“I thought it was hot in the gym and we wanted to keep our team as fresh as we could.”
Tom Crean will visit Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt University for the first time as the Head Coach at the University of Georgia. Memorial Gym is known for being an unusual place to play basketball. Benches are on the end lines, coaches’ boxes are isolated, the floor is elevated, the sight lines are strange, and the place is more suited to be an opera house than the home floor for the Vanderbilt Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams. It is the Fenway Park of College Basketball due to its quirks and age. In the 21st Century, Memorial Gym has not been a kind place to the Georgia Bulldogs. However, mixed in with embarrassing losses of seasons past are the embarrassing events that have taken place here in the past two games in this building.
The Gym Was Too Hot
It was the most infamous Mark Fox excuse for his team’s poor performance. Georgia was getting whipped outright in Memorial Gym and Mark Fox’s rotations and strategy were subpar to say the least. Mark Fox’s quote explaining his approach toward the game is in the lede position of this preview. It was a sorry 80-67 loss.
The Night Where the Team Quit and Mark Fox went ballistic
February 7, 2018 is considered the day Mark Fox got himself fired by some. It was a night where seemingly the team quit in the Second Half of the game and completely lost interest in playing the game. It was a sad showing by a team that knew the end was near. Mark Fox for much of the season was telling the team that they were going to get him fired because they were “selfish”. Reports are that Fox in the locker room after this game before leaving the locker room excoriated the team in a mock hands-in to emphasize their negative characteristics.
Those wondering why the team refused to play in the NIT would realize quickly that Fox lost the team.
There’s a Low Bar for Tom Crean as far as how he handles this game.
All Crean has to do is not lose his team, go ballistic nor make lame excuses. This is the foundation that Crean was left. It is easy to forget the damage that Fox wrought: The horrible metrics, disrespecting recruits and the parents of recruits, placating corrupt people, instilling a culture of fear, diminishing the program, predictable offensive sets (there were only two!), tight controls, incredibly conservative defense, and disrespecting UGA Lettermen. Mark Fox left behind a situation for Tom Crean that was worse than what Crean inherited at Indiana. At least at Indiana, Crean knew that it was going to be complete rebuild. At Georgia, Crean was given the task of renovating a home that could be re-faced and refreshed, but it is a total teardown with flawed foundation, mold, and all sorts of other problems that come up when renovating a house sight unseen. Tom Crean’s efforts at UGA are much like watching HGTV house flipping nightmare situations, except it is a Men’s Basketball program. Crean thought it would be a quick $30,000 renovation and sold in a month and it ends up being $140,000 and an extra two months of work.
Some people see Tom Arnold when they see Tom Crean, but the situation Crean faces at Georgia should remind Bulldog Nation of Tarek El Moussa from Flip or Flop.
Vanderbilt and First Year Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse
Jerry Stackhouse at Vanderbilt is about as unusual of a fit as it gets. Stackhouse’s only connection to the State of Tennessee was as an Assistant Coach with the Memphis Grizzlies. Outside of this, it was a very surprising choice by Vanderbilt after firing Bryce Drew, which was a surprise given that he was only there for two seasons. Stackhouse’s style of play in his own words…
“I want to get out and run every opportunity we can. But if we don’t have something initially, let’s bring it back out, get into my Carolina secondary offense…I like the [three-pointers]. I like to have weakside action, making sure that guys aren’t stagnant and just standing, making sure that we’re keeping guys occupied…We want [the guys driving the ball] to finish, but if the helps comes, I want that corner filled, and I want that slot filled, so I can sit there blind.”
“I probably wouldn’t like my game as a coach. Midrange twos…I tell guys, ‘All right, If it’s the shot clock and [a] guy runs you off and you gotta take a one-dribble pull-up, OK, do it. But otherwise, let’s try to get into the paint, pull another trigger, or find something else on the weakside, or just sidestep him and take the three…Guys who have efficient midrange games are always outliers.’”
