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Georgia Bulldogs v. Vanderbilt Commodores: The Haphazard Ill-Informed Roundball Preview

Henry: You know, I hope we never die.
Eleanor: I hope so, too.
Henry: You think there’s any chance of it?

The Lion in Winter (Act II, Scene 3)

With respect to the Georgia Bulldogs’ upcoming outing against the 18th-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores, I have both bad news and good news; viz.:

The best that may be said of last weekend’s victory in Columbia is what Mark Fox said tweeted of it: "Simply put, a road win." It was that, but not much more; fortunately, the Classic City Canines are tied for second place in the SEC East with the very same Music City Mariners with whom they will square off in Stegeman Coliseum tomorrow night, so, once again, the Bulldogs’ next game is, in many respects, their biggest of the season so far. Here is how the contest breaks down for the Red and Black:

Although the visitors are better positioned for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid than the home team, Georgia and Vanderbilt boast comparable resumes. Both squads sport 6-4 conference records that trail only division-leading Florida’s 9-2 and Alabama’s 8-2 as the best marks in the SEC. The Commodores’ overall 18-6 ledger is the second-best in the league, behind just the Sunshine State Saurians’ 20-5, and the Bulldogs are tied for third with Kentucky at 17-7.

No team in the conference has claimed as many wins on its home court this year as Vandy, as the swaggering Commies are 14-1 in Memorial Gym, including a seven-point win over the Fox Hounds. However, no team in the Eastern Division has notched as few victories on opponents’ home courts this season as the ‘Dores, either. The Black and Gold are a mere 2-4 in true away games in the 2010-2011 campaign. That fact bodes well for the Bulldogs as they prepare to defend their three-game SEC winning streak against Vanderbilt in Stegeman Coliseum on Wednesday evening.

The Commodores enter the week as the league’s most prolific offensive team, averaging a conference-best 78.2 points per game. The Red and Black, by contrast, rank sixth in the SEC both in scoring offense (70.5 points per game) and in scoring defense (65.7 points per game allowed). As pointed out by DavetheDawg, a large part of the Music City Mariners’ success has been due to the efforts of John Jenkins, who averages almost 35 minutes of playing time per game, leads the SEC in scoring (19.8 points per game) and in three-point field goals (3.0 per game), ranks second in the conference in free throw percentage (89.3%), and played a key role in Vandy’s most recent win.

Since Georgia’s last meeting with the Commodores, the Bulldogs have acquired a John Jenkins of their own, but the Nashville basketball player who shares his name with Big Bad John is far from the lone weapon in the Black and Gold’s arsenal. Brad Tinsley ranks first in the SEC with 4.5 assists per game. Lance Goulbourne averages the same 5.1 defensive rebounds per contest as Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson. Rod Odom’s .414 field goal percentage from behind the arc trails only narrowly Jenkins’s .417 mark from long range. Steve Tchiengang served as the inspiration for a Sam Cooke song. Festus Ezeli sinks 56.8 per cent of his field goal tries, is the league’s fifth-leading shot blocker and offensive rebounder, and became Marshal Matt Dillon’s sidekick and deputy after Dennis Weaver and Burt Reynolds left "Gunsmoke."

Vanderbilt’s 127 steals in 24 games are the fewest in the conference, which helps explain why the Commodores rank tenth in the league in turnover margin. In theory, you don’t have to have too many takeaways when you pull down an SEC-best 26.8 defensive boards per contest, which the ‘Dores do; nevertheless, the Bulldogs trail tomorrow night’s opponent only narrowly in that department, bringing in 26.0 defensive rebounds a game, and, when Vandy’s opponents don’t turn the ball over, the ‘Dores lose.

Georgia and Vanderbilt are preparing to square off on the hardwood for the 133rd time in a rivalry that dates back to the 1913-1914 season. The Bulldogs hope to avoid their 84th all-time loss in the series, and Coach Fox looks to redeem himself in the eyes of some fans who have questioned his decisionmaking by preventing his fourth straight setback suffered at the hands of the Commodores since opening his career in the Classic City with a 72-58 win over the Black and Gold in his only other confrontation with the Music City Mariners in Stegeman Coliseum.

Georgia has gone 6-5 since the start of January, leaving the Bulldogs virtually no margin for error with six games remaining. Home dates with the LSU Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks appear winnable. Road outings against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators, and Tennessee Volunteers appear daunting. If the Red and Black are to card 20 regular-season wins, this virtually has to be one of them.

When previewing the Bulldogs’ most recent game against South Carolina, I quoted the final scene of The Lion in Winter and asked rhetorically how this team would fall down. While there was much stumbling in Columbia, Georgia escaped the Palmetto State with a victory, which has caused me to return to the same scene of the same James Goldman play for the purpose of citing its final lines. The Fox Hounds are still alive for the NCAA Tournament, and I hope they never die. The last time these two teams met, the Bulldogs needed the win to bolster their prospects for receiving a tourney bid; they didn’t get it. This time, securing the victory is imperative. You think there’s any chance of it? Let’s hope so.

Wednesday’s game in Stegeman Coliseum is set to tip off at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU. If someone would like to ensure that John Jenkins’s cell phone can’t get any bars in Athens (not to be confused with bars in Athens, of course), that would be all right, too.

Go ‘Dawgs!