Scouting Report: Saint Mary's
The Commodores' frontline has become a virtual M.A.S.H unit. With Andre Walker just recently shedding his crutches, Steve Tchiengang unable to play in the second half against Ole Miss with a bad ankle, and Festus Ezeli unable to dunk due to his knee, my hunch is Coach Kevin Stallings would rather have the weekend off to heal for upcoming SEC conference games.
That is a luxury Stallings will not have, however. Teams have two choices when bit by the injury bug: They can either pack it in and make excuses, or they can foster a new spirit of resourcefulness, in which someone else can use the opportunity to step up their game. The latter happened against Ole Miss as Lance Goulbourne earned a double-double, playing "Kevin Love-like" according to John Jenkins. Now the questions will be, can Goulbourne continue this level of play, or will he revert to his Tennessee showing? Will Rod Odom demonstrate the promise he showed when Stallings and staff recruited him? Will the backcourt be able to play within its roles, or will Vandy's guards try to over-compensate for the team's lack of frontline depth?
As it stands, Saturday gives the Dores a chance to defeat a ranked team, help the sagging reputation of the SEC, and possibly get themselves back into the good graces of the voters and the Selection Committee.
SAINT MARY'S AT-A-GLANCE
With the graduation of All-American Honorable Mention and 2010 NCAA Tournament hero Omar Samhan, expectations were tempered for the Gaels coming into the season. All they have done however is start the year 17-2, earn a No. 21 national ranking, and sit in first place in the West Coast Conference after Gonzaga's loss at Santa Clara on Thursday night. The Gaels' only two blemishes on its record came in back to back games following Thanksgiving, a one-point loss to BYU followed by a 69-55 defeat on the road at the hands of then-No. 19 San Diego State. The BYU loss was in the championship game of the South Padre Island Invitational in which the Gaels also defeated Texas Tech.
Since those losses, the Gaels have proceeded to win 11 in a row, though quality would not be the word to describe the Gaels' opponents in that streak; they have played neither of their two main rivals for the WCC crown, Gonzaga or Portland.
After taking a walk down Easy Street, things get difficult in a hurry for Coach Randy Bennett's team. First they travel to Nashville to take on the Dores and then, after a five-day layoff, play two games in three nights on the road at Gonzaga and Portland. Needless to say, starting with Saturday's showdown at Memorial Gym, the next week will define who Saint Mary's College really is.
SMC is a statistical offensive juggernaut. It is ninth in the country in scoring at 83.2 points per game while also being second nationally in shooting percentage, making 51 percent of its shots. Saint Mary's scores using a team concept, evidenced by the Gaels' No. 3 ranking in assists per game with a whopping 18.7.
Forward – Rob Jones – Junior, 6-6, 235; 2010-11: 13.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg
A native San Franciscan, Jones has become much more comfortable on the court after transferring from San Diego to play closer to home. After sitting out last season, Jones is averaging just less than 14 points per game while being a muscular, if not slightly undersized, forward. If Jones has a weakness, it's a tendency to settle for too many 3-pointers instead of using his strength to create opportunities at the foul line. A very good athlete in his own right, expect to see him and Jeff Taylor matched up quite a bit, depending on how often Stallings decides to employ a zone defense.
Forward – Clint Steindl – Junior, 6-7, 180; 2010-11: 8.7 ppg, .432 3-PT %
Saint Mary's is known for recruiting Australia and that is where Randy Bennett nabbed Steindl. The 6-7 junior was probably hoping for the opportunity to matchup with A.J. Ogilvy, but of course that was dashed when Vandy's Big Aussie left school early. Steindl is an underweight post, carrying around only 180 pounds on his lanky frame. He still averages close to nine rebounds a game, but with the Gaels' schedule, has not had to match up with many true post players at the defensive end. Bennett likes to stretch opposing bigs with Steindl by letting him shoot from the perimeter and he is very effective at doing so, making 43 percent of his 3-point shots. Its evident Steindl is a soft offensive player when examining his free throw shooting. He has attempted only eight all season.
Forward – Tim Williams – Sophomore, 6-9, 235; 2010-11: 6.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Williams is as true a center as you will find on the Gaels' roster. Like many WCC centers, though, he also lacks bulk to match up well defensively in the post. However, it will be to his advantage that Vanderbilt is dealing with so many injuries on its frontline. Williams is used primarily as a screener in the Saint Mary's offense and is not looked to for much scoring. Though he starts, he has seen his minutes diminish as the season has gone on, playing only five in a recent game against the University of San Diego.
Guard – Matthew Dellavedova – Sophomore, 6-4 185; 2010-11: 12.8 ppg, 5.9 assists per game, .398 3-PT %
Yet another Gael-force Aussie, Dellavedova makes up half of what may be the best backcourt few have heard of. A 40 percent 3-point shooter, he is not shy about pulling the trigger beyond the arc. Twice this season he has attempted 10 3-pointers in a single game, making five against UC Riverside and six against Mississippi State. Vandy cannot go into the game thinking of Dellavedova as strictly a shooter, however. He is an excellent ball handler who will not hesitate to penetrate a defense; he finds open teammates. Needless to say, its impressive when your sophomore shooting guard still averages 5.9 assists.
Guard – Mickey McConnell – Senior, 6-0 175; 2010-11: 15.0 ppg, 6.4 apg, .485 3-PT %
McConnell is without a doubt the leader of the team. He's had great mentors the past couple of seasons with Samhan and Patty Mills and the senior is the key to Saint Mary's. In the Gaels' two losses, McConnell was held below his season scoring average, especially against San Diego State, which held him to a single basket and two points. McConnell impresses though in nearly all facets of his game. Obviously an adept scorer, he also is great at creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, and is a lights-out shooter. McConnell is nearly at 50 percent on 3-pointers for the season.
Yet another Australian, 6-9 sophomore Mitchell Young, is the team's key frontcourt reserve. Though he struggled in the Gaels' last game out against San Diego (scoring two points,) he averages 10.5 points per game and just fewer than five rebounds a night while averaging 20 minutes per game. Unlike some of the Saint Mary's bigs that like to play away from the basket, he's typically close to the basket.
When freshman point guard Stephen Holt enters the game, there is the potential for a Nashville battle between two Portland, Oregon, point guards with him and Brad Tinsley. Holt typically plays about half the game and scores just under six points per game. Holt does not have the shooting consistency of starting backcourt mates but has a bright future ahead of him running the Gaels' offense. Holt's signing with Saint Mary's must have particularly stung conference rival Portland, especially considering the fact that Holt's father played at Portland.
Keys to the Game
1) Make the training staff work overtime. Frontcourt injuries are making rebounding, already an iffy proposition for the Dores, much more difficult. While St. Mary's does not have an imposing frontline, Stallings' options are limited without Walker, Tchiengang, and possibly Ezeli. A key question for Stallings to answer is how much to play Fes in this non-conference game. He may want to limit Ezeli's minutes, but winning this game could help significantly restore Vanderbilt's national reputation after losing two games in SEC play it should have won.
2) Contain the Saint Mary's backcourt. If both Gaels' guard are hitting shots it will be a long afternoon in Memorial Gym. That means the Vandy defense will be extended, thus making it easier for either St. Mary's guard to penetrate and create scoring looks for teammates. Fortunately for coach Stallings, both of his guards have some length and should be able to contest McConnell and Dellavedova's shots. Both will contest the quickness of Tinsley and Jenkins, however.
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