21.Nov.2011 Vandy @ Oregon State (East Rutherford)
Vanderbilt started the year ranked in the top ten, but they never looked right in their first three games, losing to Cleveland State in a non-contest at home last Sunday. But they look like they’re turning their season around with a little time together on the floor.
Vandy runs a version of the backdoor offense which has the high post setting a lot of topside screens to free their scoring guards, junior John Jenkins (6’4″) and senior Brad Tinsley (6’3″). Jenkins was the scoring leader in the SEC last year with 19.4 ppg, and he hasn’t slowed down this year, averaging 23 ppg thus far.
Vandy is without defensive and board specialist Festus Ezeli, so they will present three active forwards in their front court. Senior Steve Tchiengang (6’9″) mans the middle with good length and solid play. He can step outside to sink the trey, but he is relied upon to do the yeoman’s work inside without Ezeli present. Senior Lance Goulbourne (6’8″) takes the PF minutes with great lateral quickness and a nose for boards. He can score when asked to do so, but he tallies his points by taking high percentage shots run through the offense and making his way to the line for the easy 15-footers. Senior Jeffery Taylor (6’7″) is the athletic forward relied upon by this Vandy team to produce their front court points.
I’ve read more than one preview of this game which suggests that Taylor will be tasked with defending Jared in tonight’s game. But I don’t see this as a possibility given Taylor’s bulk. He’s a tough, smart and athletic wing, but he doesn’t have the skills necessary to tag along with a guard as fast as Jared. I would say the match-up tonight will be Jared on Jenkins, yet another defensive challenge for him. If he can treat Jenkins like he did Mike Moore and J’Covan Brown, then he could be on his way to another big night.
While Vandy starts a lot of experience, they lack said experience on their bench. The frosh duo of Kedren Johnson (6’4″) and Dai-Jon Parker (6’3″) join soph Kyle Fuller (6’1″) in spelling Tinsley and Jenkins and pushing coach Kevin Stallings’ smaller sets at times. There’s more skill in these three than their production thus far would suggest. We can only hope none of them finds their game tonight, because they throw up a bunch of perimeter shots.
Soph F Rod Odom (6’9″) is the only real size coming off the bench, though frosh C Josh Henderson (6’11″) will likely be called upon to counter the Beavs size and depth. Odom is another wing with varying inside/outside skills. But he also has yet to find his comfort zone, relying on his athleticism instead of his head to get shots up.
With all the experience on Vandy’s starting line-up, they tend to control the pace of the game for their own needs. But they are unusually susceptible to turning the ball over this year, especially when hit with an aggressive defense. The frosh and sophs off the bench are actually more security-minded than the starters, but that may just be a function of the time spent on the floor. They also sorely lack an interior defensive presence without Ezeli. One can only assume they will be a different team when he returns.
They have the speed in the backcourt to defend in transition, but I don’t know if they have enough to do it all game long. And the Beavs will be looking to get it out often on this team. The faster Coach Rob forces Stallings to go to his bench, the more likely it is that OSU makes Vandy think itself out of this game.
Despite a late game run which made the score look a little prettier, Vandy did give up when faced with a pressure D in the form of Cleveland State. But, hearing what Stallings was shouting on the sideline, I don’t think they’re about to do the same for the rest of the season. The one thing their experience does do is make runs to end games. And if they are close or leading toward the end, then the Beavs need to work a little extra crunch time magic to seal the win.
This game will be about pace. The Beavs are scoring a bunch of points without production from some of their likely suspects. Vandy is doing the same without bench production. If anyone in the shadows steps up, they can be the difference on the scoring end. The Beavs size, speed, defense and pace all portend bad things for Vandy, but I wouldn’t discount their experience and skill just yet. Vandy has had their let-down game in the non-con schedule. The Beavs haven’t allowed themselves to have one yet. This could be an interesting battle of will versus skill… in either direction.
I honestly don’t know which will win out in this one. There’s a reason Vandy is ranked in the top 20. If the Beavs want to go there themselves, they need to win games like this. Will that pressure make our boys finally lose focus?
I don’t think so.
Beavs 78 – Dores 68
The Beavs' opponents have been getting progressively stronger. That has allowed their confidence to build slowly as they pass each gradual test. I thought they could play with Texas but not beat them. I've been forced to reassess my (negative) bias, which had carried over from last season. The team we've seen the first four game is the team we expected last year. We were a year early and too anxious. In other words, typical fans.
Now the question is do we buy in and accept the Beavers are this good?
Well, there are troubling aspects. A player like Devon Collier is excellent at creating second chances and getting to the line, but empirical evidence says he misses half those shots. Moreland has the same problem. So, the bigs who can play inside and draw the fouls are leaving double-digit points on the floor. Can they continue to do that and win games? When the opponent is bad or average, yes, but the Beavs (especially the aforementioned bigs) need to shoot 70%+ from the line to win tonight.
The most encouraging aspect thus far has been team chemistry. Guys know their roles and genuinely like one another. They're in it together. The big thing is to not let the success get to their collective heads, and to remain humble and unified.
Jack mentioned Vandy has some legit bigs…that makes me nervous. Beavs haven't gone up against any good centers thus far. The Beavs have an undersized front court. I see Collier and Moreland getting into foul trouble unless they can force the tempo and play a hectic game.
I'm a believer in this team, but I'm not yet a believer they're a top 20 team. No pick tonight because I can't gauge this team yet, but you can probably read between the lines and concluded I'd be (pleasantly) surprised if they win this game and ascend into the top 25. This is the most excited I've been about a hoops game since I began following the team. Beavs have an opportunity to enter the prime time.