Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Tennessee State Tigers
When: Saturday, 3 p.m. CST
Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tenn. (14,316)
Radio: Nashville: 104.5 FM
Rankings: Neither team is ranked
The line: Vanderbilt by
Sagarin prediction: Vanderbilt
Series record: Vanderbilt leads .
|VANDERBILT STARTING LINEUP||TENNESSEE STATE STARTING LINEUP|
|0||Jermaine Beal||6-3||205||Sr.||13.2||2.6||2.6 a||PG|
|1||Jeremiah Crutcher||5-10||180||Sr.||9.0||2.4||2.9 a|
|1||Brad Tinsley||6-3||210||So.||6.6||2.1||2.9 a||SG|
|10||Wil Peters||6-1||180||So.||9.2||1.9||2.9 a|
|44||Jeffery Taylor||6-7||205||So.||15.7||6.6||1.6 s||SF|
|2||Josh Sain||6-5||200||Jr.||14.6||3.6||1.0 s|
|24||Andre Walker||6-7||220||So.||6.9||5.4||1.9 a||PF|
|5||Lonnie Funderburk||6-7||225||Sr.||3.9||3.3||1.0 s|
|3||Festus Ezeli||6-11||255||So.||3.1||3.0||1.2 b||C|
|33||Robert Covington||6-9||190||Fr.||10.4||5.0||1.6 b|
|VANDERBILT KEY RESERVES||TENNESSEE STATE KEY RESERVES|
|23||John Jenkins||6-4||215||Fr.||8.3||2.0||0.8 a||G|
|0||Jacquan Nobles||6-4||190||Fr.||7.9||1.6||1.1 s |
|5||Steve Tchiengang||6-9||240||So.||2.7||2.0||0.1 a||F|
|20||Darius Cox||6-7||200||Jr.||7.0||5.6||0.6 a |
|21||Darshawn McClellan||6-7||240||Jr.||2.7||2.4||0.1 a||F|
|22||Tashon Fredrick||6-5||200||Fr.||2.5||2.9||0.5 s|
About the Tigers
Western Kentucky took a huge blow when former coach (and WKU alum) Darrin Horn left before last season to become South Carolina's coach. That, coupled with the loss of key players, tempered expectations for last season, as Western was picked third in the preseason Sun Belt poll.
WKU stumbled out of the gates after a 27-point loss to Murray State in early November, then proceeded to stun Louisville (in Nashville) weeks later. The Hilltoppers used that momentum to win the Sun Belt for the sixth consecutive year, won the Sun Belt Tournament, then upset Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing a game to fourth-seeded Gonzaga at the buzzer, denying WKU a second-straight Sweet 16 trip.
The Hilltoppers' resume is one of the best in college basketball: 41 conference titles, 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven sweet 16s, and over 1,600 wins. But WKU, like last year, have been a bit slow out of the gate, losing three of their first four contests (the losses were at LSU, at South Carolina, and on a neutral floor to Indiana State) before rebounding with consecutive home wins over Tulane and Evansville.
Without a doubt, some of the early struggles are likely due to the loss of last year's conference player of the year, Orlando Mendesz-Valdez. Minus a couple of role players, every other key player returns to Western this season, making the Hilltoppers a viable postseason candidate once again.
A shakeup to the starting lineup may have helped to jump-start things after the 1-3 start. Senior Anthony Sally and junior Sergio Kerusch were benched to start the last two games. The pair appear to be back as starters for this contest, and even if they're not, they'll see plenty of court time in coach Ken McDonald's guard-heavy offense.
Sally is a combo guard who transferred from Motlow State last year, and was mostly used as a reserve last season. He's more of a point-guard type and doesn't score much, but rebounds well for his size.
Kerusch, another JUCO transfer who joined WKU last season, was the Hilltoppers' leading rebounder last year despite his 6-foot-5 stature. Kerusch has improved his 3-point shooting (35.3 percent vs. 20 percent last year) and has reduced his turnovers (0.3 this season, compared to 1.5 a game last year).
The star of the backcourt, however, is A.J. Slaughter. Slaughter led WKU in scoring (16.0) last season and was the MVP of the Sun Belt Tournament. McDonald believes he's the league's best player. Slaughter tends to come up huge in big games, as he did last year in WKU's upset over Louisville when he scored 25 points.
