee, though, can drain the occasional 3-pointer, as the Commodores learned when the East Tennessee native ignited UT's that cut into Vandy's big lead and eventually led the Volunteers to victory in January.

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