Scouting Report: Davidson
William Shakespeare reminded all of us that "The play's the thing." This is especially true for college basketball starting fives in November, especially those with very little experience. Vanderbilt intellectually knew that this season was going to be a challenging one, but Nicholls State didn't allow that sense of impending difficulty to be felt in a profound way. Oregon, on the other hand, injected a taste of both fear and inadequacy into the Commodores. The bitterness of Friday night's blowout loss in the Pacific Northwest won't satisfy the palate by any means, but that's a taste this team needed.
Before Thanksgiving Day, Kevin Stallings doesn't have to work too hard to get his team's attention. Players bereft of proven track records can now play three games in four days in Orlando, knowing that they have to put in some hard yards if this season is going to forge any meaningful or lasting achievements. No, this team doesn't have to win three games over the coming weekend in Florida, but the Commodores need to put these 120 game minutes (not counting potential overtimes) to good use.
There's no shame in getting whacked in an early-season road game following a cross-country flight… not for this roster. The only shame of that Oregon loss will be if this team doesn't learn from it. If Vanderbilt is a changed group when it leaves Orlando, this weekend will have been worth it. The chance to play three games in a short period of time could be the catalyst for future improvements in December and (especially) the SEC season in January.
Vanderbilt made a road trip to Davidson on Dec. 7 of last year. That game, an 87-83 Commodore victory, did not come easily. The Wildcats put up a good fight, as shown by their ability to get to the foul line 30 times against VU's defense. The saving graces in that game for Vandy were Davidson's poor three-point shooting (5-of-22) and Jeffery Taylor's 30 points.
Here's the bad news for Vanderbilt on Thursday: Davidson returns four starters from last year's team, with the fifth starter being a regular part of last year's bench for the Wildcats. Davidson will own more experience and will therefore be likely to demonstrate better flow in its halfcourt sets. This contest will be an uphill battle for the Dores, but that's something they're going to have to get used to this weekend unless they play Marist Friday on day two of the Old Spice Classic.
Davidson works the ball extremely well in the halfcourt. Head coach Bob McKillop guided his team back to the NCAA tournament last season after a four-year drought. The program needed some time to regroup after the departure of current NBA standout Stephen Curry. In 2011-2012, the Wildcats found their legs and became a prolific offensive team. They ranked second in the Southern Conference in field goal shooting, first in free throw shooting, and 43rd in the United States (out of 345 teams, remember…) in fewest turnovers committed. This season, with every primary player returning, McKillop is going to use the same eight-man rotation he put on the floor a year ago, with only one tweak: Former starting guard Tom Droney will now come off the pine, while former reserve Chris Czerapowicz now starts. The utter lack of roster turnover should make the Wildcats very cohesive, a primary goal for any basketball team. It will be up to Vanderbilt to disrupt Davidson's offense, while – at the other end of the court – attaining its own measure of seamless and smooth halfcourt offense.
Forward – De'Mon Brooks – Junior, 6-7, 227 2011-12 STATISTICS: 15.7 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game
Brooks is off to a strong start this season, averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game. Brooks simply gets to the rim. His body is agile, but this is no pipsqueak point guard. Brooks's body is muscular and long; he uses it well to slide through traffic in the paint. The Commodores will not have a tougher defensive challenge than Brooks. He's going to be a load for VU to deal with, and Stallings has to impress upon his bigs the need to stop his progress when he gets within ten feet of the rim.
Forward – Jake Cohen – Senior, 6-10, 235; 2011-12: 14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.4 assists per game, 1.7 blocked shots per game
This is the prototypical Davidson player. Cohen is not massive in size. He doesn't scare you with his physicality, but he's active, vigilant and intelligent. Cohen's basketball IQ is extremely high. He finds teammates. He gets himself in perfect defensive position. Like most of his teammates, he has a nose for the ball and a sixth sense of where to be (and then go) in pursuit of a rebound. Cohen contributes in many different ways. He doesn't have to score in order to make his presence felt. McKillop's ability to cultivate players such as Cohen is what has made this program so good over the years. Davidson guys don't need to fill the stat sheet; they just need to make winning plays, and Cohen is exactly that kind of player.
Guard – J.P. Kuhlman – Senior, 6-4, 195; 2011-12: 10.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.9 apg
Another well-rounded, multi-tool player, Kuhlman scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in Davidson's 73-68 loss to Milwaukee this past Saturday, Nov. 17. Kuhlman blends into Davidson's halfcourt offense, giving the Wildcats form and structure. His shot selection has enabled him to lead Davidson (albeit early in this new season) with a field goal shooting percentage of 53.6.
Guard – Nik Cochran – Senior, 6-3, 188; 2011-12: 10.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.6 apg
You will notice that Davidson's guards equally share responsibilities. They score, rebound and pass with the same levels of both consistency and quality. They don't hoist too many bad shots and therefore don't squander many possessions. Cochran's numbers aren't eye-popping, but they offer yet another affirmation of how McKillop gets his players to buy into a larger vision instead of becoming lone-wolf ballhogs on the court.
Guard – Chris Czerapowicz – Junior, 6-7, 200; 2011-12: 10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg
The final thing to note about Davidson's backcourt is most helpfully and prominently illustrated by Czerapowicz, the new starter for the Wildcats this season. Czerapowicz is the best rebounder in Davidson's backcourt, the product of his size. The guards on this team throw themselves into the thick of the fray on the glass. Vanderbilt's guards can't drift on the perimeter or fail to box out near the elbow or wing areas. They need to seal off Czerapowicz and the rest of Davidson's guards when a rebound is waiting to be claimed.
McKillop uses a three-man bench as part of his primary eight-player rotation. The aforementioned Tom Droney will now back up Czerapowicz. Droney provided 3.7 boards and 2.1 assists per game last season. The scorer to watch for on Davidson's bench is guard Tyler Kalinoski, who has scored at least 12 points in each of the Wildcats' past two games against quality opponents, New Mexico and Milwaukee. Forward Clint Mann is a capable scorer who poured in 12 points against New Mexico and must therefore be taken seriously as a threat in his own right.
Keys to the Game
1) Team rebounding. Vanderbilt needs to gain more possessions than Davidson, since it is less likely to execute at a high level in the halfcourt. The Commodores need to use brawn and elbow grease to win this game. They will not keep up with the Wildcats if this is an elegant exhibition of seamless and fluid basketball. Davidson plays a beautifully blended game, so Vanderbilt needs to force misses and then make the Wildcats a one-and-done team at the offensive end of the floor. If Davidson's guards crash the offensive glass and create dozens of additional possessions, the Cats will rack up second-chance points and gain a clear upper hand.
2) Punch Cohen in the mouth… not literally, of course. Brooks is the premier scorer on the Wildcats, but Cohen is in many ways the traffic cop and the man who makes Davidson function with notable efficiency. A lockdown effort against Cohen offers VU its best and most likely path to prosperity on Thanksgiving Day.