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December 7, 2006QUICK FACTS
• Tip-off: 8 P.M. CT
• Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (125-99) and his 14th year overall (248-162); Scott Sanderson is in his eighth year at Lipscomb (119-98) and his 11th year overall (203-123).
• Rankings: Neither team is ranked.
• Radio: Vanderbilt-ISP Radio Network (WGFX
104.5 FM); Television: CSS. George Plaster provides play-by-play alongside
color analyst Wimp Sanderson.
• Tickets: 615-322-GOLD
• Vanderbilt and Lipscomb last played on January 24, 1955, which resulted in a 88-61 Commodore win. Vanderbilt leads the overall series 19-4.
3 - Alex Gordon , G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (8.8 ppg, 3.0 apg). Recorded nine points with six assists and one turnover against ETSU.
32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (16.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Posted first career double-double (29 points, 10 rebounds) against ETSU.
4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (15.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.8 apg). Scored a career-high 28 points with five 3-pointers against Toledo.
20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (10.0 ppg, 2.0 apg). Has started the last four games for Vanderbilt.
41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Averaging 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg and shooting 74.3 FG% (26-of-35) over last 4 games.
1 - Trey Williams, G, 6-2, 190, Sr., Memphis, Tenn. (18.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg). Scored 27 points, including eight 3-pointers, against North Florida.
42 - Michael Lusk, G, 6-3, 180, So., Marietta, Ga. (3.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg). Started five of the seven games he has played.
5 - Brian Fisk, G, 6-2, 205, Sr., Newbern, Tenn. (13.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg). Selected Preseason First Team All-Atlantic Sun.
14 - Eddie Ard, G/F, 6-5, 215, Jr., LaPlace, La. (14.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Selected Preseason Atlantic Sun Player of the Year.
40 - Thomas Pfaff, F, 6-8, 210, So., Clarksville, Tenn. (5.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg. Had 10 points and five rebounds in DL's win over Evansville.
It's been 51 years since Vanderbit and Lipscomb faced off on the basketball court. In fact, the last time these two Nashville schools played each other, Lipscomb was a junior college and Memorial Gym was under construction. VU actually played their games at McQuiddy Gym and what was then the Hippodrome skating rink.
Lipscomb (6-2) competes in the Atlantic Sun Conference with another Nashville school, Belmont. The two teams have quickly established themselves as the class of their conference, but that isn't really saying too much. The A-Sun has been a mish-mash league of mostly D1 newcomers, and is pretty much guaranteed just one invite to the Big Dance regardless of how well any other team plays. So, out-of-conference games usually mean little to teams from the A-Sun, other than a chance to (usually) face more athletic teams in front of larger crowds.
But, make no mistake about it: Lipscomb and Belmont have earned their status as two of the toughest mid-majors in the nation. And, there is no doubt that this is a game that Lipscomb desperately wants to win. The Bison have never defeated an SEC school at the D1 level.
The Bison won the A-Sun regular season crown a year ago en route to a 21-11 overall record, and like Vandy lost in the first round of the NIT.
Lipscomb actually comes into this game as a surprisingly strong statistical opponent. With an RPI of 85 and a strength of schedule of 49, Lipscomb has cut its teeth on tougher meat than VU has (RPI 258, SOS 235). That's because Lipscomb has already played two programs from major conferences, though they lost to both. Missouri (RPI of 12) defeated the Bison 89-69 about a month ago, and South Carolina (RPI of 76) beat them 75-68 three days later. Their best win came at home against 5-3 Evansville.
The strength of Lipscomb's team is their guard play. In particular, shooting guard Trey Williams has been making a big statement during his senior campaign, after talleying a career-high 27 points (including eight three-pointers) against North Florida last week. He also had 18 points and five assists in DL's win over Jacksonville last Saturday. Last week, Williams was 13-of-22 from three, and was named the A-Sun Player of the Week.
Williams' court mate is Brian Fisk, who leads the A-Sun in scoring (18.4), three-point field goal percentage (49.3) and three-pointers per game (4.12). Fisk often matched up against Byars in high school, when the two Memphians played for Dyer County and Ridgeway, respectively. When Fisk was a sophomore, Dyer County eliminated Byars' team from the playoffs. The two have remained close friends while attending college in Nashville, and often play with and against each other in summer pick-up games.
