Basketball Scouting Report: Monmouth
It's been an encouraging week for Vanderbilt basketball. No, this team hasn't arrived or turned the corner; we won't know that for sure until the third week of March. With that having been said, the Commodores accessed a substantial supply of mental toughness to turn back North Carolina State and Oregon State in the TicketCity Legends Classic. Without Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt was vulnerable near the basket, but coach Kevin Stallings's crew was resourceful enough to beat North Carolina State with its offense and turn back Oregon State with its perimeter defense. By limiting Oregon State to a 2-of-14 shooting night from three-point range, the Dores brought stability and success to their season. Revealingly, VU displayed the ruggedness on defense that has not always been a part of the equation in Nashville. The Dores won a pair of neutral-site games by finding solutions in the heat of battle. No, N.C. State and Oregon State are not likely to make the NCAA Tournament, but Vanderbilt's twin tests at the Meadowlands (now, the IZOD Center) suggest that the Cleveland State loss on Nov. 13 has served as a wake-up call for everyone in the program. That's exactly what Stallings wanted to see.
Now, with Monmouth coming to town, the Dores will have a chance to play a lot of players. Why? They should win by a very large margin, as you'll find out in short order:
King Rice, a former Vanderbilt assistant and point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina, coaches the Hawks of the Northeast Conference. He needs to pull off a Dean-like job to get Monmouth to a respectable place before this season ends. Monmouth has been walloped in its first five games. The Hawks are in the bottom 25 percent of the nation (among 348 Division I basketball programs) in points, rebounds and assists. They shoot just under 34 percent, making them one of the 11 worst shooting teams in the United States. Monmouth also can't play a lick of defense. In its first five games, Monmouth has allowed four opponents to shoot better than 52 percent. George Mason, the only team to not crack 52 percent against Rice's roster, hit 47 percent of its shots. All these numbers add up to disaster in the Garden State. This New Jersey-based school not only bears a bagel with an 0-5 record; it has lost by an average margin of just over 31 points per contest. Monmouth isn't particularly quick or strong, and that fact is exposed each and every time the Hawks hit the hardwood. We'll see what the Hawks can derive from their toughest test yet this season; if they lost by 45 points to Virginia Tech, imagine the beatdown the Commodores can produce against them.
Center – Phil Wait – Senior, 7-0, 275 2011-12: 6.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Wait is bulky, a definite space-filler in the middle, but he doesn't carry his size in an imposing manner. A player with Wait's frame should be snapping down many more rebounds than 3.8 per game. Wait came from England to try his hand at college basketball; the Brits have never been particularly polished practitioners in the realm of roundball, and Wait reaffirms that truth. It will be interesting to see how the Tchiengang-Goulbourne combo handles Wait's massive frame. Wait might not offer a first-rate toolbox of basketball skills, but he'll still be a challenging man to guard with Ezeli out of the picture.
Forward – Ed Waite – Junior, 6-5, 240; 2011-12: 8.6 ppg, 8 rpg
This is the player who gives Monmouth a degree of credibility. Waite (unlike Wait, his teammate with the same name but a different spelling) makes the most of his time on the floor. With the width of a power forward but the size of a tweener (between a forward and a guard), Waite is athletic and savvy enough to crash the glass and devour loose balls. This is the energy guy on the Hawks' roster, so he therefore becomes a primary point of focus for the Commodores this Friday night.
Guard – Andrew Nicholas – Freshman, 6-5, 210; 2011-12: 8.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg
After averaging just four points per outing in his first four games of the season, Nicholas – just a freshman with a well-developed basketball body – busted loose for 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting in a 79-71 loss to Brown on Tuesday. Nicholas might not be expected to replicate that stat line against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores can't exhibit complacency when defending him. If Monmouth basketball is going to experience a revival of its fortunes in the next few years, Nicholas – who will only get stronger and wiser – is going to be the centerpiece of such a movement.
Guard – Dion Nesmith – Junior, 6-3, 200; 2011-12: 6.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg
Nesmith is counted on for his defense. While Nicholas and Wait combined to take 31 of the team's 63 shots in the Nov. 22 loss to Brown, Nesmith focuses on the defensive end, trying to make the Hawks a more resilient team less prone to being shredded by sound halfcourt sets. Defense is the first priority for Monmouth, and that's where Nesmith has to make his presence felt. This game will take the measure of Nesmith, forcing him to react and rotate with particular precision and timeliness.
Guard – Jesse Steele – Junior, 5-9, 180; 2011-12: 6.8 ppg, 2.6 apg, 2 rpg,
Steele tries to be the facilitator for Monmouth's offense. He's undersized at the point guard spot and is not terrifically quick. This means he must use court positioning and an understanding of floor spacing to find and create the best angles for passes to his teammates. Steele needs to make crisp entry passes into the low post and do the kinds of things which will put his teammates in position to take – and make – high-percentage shots. Steele is the person who, more than anyone else on the Monmouth roster, needs to lift his game so that the Hawks can elevate their woefully poor shooting percentage.
Only two men on Rice's bench gained appreciable minutes in the loss to Brown, which was by far Monmouth's best performance of the season (and its closest loss). The Hawks remained competitive against Brown largely because of the efforts of sixth man Mike Myers Keitt, who hit 5 of 8 shots to score 14 points in 27 minutes. Myers Keitt also pulled down four rebounds and handed out four assists, making a rather substantial contribution in a supporting role. Myers Keitt averages seven points per game, making him a player Vandy has to pay attention to. Austin Tillotson is trying to help Nesmith shore up the Hawks' perimeter defense while lending support to Steele as a playmaker. Tillotson made himself useful in 22 minutes against Brown. The six-foot freshman guard came off the pine to swipe three steals and dish out five assists. Rice and the rest of the Monmouth coaching staff need to get that kind of selfless performance from everyone in their seven-man rotation if this team is to put together a respectable season. In many ways, the Hawks' starting five (minus Waite, who is holding up his end of the bargain on the boards) needs to take a cue from Myers Keitt and Tillotson. If the starting five plays the way Myers Keitt and Tillotson did against Brown, Monmouth will improve to a considerable degree in the coming weeks.
Keys to the Game
1) Don't take it easy on Ed. Since there are two players on Monmouth whose last name is pronounced "wait," it's worth distinguishing Ed Waite from Phil Wait. Ed is the man Vanderbilt needs to contain. Monmouth's forward has to be kept off the glass. If the Commodores can play with more vigor and intensity than Monmouth's most active player, the Hawks' willpower should evaporate before the first half is over.
2) Smother Nicholas and Myers Keitt. If Monmouth is to get a foothold in this contest, its two hottest shooters have to tickle the twine once again. Nicholas and Myers Keitt combined to hit 16 of 26 shots in the Hawks' most recent game against Brown. If any team's two best shooters can post those kinds of numbers, it stands to reason that a 40-minute competition will be close… closer than many experts could possibly imagine. If Vanderbilt wants a no-drama night at Memorial Gym, it will devote considerable attention to Nicholas and Myers Keitt, so that the visitors from the Northeast Conference don't get any ideas about making a game of it on Friday night.
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