College Hoops Tuesday: Your Commentary

February 22nd, 2011
While Vanderbilt (20-6, 8-4) would need a lot of help to catch Florida atop the SEC East standings there's still the matter of sewing up a first round bye in next month's SEC Tournament, and they can move one step closer with a win over Tennessee (16-11, 6-6) Tuesday night. Tennessee won the first meeting between the two, with the Volunteers slumping at the time and needing a second-half revival of sorts (combined with some poor decisions from the Commodores) to pull off the comeback. But that game was a microcosm of the season for Bruce Pearl's team, who can go from being ready to take on anyone to looking disinterested within a matter of minutes. If they're to realize their full potential come March that needs to be fixed, and what better time to start than Tuesday night?

Scotty Hopson was the hero on that afternoon, and he leads the team in scoring with an average of 17.4 points per game and in Tobias Harris (14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) the Volunteers have one of the best freshmen in the country. Both have diverse skill sets with Harris doing a little more of his work inside, and both average more turnovers per game than assists as well. The two teams both average just under 14 turnovers per game, but there's also the matter of the bad shot that can act as a turnover in certain situations. Unfortunately for Tennessee there have been times where this has been the case, and that's something they can ill-afford to do when combining the unique and tough road environment that is Memorial Gym.

Likely matching up with Harris and Hopson in some form will be Vanderbilt's tandem of John Jenkins (19.9 ppg, 42.3% 3PT) and Jeffery Taylor (14.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg). These two have seemingly alternated shooting slumps, with Jenkins curing his at just about the same time that Taylor fell into his (Taylor may have snapped out of it with 20 points in the win over Auburn). But Taylor is also one of the premier defenders in the SEC, meaning that opponents still have to account for him. As for Jenkins, he's one of the best perimeter shooters around and has expanded his game in his second season in Nashville. As a team the Commodores shoot 45.7% from the field and 39.3% from three, and they're even better at defending the three as opponents shoot a frigid 29.6%.

Tennessee isn't particularly good at that shot, boasting a percentage of 32.2% and they'll need to keep that in mind on the offensive end so as not to settle for those challenged looks. Hopson's been Tennessee's best three-point shooter from a percentage standpoint, and despite poor percentages on the season both Skylar McBee and Cameron Tatum can hit shots when left open. Where Tennessee can win the game is on the offensive boards, and with an average of 14.2 per game the Volunteers rank among the nation's best in that regard.

Senior Brian Williams grabs 3.4 of his team-high 7.7 rebounds per game on the offensive end and Harris grabs two, meaning that the Commodores must box out. Festus Ezeli (12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), who has also emerged on the offensively, and Lance Goulbourne (6.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are just two of the players Kevin Stallings will call upon in the frontcourt to keep Tennessee's second chances to a minimum.

Play at the point, something that's been an issue for both teams at times this season, will also play a major role in the outcome. Brad Tinsley's taken over for the graduated Jermaine Beal, and at times he's had issues in late-game situations that have cost Vanderbilt. As for Tennessee it's been tough to figure out who runs the show, with Melvin Goins getting the lion's share of the minutes of late but Harris, McBee and freshman Trae Golden have all seen time at the point at various points this season. Tuesday night is a good starting point for both teams with regards to solving this particular issues, because solid guard play is instrumental in any tournament run.

In other action Illinois looks to rebound from their loss at Michigan State with a win in Columbus, where a team that was lit up by Purdue's E'Twaun Moore on Sunday afternoon awaits. Once again the play of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale will have a lot to do with the outcome, because if they play soft Jared Sullinger has the ability to put a 30/20 line on the Illini. Louisville visits Rutgers and the Cardinals had better be ready for a street brawl. Mike Rice has his players playing with an intensity not seen on the banks of the Raritan for quite some time, and in addition to taking Syracuse to overtime they've already knocked off Villanova.

In the Big South life without leading scorer and rebounder Desmond Holloway resumes for Coastal Carolina, Virginia Tech plays a game (at Wake Forest) it absolutely cannot afford to lose after falling at Virginia on Saturday and Indiana State visits Northern Iowa in a game important to both with regards to seeding for the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Top 25
7:00 PM Illinois at (3) Ohio State (ESPN)
8:00 PM Iowa State at (5) Texas (ESPN3)
9:00 PM (16) Louisville at Rutgers (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Tennessee at (18) Vanderbilt (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Virginia Tech at Wake Forest (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Maine at New Hampshire (ESPN3)
7:00 PM UNC Asheville at Coastal Carolina (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Mississippi at South Carolina (ESPNU)
7:00 PM La Salle at Xavier
7:30 PM Gardner-Webb at Charleston Southern
8:00 PM Chicago State at Saint Louis
8:00 PM Loyola NO at Southern Miss
8:05 PM Bradley at Illinois State
8:05 PM Indiana State at Northern Iowa
8:35 PM Middle Tennessee at Houston Baptist
9:00 PM Michigan State at Minnesota
9:00 PM Houston at Memphis
9:00 PM Tennessee Tech at SIU-Edwardsville
9:05 PM Weber State at Idaho State
10:00 PM TCU at Utah (The Mtn.)
10:10 PM Washington at Seattle (FSN NW)