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January 24, 2007

GAME DAY REPORT: Vanderbilt at LSU

QUICK FACTS:

Vanderbilt (13-6, 3-2) at Louisiana State (13-5, 2-2)
7 p.m. Central, Pete Maravich Assembly Center (13,215)


The line: LSU by 6

Official NCAA RPI as of 1/21/07: Vanderbilt is 67th, LSU is 54th

Sagarin ratings through 1/24/07: Vanderbilt is 66th, LSU 50th
(Including the four-point home-court advantage, Sagarin rates LSU a 6-point favorite)

Series info: Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 53-48; LSU leads 28-18 in Baton Rouge and 7-4 at neutral sites

Last year's meetings: LSU won 77-66 at Memorial Gym, and again when the two teams met in Nashville for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, 92-73

Coaches: Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings is 135-102 in his eighth season at Vanderbilt, and 258-165 overall. LSU's John Brady, in his tenth year at LSU, is 180-116 and 260-193 overall.

Rankings: LSU is No. 21 in this week's Associated Press poll, and 22nd in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Vanderbilt is not ranked, but received votes in each poll.

Radio: In Nashville, the game is carried on the ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM)


STARTING LINEUPS:

Vanderbilt:
3-Alex Gordon, G, 5-foot-11, 164 lbs., Jr., Pensacola, Fla.
(8.2 ppg, 4.1 apg)

32-Shan Foster, G/F, 6-foot-6, 200 lbs., Jr., Kenner, La.
(15.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

4-Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-foot-7, 230 lbs., Sr., Memphis, Tenn.
(15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)

20-Dan Cage, G, 6-foot-4, 215 lbs., Sr., Indianapolis, Ind.
(11.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg)

41-Ross Neltner, F, 6-foot-9, 247 lbs., Jr., Ft. Thomas, Ky.
(10.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

LSU

14-Garrett Temple, G, 6-foot-5, 190 lbs., So., Baton Rouge, La.
(9.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.2 apg)

13-Terry Martin, G, 6-foot-6, 196 lbs., So., Monroe, La.
(11.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg)

1-Tasmin Mitchell F, 6-foot-7, 224 lbs., Denham Springs, La.
(14.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

35-Darnell Lazare, F, 6-foot-8, 228 lbs., Sr., Baton Rouge, La.
(6.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

00-Glen Davis, F, 6-foot-9, 296 lbs., Jr., Baton Rouge, La.
(18.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg)


SCOUTING LSU:
Like Vanderbilt fans, LSU fans have watched their team's season go in a direction they didn't expect. But unlike Vanderbilt's season, that's not been a pleasant surprise.

Fresh off a Final Four appearance, most preseason polls had the Tigers picked in the top ten, with some expecting the Tigers to perhaps challenge for another national semifinal appearance. Though LSU lost Tyrus Thomas early to the NBA, and the underrated Darrel Mitchell to graduation, the return of Davis, a preseason national player of the year candidate, and Mitchell, one of the more highly-rated LSU signees in recent memory, gave Tiger fans legitimate reasons to believe the drop-off wouldn't be drastic..

Instead, LSU's NCAA Tournament resume isn't much-if any-better than Vanderbilt's at this point. The Tigers have a marquee win over No. 6 Texas A&M, but the 66-49 thrashing of Connecticut has lost its luster now that the Huskies proceeded to lose four of their next five games, with only a victory over a 12-8 St. John's team preventing a total collapse during that stretch.

In conference play, the Tigers have two double-digit road losses, and edged Ole Miss (seven-point win) and Auburn (two-point victory) at home. No SEC team has dominated its home court in league play in recent seasons as have the Tigers, who haven't lost at home in the league since the next-to-last home game of 2004. By beating Vandy, LSU would tie a school record set in the 1950's with its 20th-straight home win in league play.

However, Brady and LSU know that streak won't last much longer if the Tigers don't improve some things quickly. LSU has struggled to find consistent scoring outside of Davis and Mitchell; Texas Tech transfer Martin has helped by shooting 47 percent behind the 3-point arc in his 10 games, but still, the Tigers rank last in league play in both 3-point percentage and 3-point field goals made.

