January 1, 2011

Previewing Davidson at Vanderbilt

What: Davidson Wildcats (7-5) at Vanderbilt Commodores (10-2)

Where: Memorial Gymnasium (14,316), Nashville, Tenn.

When: 4 p.m. CST, Sunday

TV: None

Radio: Nashville: 97.1 FM

Rankings: VU is No. 24 in the AP Poll

Warren Nolan RPI: VU 16, Davidson 62

The line: Vanderbilt by 15

Sagarin prediction: Vanderbilt by 14

Pomeroy prediction: Vanderbilt 78, Davidson 62 (VU has a 93 percent chance to win)

Series record: Vanderbilt leads 2-1, and won the last meeting in the 1985-86 season by a 78-69 score.

PlayerHt.Wt.Cl.PPGRPG Pos.PlayerHt.Wt.Cl.PPGRPG
Brad Tinsley6-3210Jr.9.74.3PG Brendan McKillop6-1173Sr.11.32.6
John Jenkins6-4215So.17.82.6SG J.P. Kuhlman6-4190Fr.13.23.8
Jeffery Taylor6-7225Jr.13.94.8 SFTom Droney6-6194Fr.4.33.2
Andre Walker6-7220R-Jr.4.14.4 PF Clint Mann6-7225So.8.35.2
Festus Ezeli6-11255Jr.13.17.1C Jake Cohen6-10220So.14.86.7


Vanderbilt tries to extend a three-game winning streak against an opponent it hasn't faced in a quarter-century, when the Commodores tip off against the Davidson Wildcats on Sunday in Memorial Gymnasium.

It's the last game before conference play begins for the Commodores, who got a game-winning shot from Andre Walker to defeat Marquette with 4.1 seconds left on Saturday. VU survived a 4-for-21 shooting performance from John Jenkins and foul trouble from its big men in gaining a resume-enhancing victory over a Big East opponent.

Davidson, like Vanderbilt, is a private school with some basketball tradition. The Wildcats, a 1960s power, saw a resurgence in the three years prior to last one as Stephen Curry led them to an 85-20 record, which included an Elite Eight appearance.

Bob McKillop's team spent last year recovering from Curry's graduation (DU went 16-15 last season) but is on its way back behind a pair of terrific sophomores in J.P. Kuhlman and Jake Cohen, and his son, senior point guard Brendan McKillop.

Kuhlman and Cohen won SoCon freshman of the year honors last season (Kuhlman by the coaches, and Cohen, by the media), and lead the team in scoring this year.

Kuhlman is an excellent 3-point shooter who, at 6-foot-4, can be hard to stop because he can score in a variety of ways. Cohen, a 6-foot-10 center, is a back-to the-basket post player who has also hit 12-of-28 3-pointers, and leads the team in scoring, rebounding, free throw percentage and blocks.

McKillop had over a 2.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio a year ago; that's dropped off a bit this season, but he remains a good free-throw and 3-point shooter as well as the team's floor leader.

Coach McKillop has a relatively-deep bench. The x-factor on it is Christopher Czerapowicz, a 6-foot-7 Swedish native who made his collegiate debut by scoring 15 points in 18 minutes in Davidson's rout of St. Joseph's (Me.) on Dec. 30.

The Commodores got a boost with Walker's return on Wednesday, and with the return of Lance Goulbourne on Sunday, VU will be at full-strength for the first time since the 82-62 win over Western Kentucky on Dec. 1.

With Jenkins struggling and Festus Ezeli having a solid, but not dominating game vs. Marquette, other Commodores stepped up in their stead in helping VU to victory on Wednesday. Point guard Brad Tinsley and forward Steve Tchiengang, in particular, had two of the better games of their careers.

Tinsley had 15 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 36 minutes against MU's solid defensive backcourt on Wednesday. His 5.2 assists per game leads the Southeastern Conference.

Tchiengang came up one rebound shy of a double-double, and with Ezeli, continues to provide a tough presence inside for a VU team that's allowing opponents to shoot just 39.1 percent from the field.

The best performer for VU on Wednesday debatably was Jeff Taylor, who had 19 points and hit 8-of-12 shots. The junior his hitting over 50 percent from the field, and 40 percent from 3, this season.

How Vanderbilt can win

The Wildcats are no pushover, and the Southern Conference (as Tennessee found out on Friday when it lost to College of Charleston) is no joke, so there are no guarantees for the Commodores.

Still, it's a game VU should win, if they can get the ball inside to Ezeli and Tchiengang for some easy points, get Jenkins back on track, and continue to get points from Taylor (in other words, do what they've done most of the year, it would take a minor miracle for Davidson to pull an upset.

How Davidson can win

As previously noted, the Wildcats will have to catch VU on an off-night, and probably shoot really well from the outside. VU's 3-point defense has been outstanding this season, but Davidson has a few guys capable of hitting the longball with regularity. They also like to play a slower tempo than does VU, which would help their chances in this one if they can manage that on Sunday.

If DU can get hot, and get Ezeli and Tchiengang in foul trouble (which would loosen up things inside), they've had a chance if the 'Dores are not clicking on all cylinders offensively.

Final analysis and prediction

Chris: Davidson has a lot of weapons and depth, but can't match the Commodores in that category. VU is also at home at a time when its getting back to full-strength, and doesn't have to contend with exams. This has the feel of a game where VU builds an eight-to-10 point lead at half, and while the Wildcats may be good enough to keep VU from blowing them out, I'm not sure they're good enough to have VU fans extremely nervous inside the final five minutes.

Prediction (12-0 this season, 4-4 vs. the spread): Vanderbilt 82, Davidson 65

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