The Commodores are coming off a blowout win over A-Sun member ETSU. The 104-62 victory marks the biggest winning margin in Stallings' 8-year run at Vandy, and featured a lights-out 3-point shooting performance by Foster. The junior had his first career double-double with 29 points (on seven 3-pointers, six in the first half alone) and a career-high 10 rebounds.
ETSU, though, played a very suspect 1-3-1 zone, which Stallings immediately turned into minced meat. DL won't play zone tonight versus Vandy.
Vandy, though, desperately needed an easy win -- their first of the season. With a line-up that continues to morph from one game to the next, Stallings seems to have begun to find his comfort zone. Freshmen Beal and Brown have established themselves among the best players on this short bench, and junior transfer Neltner has been the most consistent all-around player on the team. Ross had 15 points against ETSU, the fourth consecutive double figure scoring performance.
Tonight's game is VU's fourth of a six-game home stand, and due to a scheduling quirk, was the last game added to Vandy's schedule. Vandy's students are in the middle of finals week, so attendance will certainly be light. And, you have to wonder how the pressure may effect Vandy's players. Valid excuse or not, the Commodores traditionally do not play well in finals week games.
The Commodores' next game is Saturday against ACC power Georgia Tech.
VandySports.com Recruiting Analyst
My take: Vanderbilt is now 3-3. How big is this? It's pretty big considering how things were looking just two games ago. Though the 104-62 win had most talking about the scoring of Foster, Neltner, and Byars, the most important thing seemed to be an overall better defensive performance by the Commodores. With this upcoming game against former area rival Lipscomb, the question is going to be will this defense continue and can they handle the motivated Bisons squad with some good mid-major talent.
Keys to a Vandy win: Keep taking the good shot. On Tuesday, the Commodores didn't seem to take a single bad shot on any possession, whether the shot went in or not. For the first time, the ball movement on offense looked crisp and with good direction for close to the full 40 minutes. Vanderbilt has to continue the good ball movement and taking the good shot as Lipscomb will likely be a tougher defensive team that ETSU was.
Player to watch: Lipscomb's Fisk. Most Vanderbilt fans would likely love watching Fisk play. He is a good offensive player, that can shoot from almost anywhere in the half court and has good overall skills. Defensively, Fisk is a dogged defender that will often go the extra step and lock-down opposing guards.
X-factor: Dan Cage. Vanderbilt will need Cage's scoring in this game as well as his defensive intensity. Fisk, Ard, and former Alabama player LaKory Daniels will give Vanderbilt's defense a tough look. If Cage can have a solid game offensively and defensively, that could be the difference.
And the winner is: This is going to be a very fun game to watch. Most might see Lipscomb and just seeing a great local former NAIA program trying to rise to the top of the A-Sun and in mid-major D1 basketball. However, Lipscomb is a good young program with good players that could've possibly played high-major D1 basketball had the opportunities presented itself. Vanderbilt will have to bring it like they have the last two games in order to win in what should be a great game with great atmosphere.
Vanderbilt 87, Lipscomb 82
My take: On a personal note, I was a Lipscomb student when Don Meyer's teams dominate the NAIA with players like Phillip Hutcheson and John Pierce on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I would head a couple miles down the road to watch Eddie Fogler's Vanderbilt teams at Memorial Gym.
My senior year, in particular, was great. The Commodores won the SEC title that year, and Meyer's Lipscomb team stayed at or near the top of the NAIA national polls that year, and beat a Tennessee State team that would go to the NCAA Tournament that year by nearly 20 points. Nashville may never see better basketball than what was played during those times. How times have changed for both programs since then.
My interest in the Lipscomb program disappeared the day the university let Meyer walk away, but it will be almost surreal for me watching the two teams hit the floor. This matchup is a good thing for the community, and I imagine that Lipscomb will bring a large contingent of fans from across town.
Players to watch: Lipscomb's Williams and Vandy's Neltner. I know next to nothing about the Bisons, but Williams, a JUCO transfer from Memphis, appears to be the guy who makes the Bisons go. The 6-foot-2 guard has hit nearly half his 67 three-point shots, and I wonder if the Commodores might try to guard him with another Memphis native Byars.