In fact, scoring from anywhere has been an issue of late. LSU ranks 11th in SEC play in scoring, and 10th in field goal percentage (39 percent). The Tigers have some offensive talent, but consistency outside of Davis seems to be the issue, as Martin and Mitchell rarely seem to be "on" the same nights. Temple is a defense-first guard, and there's virtually no help coming from the bench in terms of backcourt scoring.

That said, the silver lining for LSU is that its potential is higher than what's been shown so far. Everything starts and ends with Davis, who has a combination of size and nimbleness unparalleled in college basketball. Davis was a one-man wrecking crew against Vanderbilt in last year's SEC Tournament, posting 19 points and eight rebounds by halftime to essentially put the game out of reach.

Mitchell is one of the league's more-talented sophomores, and is LSU's best 3-point shooter behind Martin. The depth situation gets better in the frontcourt, where most SEC coaches would love to have a pair of backups with the athleticism of forwards Magnum Rolle, a five-star Rivals.com recruit out of high school two seasons ago, and senior Darnell Lazare.

LSU is a good defensive team, allowing an astoundingly-low 9.5 assists per game. Temple, the latest in his family's seemingly-endless line of Tiger basketball players, is one of America's top backcourt defenders, and his defense on Duke all-American J.J. Redick in an Elite Eight game is a big reason why the Tigers advanced to the Final Four last year.

And, with Davis in the middle flanked by some terrific athletes, there just aren't a lot of offensive rebounds to be had when the shots don't fall.

Few matchups in the league this year will offer such contrasts in style, as nearly every Vanderbilt strength is a weakness for LSU, and vice-versa. A slower pace should favor the Tigers, and one would think that Brady would not want to let Vandy fast-break and and effectively remove Davis as a defender. Fewer possessions would also favor the Tigers with the scoring troubles of late.

Offensively, Brady will likely try to get Davis as many touches as possible, knowing that the Vandy frontcourt, including backups Ted Skuchas and Alan Metcalfe, is foul-prone.

If free throws become a factor, neither team has a clear edge, as both teams shoot 71 percent from the line.



OUR TAKES:

Jesse Johnson
Murfreesboro, Tenn.
VandySports.com Recruiting Analyst


My take: Vanderbilt is riding a nice wave right now with winning three out of its last four games, all three being against top 25 opponents. Now the question is, "Can they keep that wave as they head to Baton Rouge?"

Looking at the two teams, LSU looks the sure favorite with the game being at home and the Tigers being a legit top-25 program, with one of the SEC's most dominating big men in Glen Davis and a good rising sophomore in Tasmin Mitchell.

However, Vanderbilt's four-guard offenses have given some of the SEC's best teams fits, and if its effort had been better at Auburn, Vanderbilt could be 4-1 in the SEC heading into this game.

The obvious question is what can Vanderbilt do to stop Davis and Mitchell, but I really think the key is not so much Davis or Mitchell, but whether Vanderbilt can make it a game where LSU's perimeter shooters are forced to win the game. It's not rocket science to realize that with LSU's size and perceived athletic advantage, Vanderbilt is probably going to struggle inside the paint.

However, in SEC contests, the Tigers have struggled to score. As a team, the Tigers are only shooting 38 percent from the field and a staggering 29 percent from three. To me, the key to the game is for Vanderbilt to show the same aggressive defense they showed against Kentucky and Alabama, close off most passing lanes to the basket and make LSU's players beat them from the outside.

The X-factor is likely going to be the play of LSU wing Terry Martin. The Texas Tech transfer has been the man to come up big for the Tigers at key moments this year, though I saw him on Saturday shoot only 3-of-13 in a very ugly loss to Arkansas.

Given the three out of four games I've seen LSU play in the SEC and the games I have seen Vanderbilt play so far in the SEC, Vanderbilt actually comes out as the more proven team at the moment as far as in-league performance goes. I know that the decided size advantage on the interior generally works out for home teams around the league, but this game could go down much like the Tigers game against Auburn two weeks ago.

In that game, LSU dominated Auburn on the boards and got a number of trips to the line, but at the end Auburn still had a wide open chance to win at the end and I can see this game being the same way. For that reason, and maybe a little bit of my belief in what I've seen the past couple of weeks with the Commodores, I think I have to go with VU on this one.

