NCAA Tournament Preview Southwest Region - First Round (12) Richmond vs. (5) Vanderbilt
Thursday March 17 – Approximately 4:10 PM ET
The Vanderbilt Commodores will face the Richmond Spiders in an NCAA Tournament Southwest Region first round contest Thursday afternoon at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Richmond defeated Dayton 67-54 to claim the Atlantic 10 championship and the automatic invite to the Big Dance that accompanies it. Vanderbilt had lost three of four games going into the Southeastern Conference tournament, but the Commodores righted the ship to a certain extent, beating Louisiana State and Mississippi State before losing to Florida in the semifinals.
Vanderbilt will be making its fifth trip to the NCAAs under Coach Kevin Stallings. The Commodores will be seeking to put a halt to a nasty habit of being upset in the first round of the tournament, something that happened both last season (against Murray State) and in the 2008 Big Dance (against Siena). Dynamic 6-4 sophomore guard John Jenkins and explosive 6-7 junior wing Jeffrey Taylor improve the odds that Vandy can avoid another early exit.
Led by Jenkins, who averages 19.5 points per game and makes 40.2 percent of his three-point shots (96-of-239 ), the Commodores are able to fill it up on offense, scoring more than 76 points per game. Taylor chips in 15.1 points per game while junior center Festus Ezeli and junior guard Brad Tinsley contribute 12.8 and 10.6 points per game. The Commodores shoot the ball relatively well, making 45.7 percent of their field goal attempts on the season.
Defense is a different story, however: Vanderbilt allowed opponents to shoot 44.8 percent from the field while conceding 67.6 points per game, a number which increased to nearly 71 points per game in SEC play. The Commodores force only 11.9 turnovers per game and, mysteriously, despite the quickness of Jenkins and Tinsley, average 5.3 steals per game, which is well below the national average of 6.5 per game.
Richmond, which runs a modified version of the Princeton offense, is the type of team that will take advantage of defense lapses. Coach Chris Mooney’s Spiders are making their second consecutive trip to the tournament, but are seeking their first win since the 1998 tournament after bowing out in game one both last season and in 2004. The Spiders seem equipped to stick around a little longer in this year’s Dance: Not only are they 9-1 in their last ten games, but the Spiders also went 10-3 on the road this season.
Richmond is led by the senior tandem of guard Kevin Anderson and forward Justin Harper; the only Spiders averaging double figures in scoring (although senior forward Dan Geriot averages 9.9 points per game). Harper, who has three-point shooting range despite being 6-10, leads the Spiders in scoring with 17.8 points per game. He also made a team-high 73 three pointers (on 157 attempts, good for 46.5 percent). Anderson adds 16.4 points while stuffing the stat sheet with assists (3.2) and steals (2.5). While the other Richmond players may not score all that much, they do shoot the ball very well, as evidenced by the Spiders’ ability to hit an outstanding 46.4 percent from the field on the season, including nearly 40 percent from three-point range.
One major advantage Richmond may have is that the Spiders are a much better defensive team than the Commodores. The Spiders allow only 61.0 points per game and hold opponents to 40.1 percent shooting from the field, which is tops in the Atlantic 10 and ranks 46th in the nation.
The outcome of Thursday’s contest will likely be decided on the defensive side of the ball. Do the Commodores have the desire to defend the Spiders for 20 or more seconds per possession? If not, Vanderbilt could be looking at its third consecutive failure to survive the first round of the tournament.
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