“Switching is…secondary. That’s kind of hustling backwards, for me…If you start out switching, what do you go to? I’m a no-paint, no-middle team…keeping [the opponent’s offense] on the sideline, directing and dictating…where you want them to go, and you prepare to adjust when you have a breakdown…I like switching…in the mid-pick and rolls, because that way you can stay with shooters more. The one that I have a problem with is…1/4 [point guard/power forward] pick and rolls. You got Pascal Siakam, who can sit down and guard a point guard. Cool. Now, [the center] comes up and sets the pick. Now you have 4 and 5 in a pick and roll, and you don’t want to switch 5…and a lot of schemes with switching 1-4 are not switching with 5, so 5 is not ready to switch; he’s still ready to play his coverage and call his coverage in the pick and roll, and X4 is not used to doing X1, X2, X3 things…so that’s my…peeve against getting into too much switching.”
Shot distribution metrics support that Vanderbilt likes to get shots in the restricted arc and from three point range. They optimize rather well, which is consistent with Stackhouse’s offensive philosophy. This is a team that is extremely eager to shoot three point shots, but they are an average three point shooting team. They can struggle with scoring in the restricted arc and they are not much of a mid-range shooting team.
Defensively, they yield the restricted arc far too often and make it too easy to score there. Their three point shooting defense is below average and their mid-range defense is not worth discussing.
Vanderbilt likes a fast pace much like Georgia, but they are not as eager to push the pace as Crean’s Dawgs. They are a below average rebounding team on both ends of the floor and they are a team that will attract the Free Throw Line. Both teams could visit the Free Throw Line a lot when Vanderbilt plays.
Vanderbilt does force turnovers rather well and is an average team when it comes to Turnover percentage.
Memorial Magic does not apply much to officials as both Vanderbilt and their opponents get a lot of fouls called rather than a wildly one-sided officiating affair. Vanderbilt’s ball movement is rather poor, which is something to watch as Georgia would want to ensure that the Commodores struggle with this aspect of the game.
Vanderbilt has 20% of their shots blocked in conference home games and they also have the worst offensive efficiency among SEC teams in home conference games. Vanderbilt is an overeager three point shooting team inside Memorial Gym.
Players to Watch for Vanderbilt
Saben Lee – 6’2″ Guard
Saben Lee is known for being a dribble driver, he is one of the most aggressive in the country. Lee is not a strong three point shooter, but he has improved as a distributor and has made strides as a defender. Lee is a ball hawker and he is very opportunistic.
The thing to watch for is how often Lee gets to the Free Throw Line, he’s very good at drawing fouls.
Scotty Pippen Jr. – 6’1″ Guard
Scotty Pippen’s son is a Vanderbilt Commodore. Pippen is very similar to Saben Lee in almost every way, except that Pippen is more foul prone than Lee and Pippen has more of a pull up/floater game in the mid-range on the offensive end. The differences end here.
What to Expect
This is a Vanderbilt team dealing with key injuries. Clevon Brown and Aaron Nesmith are out due to injury and this removes a key interior player and the team’s best shooter from the squad. Vanderbilt is trying to muddle their way through the season without their most established players. Vanderbilt’s ability to attack the basket should be a cause for concern for Georgia, but this is an opponent that Georgia could actually choose to zone the entire game if this is an issue. Vanderbilt is a poor rebounding team that is smaller than Georgia, which means that given Vanderbilt’s struggles from the perimeter, it would be wise to use 1-2-2 Matchup Zone and the possibly the 2-3 Matchup Zone that woke up the Dawgs against Auburn.
The issue for Georgia may be sight lines and it may be a good idea to not be reliant on the three point shot. Georgia should be attacking the basket on every possession due to Vanderbilt’s inability to defend the post, cutters or drivers. This does seem like a good game to force Anthony Edwards to work the post and use him as a driver. Christian Brown should play more in this game as he could be able to rack up fouls on the Commodores.
Georgia is the better team and should control this game in an effort that is not a blowout, but winning two consecutive conference games by double digits should instill confidence in this team and set up an intriguing game at Colonial Life Arena.
Prediction: Georgia 73 Vanderbilt 62