Neltner has really, really impressed me with his ability to score with long baseline jumpers and even the occasional three-pointer. Neltner's 63% shooting should help take some pressure off Byars and Foster.
X-factor: Foster. He offered little besides his sweet stroke, which failed him early, until he felt compelled to use his stellar leaping abillity and pound the backboards against ETSU. He responded with a career-high 10 rebounds, and on a team that struggles on the glass, Foster's help is much-needed. Now, the Commodores need him to step up his defensive game as well.
Vandy wins if: Foster plays like he did on Tuesday, and the Commodores don't have major defensive lapses as they had during the first five games.
And the winner is: A win over Vanderbilt would be perhaps the biggest in Lipscomb's history. A loss to Lipscomb would be devastating to a Commodore program that had one of the most embarassing losses in school history to Furman last week.
Vandy felt that pain once, and doesn't want to feel it again. I liked the spark and the confidence I saw from Vanderbilt on Tuesday, and my guess is that I see more of it again.
The Commodores just aren't going to be a great defensive team this year, but I don't think Lipscomb can match the Foster/Byars/Neltner trio if the get the jump shots going as they're capable of doing.
My guess is that they will, and the Bisons won't be able to match the 'Dores bucket-for-bucket.
Vanderbilt 80, Lipscomb 68
My take: This is a classic trap game for Vanderbilt. The Commodores are in the middle of finals week, and this is the third game they will play in the past five days. In addition, Vandy blew the doors off of another A-Sun team on Tuesday, and deservedly has some pep in their step as a result. But, Lipscomb is light years better than ETSU, and won't play the goofy 1-3-1 zone that Stallings' teams always lights up like a Christmas tree.
In addition, DL has three stellar guards, all seniors, and all of them capable of bombing VU into oblivion. Finally, Lipscomb has not played a game in a week, and due to the traditional finals week funk with Vandy's students, Memorial may have a lopsided DL fan base hooting for the Bison tonight.
I don't like this game for Vandy. At all.
Key to a Vandy win: Guard the guards tough. Lipscomb is a low-scoring team that is not used to playing games in the 80s. If Vandy can push the tempo and force DL into early turnovers, they will likely coast to a win. If they let Fisk, Williams and Ard get hot from the outside, VU could be in deep trouble tonight.
Lipscomb starts four guards, and that means Brown and Neltner need to make a statement in the paint.
Player to watch: Pick a Lipscomb guard, any guard. This is the best outside shooting team Vandy will face before the SEC schedule, and Ard, Fisk and Williams will make Vandy pay if they get open looks.
X-factor: Tired legs. Can Vandy keep their intensity up in the middle of finals week, after a way-too-easy romp over ETSU?
And the winner is: The Furman loss no doubt left a mark on everyone, and the last thing Vandy's players want is a second black eye. A loss to Lipscomb would make the Furman loss look like a blip on the radar. Regardless, I have struggled with this game for several weeks now, and the more I study Lipscomb, and the more I think about the situation Vandy is in with their schedule, I just have a very bad feeling about this match-up.
You can bet Sanderson won't allow Foster to play H-O-R-S-E tonight, and Lipscomb comes in with fresh legs and a ton of motivation. Lipscomb's players are familiar with Memorial, because many of them play pick-up games on Vandy's campus over the summer. With finals week, you can forget about VU's usual home court advantages.
I almost picked Furman to beat Vandy, and in fact whispered to a couple of photographgers before the game that I thought VU would lose. You have to go with your gut, and though I will probably be the only staffer who makes this pick, it's the one I feel best about under these circumstances.
Lipscomb 75, Vanderbilt 73
VandySports.com Contributing Writer
My take: This series stretches nearly as far back as both basketball programs have existed, but much has changed since the last time this series was on equal footing. In a game that will feature excellent three point shooters on both sides, Vanderbilt must work hard to make sure that they do not "die by the three," as the basketball saying warns that they might.
