Scouting Report: LSU
Coach Kevin Stallings stated after the damage was done that his Commodore team played "uncharacteristically" against Tennessee. No disrespect to Stallings, but what was so uncharacteristic about Vandy's play in its second loss to the Vols this year? This same column lauded the Dores before the Tennessee game for finally displaying toughness that had been absent all season. Then, however, VU reverted to form and was beat up on the boards. Just like the first matchup between these rivals, Tennessee got more shots from the field (57 to 44) because of its offensive rebounding. Further, turnovers, which have plagued Vandy all year, characteristically reared their ugly head, this time with 16. Many of those turnovers emerged in the latter stages of regulation and sealed the game in UT's favor.
It also needs to be said that Vanderbilt has a reputation as a soft, jump-shooting team that fails to get the ball consistently into the post. Tennessee did not have an answer for Festus Ezeli, who somehow only took four shots from the field (making all of them.) One could argue that Ezeli was in foul trouble, but keep in mind that he had zero fouls at the half and the Dores never made a concerted effort to get him the ball down low. There was, outside of a poor shooting night by John Jenkins, very little that was uncharacteristic of this year's edition of Vanderbilt basketball.
Vandy cannot dwell on its second loss to that team from Knoxville. As Stallings also pointed out, "You keep thinking about one loss and it becomes two losses." LSU will not fool anyone into thinking the Tigers are a juggernaut, but LSU will come out and play a physical brand of basketball on Saturday in the Maravich Assembly Center. These types of games can be especially tricky when the final two games afterward are Kentucky and Florida. No looking ahead is allowed for a team that let down its guard in the final 10 minutes against Tennessee.
LSU coach Trent Johnson must find himself dreaming about being back in the Pac-10. That's how well his 2010-2011 season is (not) going. Johnson's Tigers had lost 10 games in a row before they somehow left Starkville with a two-point upset victory over Mississippi State.
If one were to describe LSU's basketball team in one word, it would be "young." The Tigers are the youngest team in Division I basketball. Johnson starts three freshmen and there is not a senior on the roster. The Tigers only have three players, juniors Storm Warren, Chris Bass, and Garrett Green who have two years of college basketball experience coming into this season. Despite the poor showing in 2011, the future looks bright in Baton Rouge as the nucleus of the roster should be together for another year. Moreover, signee Johnny O'Bryant of Cleveland, Mississippi, a 6-10 power forward, was recently named to the McDonald's All-American Game.
It is easy to overlook Trent Johnson's team, but one needs to remember that in his first season, 2009, LSU won the SEC regular-season title. It also advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, something VU would die to achieve at this point. The Tigers may not be the most experienced team in the world, but they regularly play with a toughness that many a Vanderbilt fan would love to see in the Black and Gold.
Forward – Malcolm White – Junior, 6-9, 225 2010-11: 5.5 ppg, 1.2 blocks per game
White, a transfer from Ole Miss who sat out last season due to transfer rules, is the veteran on this LSU squad. An inconsistent scorer in the low post who does not have any range shooting the basketball, White is very defense-minded. White is especially effective coming from the help-side on dribble penetration, using his long and lean frame to alter and block opponent shots.
Forward – Storm Warren Junior, 6-7, 230 2010-11: 6.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg
Warren is also one of the few veterans on the LSU roster. Whereas White is the finesse weak-side shot blocker, Warren is the strong physical presence who leads the team in rebounding. LSU's offense is not designed to run through him, but he gets two to three offensive rebounds on a consistent basis, often resulting in easy buckets. That makes him particularly dangerous against Vanderbilt.
Guard – Matt Derenbecker Freshman, 6-7, 185; 2010-11: 6.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .347 3-PT %
The freshman from Metarie, Louisiana, has a bright future ahead of him. Johnson did not put Derenbecker into the starting lineup until the Auburn game on January 8. It is a decision he has not regretted, because it allowed the youngster to find his footing. In SEC play, he is scoring 9.4 points per game and is a deadeye shooter from long range. His 6-7 frame allows him to get his shot off over other perimeter defenders. Derenbecker needs to develop more of a well-rounded game, but for a freshman, he knows his role and handles it quite well, even if he is still suspect defensively. If Jeff Taylor is on his game at the defensive end, it will be interesting to see how Derenbecker goes about getting his shot off.
Guard – Andre Stringer – Freshman, 5-9, 170; 2010-11: 11.7 ppg, 2.8 apg
Stringer is the dictionary definition of a streak shooter. He'll string together, no pun intended, a group of games where he will light up the scoreboard beyond the arc, only to have games where he cannot hit a single 3-pointer. This happened recently when he failed to hit a long-range shot for three straight games, only to knock down two each in games against Florida and MSU. Typical for a quality freshman guard, Stringer gets his assists, but often turns the ball over too much. LSU sees in Stringer many of the same qualities displayed by Darrel Mitchell, the streak-shooting point guard who led LSU to the 2006 Final Four.
Guard – Ralston Turner – Freshman, 6-6, 193; 2010-11: 12.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Turner missed the first five games of the SEC schedule due to a stress reaction in his right foot. Since his return, he has established himself as one of the top freshmen in the conference. Turner is currently on a five-game streak of double-figure scoring and has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways. Not only does he knock down the outside shot, Turner also has the ability to take players off the dribble, not to mention use his 6-6 body to post up smaller guards. Turner should be the key player for Vanderbilt to focus on defensively.
With so many young players on his team, Johnson plays a lot of players to develop some experience, a strategy that should bring dividends in the coming two years. Aaron Dotson is a 6-4 shooting guard out of Seattle, Washington who is nearly a 40 percent 3-point shooter. Junior Chris Bass, younger brother of 2005 SEC Player of the Year Brandon Bass, is the backup pass-first point guard. Junior 6-11 forward Garrett Green, out of Southern California basketball power Taft High School, is finally healthy from the back trouble that has hampered his career. His double-digit scoring effort against Mississippi State was the first of his career and he may finally be rounding into form.
Keys to the Game
1) Show some toughness. This is becoming the broken record of Vanderbilt basketball. While there is an occasional glimpse of some toughness, there is not any consistency to be seen. If Vanderbilt will find any success in the SEC or NCAA Tournaments, it has to find a way to be tough right now. The problem from my perspective is that if the players have not shown a willingness to fight by now, how will they learn it in the season's closing stretch?
2) Basic defensive principles. Two things stood out in VU's man-to-man defense against Tennessee. One, UT point guard Melvin Goins repeatedly drove into the middle of the VU defense. A basic point of man defense is to force the dribble to the outside since the ability to get into the middle of a defense is what ultimately breaks it down. Also, defenders frequently lost sight of their man against the Vols. An instance that stood out was late in the game when Lance Goulbourne got caught ball-watching and his man caught a pass on a backdoor cut that quickly resulted in Ezeli's fourth foul. If Goulbourne is watching man and ball, that foul never happens. Not to pick on Lance, but that was one time out of many that was easy to identify. LSU is not known for its offensive prowess, but if Vanderbilt continues to fail to execute basic defensive principles, it is likely that one of LSU's excellent shooters could get a hot hand in Baton Rouge.
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