Vanderbilt 70 LSU 67


Chris Lee
Nashville, Tenn.
VandySports.com Publisher


My take:The key to this game will be whether LSU can get anything going from the perimeter. It's a given that Davis will get his points, and more than likely, he'll cause some foul issues for Vandy, too. And, it's likely Mitchell will have a good game, too, because I just don't know who's going to stop him.

But from a defensive standpoint, either Byars or Foster should be able to keep Martin from going off. If that's the case-and if no one has a randomly-good game, like UK's Sheray Thomas did on Saturday-you have to think Vandy's got a chance.

If the Commodores remain hot from the outside, and if LSU's backcourt plays the way it has of late, Vandy can snap LSU's home winning streak and walk out of Baton Rouge at 4-2 and in the driver's seat for an NCAA bid.

After what happened in Lexington, the Commodores should have the confidence to happen. But will they? I've gone back-and-forth on picking a winner for this game, but after his unbelievable recent hot streak, I have ultimately learned my lesson: Take what Jesse picks, and go with it! The man has been on a hot streak that would make Tiger Woods envious, and if he thinks it, I'll go with it, too.

Vanderbilt 70, LSU 66




Jake Lowery
Atlanta, Ga.
VandySports.com Contributing Writer


LSU and Vanderbilt have changed a lot since the last time they played. Both teams have lost important players and changed their game plans accordingly, not to mention Glen Davis' apparent effort to make Subway his first endorsement once he goes pro.

Vanderbilt is riding high after three big SEC victories, but are expectations a little too lofty? It would be naive to expect Vanderbilt to always play like they did in those three wins, and even if the Commodores do play consistently intense defense and shoot the lights out, this could still be a very close game.

Glen Davis will "get his," so the he player to watch is Magnum Rolle. If, like the UGA post players, he is able to shoot nearly 100% and get several put-backs, he could make the difference in the game.

On the Vanderbilt side, keep an eye on Dan Cage. Dan embodies what the 'Dores must do today: Play big on defense and on the boards, shoot well, and keep up the focus and intensity.

This will be a good game, as I believe Vanderbilt has learned how to win the big game. But ultimately, Vanderbilt's "A game" will not be enough to beat LSU. Vandy fans will find out themselves whether they're allowed to be disappointed after this game, which shows how far this team has come since November.

LSU 80, Vandy 75




Robbie Smoot
Murfreesboro, Tenn.
VandySports.com Guest Writer


LSU has struggled on offense in a lot of games this year, as they have had trouble getting consistent scoring from anyone other than Glen Davis. However, in my opinion, LSU presents the second-toughest matchup problems to Vanderbilt of any SEC team (Florida being No. 1).

"Big Baby" will be a nightmare for Vandy, as he is big and moves from one side of the lane to the other better than any big they will face this year. I expect them to constantly double and triple-team him all game.

If LSU doesn't get a couple of other players hot, VU may can slow the Tigers down on offense. But, it will just depend on how well LSU passes the ball out of the double team, then if they knock down shots.

On the boards, I don't see how VU can win that battle, however, LSU likes to play at a slow pace. If VU can pull a few defensive boards, and push the ball up the court, they should be able to punish the Tigers in transition, which may keep them from crashing the boards.

Also, will Vandy's four-guard lineup force LSU to adjust, or will LSU's big men force Vandy to adjust? That may be the deciding factor. If Cage can get hot, it may force LSU to go smaller, thus eliminating some of the advantage LSU has.

Or, if Vandy can't pull a rebound or gets hammered inside, it may force VU out of the four-guard lineup.

LSU has struggled so far in the SEC, winning a couple of tough ones at home, while losing two on the road by wide margins. If VU continues to play the way they have, even with some of the matchup problems on the defensive end, I expect this game to be close.

Again, this is another game I think VU can win, and I think they will be in it with five minutes to go. It will come down to who makes the plays at the end.

I won't be the least bit surprised if the 'Dores win, but I also won't be surprised with a loss. So, since I believe in jinxes, I can't feel good about going with the 'Dores.

LSU 69 Vanderbilt 64


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