Player to watch: Lipscomb's Williams, as well as any other Lipscomb player standing outside the three point line. As a significant underdog to a still-struggling Commodore squad, the wise strategy for Lipscomb would involve many three point attempts, hoping to hit a hot streak and upset Vanderbilt. Hot shooting would also force Vandy's perimeter defenders to step close, opening opportunities for dribble penetration. If any Lipscomb player is to hit a hot 3pt shooting streak, it is likely to be Williams.
Key to a Vandy win: Commit fewer than 10 turnovers, as they did against ETSU. Vandy ends a lower percentage of their possessions on a turnover than all but six teams in the entire country -- statistically, this is the team's biggest strength, and it has gone woefully underappreciated this season. VU will lose this game if Lipscomb is able to hit at least 10 three pointers and shoot 40% or better on those three point shots.
X-factor: Ted Skuchas. Ted has been a chronic disappointment at Vanderbilt -- raising expectations early in his career and early each season, only to come crashing down to mediocrity later in the season. With Alan Metcalfe injured, Skuchas is Vanderbilt's only "true" center. Ted has been inconsistant in his career, but has tended to fare well against minor-conference teams. If Skuchas (along with Neltner and Brown) can provide offensive rebounds and 2nd-chance points, they will be an effective hedge against the risk of a cold shooting night for the Commodores.
Player to watch:: This is why Williams is the player to watch. Lipscomb cannot beat Vanderbilt by playing a solid-but-unspectacular brand of basketball. They must raise the stakes and hope a few bounces go their way. Vanderbilt needs to limit their open looks on the perimeter, counting on Skuchas and company to help out with any penetrating guards in the paint. Ted has blocked 7% of all opponents' shots while he is in the game -- a strong number for a man seeking to earn a bigger role on this team.
And the winner is: Lipscomb is a better team than ETSU, and they will take what Vanderbilt gives them. I predict that Vanderbilt will stay in a man-to-man defense for this game, denying three-point opportunities and hot shooting streaks, and forcing Lipscomb to earn every point by attacking the rim and fighting off post defenders. This may seem to play into Vandy's weaknesses, but Lipscomb's best chance to win this game is to have an unusual supply of luck. The final score will reflect defensive improvement by Vanderbilt, and a Lipscomb team incapable of denying Foster and Byars the basketball.
Vanderbilt 95, Lipscomb 69
VandySports.com Contributing Writer
My take: Lipscomb-Vandy is another one of these games that probably should have happened a long time ago, that a lot of people in Middle Tennessee will enjoy seeing. But, its really a no win situation for Vandy. They really gain very little if anything by playing/winning this game, but can do a lot of damage to themselves by losing.
Lipscomb will be fired up to play the SEC program that is in their back yard. I believe the slow start to Vandy's season is kind of an advantage to them, as they cannot afford to take Lipscomb lightly, even though Georgia Tech is on the horizon.
The proximity of the two schools is not the only thing VU has to worry about, this Lipscomb team is no slouch by any means. Dave Odom has already come out and said this team has maybe the best backcourt he would see all year. Williams is one of the most underrated guards in the country; Fisk is no slouch either.
Add Ard to the mix, and you have three upperclassmen who were integral parts in Lipscomb's A-Sun Conference and NIT Tournament team last year. This is a very experienced team that can legitimately beat Vanderbilt, and thinks they can as well.
Key to a Vandy win: Play solid perimeter defense, and take advantage of their size and athleticism on the wings. Lipscomb's front court does not match their back court, so Vandy should have an advantage there. Another shooting performance like Tuesday wouldn't hurt Vandy's chances either.
Players to watch: Alex Gordon and Jermaine Beal. I'm assuming they will be matched up with Williams. This will be as tough as any assignment they will have all year. If they get destroyed by Williams, it could be a very tough night for the Dores. They need to step up against Williams.
X-factor: Will playing Vanderbilt be enough to fire Lipscomb up enough to play one of their better games. If so, the Dores better step up to the plate and respond.
And the winner is: Was the ETSU game a fluke, or has Vandy turned a corner? As much as most want to say we wont know until after the GTech game, this Lipscomb game is equally as telling, as Lipscomb is good enough to beat Vandy. However, I think maybe VU has turned that corner, and they make Wimp's son uncomfortable in the cozy confines of Memorial.
Vanderbilt 84, Lipscomb 72