Basketball Preview: Missouri/Vanderbilt

On Saturday (4:00 P.M., ESPNU), the #22 Missouri Tigers (14-4, 3-2) play host to the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-9, 2-3) in SEC action.

On Saturday (4:00 P.M., ESPNU), the #22 Missouri Tigers (14-4, 3-2) play host to the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-9, 2-3) in SEC action.  Missouri is coming off of a 71-65 home win over South Carolina, while Kevin Stallings’ Commodores are coming off of a 73-61 home win over Auburn.

Coach Stallings has had to reload after graduating the core of a very good team a year ago.   He has a young team, but one that is not without talent.  He’s had to shuffle his line-up this season, and he seems to have settled on an 8-man rotation that has been coming together early in conference play.

Vanderbilt’s best player is 6’4” 215-pound sophomore guard Kedren Johnson, who is leading the Commodores in scoring (15.1 points/game), minutes played (33.1 minutes/game), field goal attempts (12/game), assists (3.3 assists/game), and steals (1.5 steals/game).  He’s also averaging 4.0 rebounds/game, and has a 1.0 assist/turnover ratio, while shooting 43% from the field, and 36% from 3-PT range.  Johnson is taking nearly one-fourth of Vanderbilt’s shots, and almost half of his shot attempts come from beyond the arc.  He’s also shot the most free throws for Vanderbilt, although he’s just a 65% FT shooter.  He’s an athletic, versatile player who can defend, handle, score, rebound, everything.

Vanderbilt’s second-leading scorer, 6’1” 200-pound junior guard Kyle Fuller, comes off of the bench for the Commodores, although he’s second in minutes played (30.6 minutes/game).  He’s averaging 10.8 points/game and 2.2 assists/game.  He’s shooting just 40% from the field, and a mere 28% from 3-PT land, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking quite a few 3-PT shots.  His 1.2 assist/turnover ratio is tops among Vandy’s guards, and he is shooting just 67% from the FT line.

Who’s in the starting lineup doesn’t appear to mean a lot to Coach Stallings.  He rotates guys in, and then he seems to go with who is playing well.

One guy who does start, and is an important player for the Commodores, is 6’9” 215-pound junior forward Rod Odom, who averages nearly 30 minutes/game, and is also averaging 9.2 points/game and 4.2 rebounds/game.   Odom is an enigma.  He’s Vanderbilt’s best interior defender, which is clearly an area of weakness for Coach Stallings’ team, and he can score around the basket.  I think he’s the Commodores’ most proficient inside scorer, yet he spends most of his time on the perimeter, and over half of his field goal attempts have come from behind the 3-PT line, where he shoots just 32%.  Odom is a talented player who seems to me to be always trying to audition for the next level, trying to show scouts that he’s an NBA small forward with perimeter skills.  And, while he does show flashes of that kind of ability, at this point in his career, he is a much better inside player. 

Another guy who comes off of Coach Stallings’ bench is 6’5” 210-pound freshman guard Kevin Bright, who averages almost 29 minutes/game.  Just about everyone on Vanderbilt shoots three-pointers, some of them probably more than they should based upon their 3-PT FG percentages.  But that’s not the case with Bright, who is making 51% of his 3-PT attempts!   He doesn’t shoot the ball a lot, although three-fifths of his field goal attempts do come from behind the 3-PT line.  He is fourth on the Commodores in shots taken, and in 3-PT shots taken.  He’s also fourth in scoring for Vandy (6.8 points/game), and he leads the Commodores with 5.9 rebounds/game.   Oddly, Bright is shooting just 50% from the FT line, although it is a small sample size.  He doesn’t often attack the basket, but he’s patient in taking mostly quality 3-PT shots.

Another starter for Vanderbilt is 6’3” 190-pound sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker, who is averaging more than 25 minutes/game, 5.8 points/game, and 3.1 rebounds/game.  He’s another one who will shoot the three, but he’s making just 32% of his 3-PT attempts.  He’s the Commodores’ best free thrower, at 71% from the charity stripe.

Coach Stallings utilizes a two-headed center, in 6’11” 230-pound sophomore center Josh Henderson, and 6’8” 225-pound sophomore forward Shelby Moats.  Moats has been starting of late.  I think Henderson may be the better player, but neither of them are especially impressive.  They do have 10 fouls to give, which is important considering the way that they defend. 

A promising young player who has been starting of late for Vanderbilt is 6’7” 215-pound freshman forward Sheldon Jeter.  He has some offensive skills.  He’s shooting 49% from the field, and 41% from 3-PT range, but just 48% from the FT line.   He’s averaging just 5.3 points/game and 3.1 rebounds/game, but he’s another player for Coach Stallings who, like Parker and Bright, appears to be able to put up a bigger number on a particular night.

As a team, Vanderbilt shoots just 41% from the field, and 59% from the FT line, both of which rank last in the SEC.  But they shoot a very respectable 35% from 3-PT range.  Their 7.7 three-pointers made per game ranks second in the conference behind Florida.  On the season, Vanderbilt has been outscored and outrebounded, and they have considerably more turnovers than assists.

Interior defense is the Commodores’ biggest weakness, and they rely heavily on the 3-PT shot to score.   It’s not like they’re just jacking up threes.  They do run offense, and they try to get the ball inside, or to just get a good shot.   Johnson’s about the only one who can really score on his own, and their inside guys are not much of a threat to score.

They’re not great defensively, but they’re usually pretty solid.  They’re perimeter defense is better than their interior defense.  When I’ve seen them, they’ve played mostly man-to-man.  But against a team like Missouri, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some zone defense.

Coach Stallings has his young team playing better of late, and they’re starting to figure it out.  They’re a quality inside player away from being very formidable.  If Odom would ever figure out that his team really needs him to hang around the basket, the Commodores could be really tough.  

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