Vanderbilt Lady Commodores:
About the Lady Commodores:
The Lady Commodores play an up-tempo brand of basketball brought in by head coach Melanie Balcomb seven years ago. With an average of 24.6 wins per season, she has led all seven of her teams to the NCAA tournament. And as you would expect from a Balcomb-led team, the Lady Commodores are off to a great start this season with a 12-2 record and an AP Poll ranking of 17th. Coach Balcomb has tinkered with the lineup a few times this season after small forward Jordan Coleman went down for the season with a knee injury. They have a three-guard lineup which is led by Jence Rhoads who is averaging 6.1 assist per game while only turning the ball over 2.7 times a game. While you might expect the the Lady Commodores' up-tempo brand of basketball to cause them to shoot low percentage shots, they are actually making a high percentage of their shots, .471 from the field overall and and .376 from three-point range.
Projected Starting Line-Up:
About the Lady Bulldogs:
The Lady Bulldogs got off to a good start in the Southeastern Conference, defeating a solid Auburn team on the road this past Sunday. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that the Lady Bulldogs were without starting power forward Tysheka Grimes who injured her foot in Friday's practice. Grimes is also expected to be out for Thursday's matchup with Vanderbilt. But the Lady Bulldogs, who got a career high of 22 points from Mary Kathryn Govero against Auburn, are undeterred and expect more of the same from others on the team. Coach Fanning-Otis anticipates that Grimes will be back within the next few games, which should help the Lady Bulldogs get back to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Mississippi State ... Junior guard Mary Kathryn Govero, who moves to the power forward spot while Grimes is out, is the player to watch for the Lady Bulldogs. She also will be relied upon to make up for the loss of scoring brought on by the loss of Grimes. And she responded extremely well against Auburn, scoring 22 points. To pull off the upset against Vanderbilt they will need more of the same.
Vanderbilt ... The Lady Commodores up-tempo style of play is led by their point guard, Jence Rhoads. Not only is she dishing out 6.1 assists per game, but she is their second leading point producer, scoring 12.6 points a game. Rhoads is a tough matchup for any opposing point guard due to her forward type height of 5'11. She is off to a great start in the SEC schedule, posting a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. The Lady Commodores will need another performance like this if they hope to avoid the upset Thursday.
Thursday's matchup pits two teams with similar styles as both Vanderbilt and Mississippi play an up-tempo game based off of guard play. What will be interesting to watch will be how Coach Fanning-Otis has her team play. While both teams are up-tempo, the Lady Commodores are very efficient shooting the ball, especially from three-point range. You have to believe they would love to get into a fast-pace, high scoring game against the Lady 'Dogs. However, it's very likely the key to the Lady Bulldogs success in the game will be how well they can pressure Jence Rhoads. If they can take her out of her comfort zone it very well could throw off the Lady Commodore offense. Another key could be how Coach Fanning-Otis uses her tall and very athletic center, Chanel Mokango. Will she decide to dump it down to Mokango due to the lack of a dominant low-post presence on the Lady Commodores squad? Ultimately, I believe this game will come down to which team makes most mental errors and I see the winning team pulling away late thanks to those mental errors.
Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org