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January 11, 2008
Vanderbilt ready for showdown with Vols
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Best matchup: Vanderbilt at Tennessee. If the Commodores win at Kentucky on Saturday, they'll roll into Knoxville 17-0 and on the cusp of entering the top 10. The Vols (13-1, 1-0) will be waiting. Bruce Pearl's team knocked Ole Miss from the ranks of the unbeaten on Wednesday night albeit not in especially convincing fashion and UT would love nothing more than to do the same to its intrastate rival. The teams split their meetings last season, with each winning at home. As a matter of fact, the Vols handed the Commodores their worst loss, crushing them 84-57. This will be a high-scoring game with a little edge to it. There is genuine animosity between the teams, and there is a lot at stake. The winner here is the conference front-runner.
The pressure is on: Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie. The Wildcats (6-7) are one of two teams yet to play an SEC game (Georgia is the other). They've had a whole week to stew over their loss to Louisville and prepare for a good Vanderbilt team. With a miserable non-conference slate behind it, can Gillispie rally the troops? The Commodores have a two-game winning streak at Rupp Arena, and for the Big Blue faithful, three would be unthinkable.
Upset alert: Florida at Ole Miss. The Rebels (13-1, 0-1) have come a long way when losing to the Gators (14-2, 1-0) would be considered an upset. It's an intriguing matchup between freshman guards from the Orlando area. The Gators' Nick Calathes was a Rivals.com five-star prospect who's off to a terrific start in Gainesville (15.2 points per game, SEC-leading 5.9 assists per game, 4.9 rebounds per game). The Rebels' Chris Warren was a three-star prospect who's off to an equally fine start in Oxford (15.9 points, 5.4 assists, 2.2 rebounds). Interestingly, they didn't play against each other in high school even though their schools were only about 15 miles apart. Florida's starting lineup doesn't have a single senior. Ole Miss starts two seniors in the frontcourt, Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams. They will be the biggest impediment to the Gators springing an upset.
RPI watch: The SEC ranks sixth among conferences in the RPI. Tennessee (No. 3) and Vanderbilt (No. 7) are in the top 10, with Ole Miss (No. 20) the only other league team in the top 50.
Key stat: Florida has held 14 of its 16 opponents below their season scoring average. The Gators rank first in the SEC in scoring defense, yielding 61.9 points per game. Billy Donovan's teams are 65-4 the past three seasons when holding teams to less than 70 points.
Freshmen to watch: C A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt. Ogilvy, a 6-foot-11 Aussie, has proven to be quite the find. Ogilvy is second in the SEC in scoring (19.6 points per game), right behind teammate Shan Foster (20.6). Ogilvy dropped 25 points on South Carolina in his SEC debut.
Who's hot: Mississippi State forward Jarvis Varnado is shooting 71.4 percent and averaging 12.7 points (5.6 above his season average) over the past three games. He also has 17 blocks in that span. Tennessee forward Tyler Smith has 13 assists and just one turnover in the past three games. Kentucky guard Ramel Bradley is averaging 23 points over the past three games. Georgia guard Billy Humphrey is shooting 56.7 percent (17-of-30) and averaging 22.5 points over the past two games.
Who's not: LSU scored only 39 points in its SEC opener at home against Mississippi State. The Tigers are averaging just 55.7 points over the past six games. LSU guard Marcus Thornton, the Tigers' leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, is in a shooting slump. He's hitting only 31.3 percent and averaging only 13.5 points over the past six games. Georgia guard Terrance Woodbury is shooting 24.6 percent and averaging 7.7 points over the past six games.
Worth noting: Vanderbilt swingman Shan Foster became the school's career leader in 3-pointers during Wednesday's victory over South Carolina, passing Ronnie McMahan. South Carolina guard Brandis Raley-Ross, the nation's leader in 3-point percentage (65.2), returned from a knee sprain suffered Dec. 29 to play nine minutes in Wednesday's loss to Vanderbilt. He attempted only one shot, from inside the arc, and missed. Ole Miss forward Jeremy Parnell (4.4 points, 3.5 rebounds) left the loss to Tennessee after just seven minutes because of an ankle sprain. He's listed as day-to-day. Because of injuries, LSU has had its team managers participating in practice. The Tigers got some good news, though, when forward Quintin Thornton, who had been out for three months after surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, played for the first time in Wednesday's loss to Mississippi State. Center Chris Johnson has opted not to have surgery on his broken right hand (suffered Jan. 2 against Tulane); his injury will be re-evaluated next week. Mississippi State is 3-0 since All-SEC forward Charles Rhodes has been out with a sprained ankle. Florida has hit at least 10 3-pointers in six games this season and has won all six.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.