Another pair of big guards/wings, Jameson Tipping and Steffphon Pettigrew, join Slaughter in the starting lineup. Pettigrew, starting for a second-straight year, was a spectacular scorer in high school and is WKU's third double-digit scorer.
However, Pettigrew also has remarkable rebounding skills for a man his size (he grabs a board roughly once every 4 ½ minutes) and is regarded as the team's best defender.
Tipping averages just 10 minutes a game, but has seen an average of 17 in the past two games after redshirting last season. He averaged 22 points a game as a senior at Bradenton (Fla.) Christian Academy.
Caden Dickerson has started the past two games, but has only a bit role after averaging 22 points a game at Argyle (Texas) High last year.
WKU's likes to (and can) win games with its defense, which is a good thing because its offense is a bit of a work in progress to this point in the season. The Hilltoppers shoot 29 percent from behind the 3-point arc, 41.3 percent from the field, and 63.3 percent from the line.
Breaking down the matchup
The Commodores come off a tough 11-point road loss to Illinois in which they fell in a hole early and never recovered. Two keys to VU's demise were the inability to play defense with a purpose and with intensity (Illinois shot almost 60 percent from the field) and its failure to get the ball inside to A.J. Ogilvy, who took just six shots from the field and uncharacteristically went to the foul line just twice.
While VU's top 25 ranking was certainly deserved coming into Tuesday's defeat, the 'Dores proved they've got a long way to go to become a complete team. We've seen the defensive lapses before, as well as the near-complete disappearance from Ogilvy from the offense that we saw in VU's defeat.
Rebounding, which has also been a nemesis at times, was also an issue on Tuesday as VU was out-rebounded 36-29 by the Illini.
As I noted before last game, when Ogilvy has a huge game, the Commodores are very, very difficult to beat. Illinois contained Ogilvy by double-teaming him often and clogging passing lanes, but the 'Dores have to find a way to get him the ball more.
If they can do that, WKU is going to have its hands full. The Hilltoppers do not have the quality and depth inside to match Ogilvy, which is going to put a big burden on Jeremy Evans to stay out of foul trouble. Evans has long arms and can block shots and rebounds fairly well, but he's also giving up about 60 pounds to Ogilvy.
Another thing that's been troublesome is the lack of floor leadership in terms of VU players getting the ball to teammates who can score. VU's 0.75 assist-to-turnover rate would be the lowest, by far, of any Commodore team since Vanderbilt started tracking team turnovers in the 1983-84 season.
It's a troubling trend that began last year as the 'Dores posted a 0.83 ratio in all games last year, the first time VU had a sub-1 ratio since 2002-03. That was partially explainable by the fact that VU simply did not have the outside shooting it had in past years, but this season's is concerning because, with Jermaine Beal, Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins, it shouldn't be an issue.
By contrast, the 2006-07 and 2007-08 teams, squads which were excellent offensively and teams on which everyone seemed to know and fill their roles mostly without complaint, posted 1.23 and 1.20 marks.
That stat is important, because it indicates good ball movement and smart passes which in turn are the things that help teams avoid scoring droughts like the kind the Commodores had for a good part of the second half on Tuesday.
In part, that might be a result of Beal's changing function in this offense over the last couple of years. When Beal ran the point in that 2007-08 season, he passed out an assist every 6.2 minutes that year and shot the ball once every 5.05 minutes. This season, Beal has only registered one every 13.2 minutes, while shooting every 2.9.
It should be mentioned that Beal is a much better shooter as a sophomore than he was as a junior. However, with plenty of teammates who can score from the outside, and a guy in Ogilvy who converts opportunities with remarkable efficiency, inside, one has to wonder if it would suit the team better if Beal's ratios were closer to their level of two seasons ago.
Friday might be a good time to start with a WKU team that is noted for tough perimeter defense, but may be overmatched inside.
The other thing that needs to happen is for Tinsley and Jenkins to hit from the outside to open things up for Ogilvy underneath. The pair showed signs of doing that against Illinois, but need to carry that over into future games.
Defensively, the key will be to contain Slaughter. WKU is not an offensive juggernaut, but tonight's contest could be a game that's played in the 60s and if that's the case, a 25-point night from Slaughter could be the difference in WKU pulling the upset of not.
If Slaughter becomes an issue, don't be surprised to see Jeff Taylor draw the defensive assignment there, if he doesn't have it from the opening tip anyway.
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