Scouting Report: Belmont
The VU-Belmont matchup is not a rivalry per se; after all, coach Kevin Stallings is 3-0 in games against Belmont. However, this game does give the Bruins an opportunity to make a claim on being the best basketball team in Nashville. The Bruins should not be overlooked. Their lone loss this season is a nine-point loss at Tennessee, 85-76.
The Commodores of course find themselves on a roll, going 6-1 to start the season. A win Saturday would set the Dores up well for a date at Missouri on December 8, against a team whose only loss came in overtime to No. 14 Georgetown. But first things first: Before focusing on the Tigers, the Dores need to take care of this team down the street.
The city championship will be at stake Saturday afternoon. Belmont is best known nationally for nearly knocking of Duke in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. It is best known in Nashville for being one of the premier teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference, winning three Atlantic Sun championships in five seasons – this after being one of the top teams in NAIA Division I before making the transition to the NCAA.
Belmont and coach Rick Byrd are well-regarded in coaching circles. Byrd's teams have long been known for their half-court execution, and this was exemplified best when Mike Krzyzewki's Duke team needed a basket in the final seconds of the 2008 tournament to defeat Belmont 71-70. Byrd, a graduate of Tennessee, is in his 25th year at Belmont and has a record of 493-274 record as the Bruins' head coach.
Vanderbilt is clearly the more talented team in this game, but Belmont matches up very well and it could be a chess match between two of the finest coaches in the country.
Forward – Brandon Baker – Sophomore, 6-6, 220; 2010-11: 4.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg,
Baker is not the flashiest player and Byrd calls him his "wildcard." He can be inconsistent, yet he can also be an effective shooter beyond the 3-point line. Baker is best known as being the Bruins' agitator. He's the guy who dives on the loose balls, bangs for an offensive rebound and bumps you coming off screens, all of which points to him guarding Jeffery Taylor.
Forward – Jon House – Senior, 6-6, 210; 2010-11: 5.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg
While his statistics are not the most quickly noticed on the stat sheet, the senior swingman is called the Bruins' "glue guy" by his coach. Need someone defended? House is your guy. Need a clutch shot knocked down? Call House. Need someone in the locker room to pull the team together? Where's House? Often, being a "glue guy" means you are not very good talent-wise. That is not the case with House. He's a 42 percent 3-point shooter and makes 85 percent of his free throws. House is also able to use the knowledge he's gained playing under Byrd for four years to beat his defender in a number of ways: shooting, posting, or driving.
Center – Mick Hedgepeth – Junior, 6-9, 235; 2010-11: 13.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg
Hedgepeth was one of the most improved Bruins this past year. After averaging only 3.5 points per game as a freshman, he upped that total last season to 11.6 points per game. While slightly undersized against centers from the so-called power conferences, he has compensated for that with the development of a face-up game in the pivot. This enables him to use his quickness and ball-handling to take advantage of larger defenders. The face-up game also creates an advantage for Belmont offensively by creating lanes for basket cuts behind perimeter defenders. It will be interesting to see how Festus Ezeli adjusts to defending this style of offensive player.
Guard – Ian Clark – Sophomore, 6-3, 175; 2010-11: 13.7 ppg, .419 3PT %
Clark is the reigning Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year and was Second Team All-Conference a year ago. A year ago, he was the first freshman since Belmont made the transition to NCAA Division I to lead the team in scoring. He's doing it again this year, showing a wide repertoire of weapons in his offensive game. He can clearly shoot, as his nine 3-pointers in a game a year ago attest, but he can also create his own shot off the dribble. The battle between him and John Jenkins will be a duel between two of the best sophomore guards in the country.
Guard – Drew Hanlen – Junior, 5-11, 180; 2010-11: 6.5 ppg, 5.3 apg,
Last year, Hanlen led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. The junior point guard is at it again this year with a better than 5-1 ratio in the early going in 2010-2011. This is impressive given the intricacy of Byrd's half-court offense. Clearly the goal should be to pressure Hanlen and get the ball out of his hands, but this will be no easy task given the experience of Hanlen in running the show for Belmont. Vandy also needs to remember that just because Hanlen is a prolific passer, it does not mean he cannot shoot. Hanlen is one of five Bruins to shoot better than 40 percent beyond the arc.
Coach Byrd has excellent depth with this squad: He has 10 players who play more than 15 minutes per game. This is partly due to big early-season wins, but mainly due to the balance in fundamentals throughout his roster.
Kerron Johnson can back up both guard positions; he averages just under seven points per game. The 6-1 sophomore is also the 2009 Alabama Mr. Basketball. Not known as a shooter, Johnson is known for his ability to get to the basket off the dribble and draw fouls. Scott Saunders and J.J. Mann provide frontcourt depth by combining for 19 points per game. Saunders is a strong, physical post player, while Mann is a long-distance shooter whose 6-6 frame gives him clean looks at the basket.
Keys to the Game
Buckle down on half-court defense. In playing Belmont, VU is playing a team that executes its offense probably better than any opponent it will face the rest of the regular season. The Bruins may not have the greatest athletes, obviously, or they would be playing elsewhere, but year in and year out, Byrd gets players who buy into what he is teaching and play an unselfish brand of offense. Don't mistake half-court execution for slow-down offense. If the Bruins get good early looks they will take them. They simply look for the first, best shot. The Dores need to be ready to defend for all 35 seconds of each possession or the Bruins will wait for an open look – and hit it if left open.
2) Make Clark defend. In the Belmont locker room, the Bruins may be talking about making Jenkins defend. One way to stop the other team's scorer is to make him work his tail off on defense. In all probability, Ian Clark will draw the responsibility for checking Jenkins. Therefore, Stallings can take advantage of Jenkins' hot hand so far this season to run him off of screens and wear down the Belmont sophomore guard.
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