Scouting Report: Davidson
What more can be said about the Vanderbilt men's basketball team at this point in the season? The Commodores are missing Festus Ezeli in a big way, but that can't be used as an excuse for playing with all-too-typical timidity at crunch time. Vanderbilt's late five-point leads in regulation and overtime at Louisville were pure teases. The Commodores surrendered both of those advantages and must now regroup as they play mid-majors and low-majors for most of December. The battle with Marquette on Dec. 29 will be VU's last chance to snag a meaningful non-conference win. The Southeastern Conference season will have to give the Dores their ticket to the Big Dance. That's the unfortunate truth after this past week, an agonizing journey which featured two missed opportunities, especially Friday night's gut punch against a Louisville team that was even more shorthanded than Vanderbilt was. (The Cardinals were missing Mike Marra, Rakeem Buckles, and Wayne Blackshear, among other contributors to last year's Louisville team.)
There's only one thing the Commodores can do as they go to Belk Arena in Davidson, North Carolina, tonight: Play with a renewed commitment to toughness. This is the lesson the VU crew must learn, like a struggling martial-arts student who knows what his sensei wants but cannot summon the inner strength to find it. The season is going to be one continuous attempt to reach within and cultivate a form of strength that is currently nowhere to be found.
Coach Bob McKillop has to be quietly encouraged by what he's seen so far this season from his Davidson Wildcats. The team that once ruled the Southern Conference under Stephen Curry, nearly becoming "Butler" before Butler became Butler, is showing signs of moving back to the top echelon in the SoCon. Davidson swept two early-season conference games last week, toppling defending SoCon champion Wofford on the road before whacking Furman at home. There's no superstar on this Davidson team, but the mix of role players, including an international on the bench, is familiar to those who have followed this program over the years. McKillop pulls in players from various places, seeking cohesion for his mid-major program in a cutthroat recruiting environment that does not give the Davidsons of the world the opportunity to stockpile the best raw athletes. Standing at 6-1 on the season and 2-0 in the league, the early indication is that the familiar Davidson formula is working once again.
Forward – De'Mon Brooks – Sophomore, 6-2, 223 2011-12: 16.7 ppg, 7 rpg
If there is a star on the Wildcats this season, it's Brooks. At just 223 pounds, the second-year player combines a lunch-pail work ethic with a savvy feel for the sport. Brooks is an effective operator near the basket, as shown by his 7-for-11 field goal shooting performance in Davidson's most recent game, its 86-65 win over Furman on Dec. 3. Vanderbilt's interior defense remains a liability, so Stallings should welcome the challenge posed by Brooks. He will force the Commodores to mount a vigorous defensive challenge tonight.
Forward– Jake Cohen – Junior, 6-10, 220; 2011-12: 12.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg,
Cohen epitomizes the blended game McKillop looks for in a typical Davidson recruit. His size is not an imposing form of size because he's also thin and lanky. Cohen isn't a brawny player, but an effective complement to Brooks who finds scoring opportunities near the tin and will occasionally step behind the 3-point arc. Cohen's big attribute is that he enhances this team's spacing in its halfcourt sets. This is the kind of glue-guy starter who enables Davidson to be effective.
Guard– J.P. Kuhlman – Junior, 6-4, 190; 2011-12: 13.7 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Kuhlman does a little bit of everything on a team that needs to be well-rounded. The very fact that Davidson doesn't have one overwhelming rebounder forces every Wildcat to crash the glass. This is reflected in Kuhlman's overall body of work. Kuhlman shoots better than 36 percent from 3-point range, but that doesn't stop him from getting involved near the basket. Davidson players have to be resourceful players, and Kuhlman fits that mold.
Guard – Nik Cochran – Junior, 6-3, 184; 2011-12: 10.4 ppg, 2.3 apg
Cochran is another guard who can shoot better than 36 percent from 3-point range, and his capable offense gives this backcourt its share of scoring punch. You'll notice that the Wildcats have four starters averaging at least 10 points, which is a tribute to Cochran's skills. Vandebilt will have to deal with Brooks on the interior, but it will also have to stop a backcourt that isn't a one-note band by any stretch.
Guard – Tom Droney – Sophomore, 6-6, 194; 2011-12: 4.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3 apg
Droney is the game manager (to borrow a football term) and a defensive stalwart for the Wildcats. Kuhlman and Cochran can shoulder the load at the offensive end, which enables Droney to take on the toughest defensive assignments for the Wildcats. It's likely that Droney will guard John Jenkins in this game, making it that much more important for Jeffery Taylor to play well. If you look at Davidson's backcourt, you'll notice that all three guards hand out at least two assists per game. The Wildcats share the ball, which means VU will have to be on top of its rotations.
Chris Czerapowicz and Clint Mann form the heart of what is an eight-man rotation for McKillop. Czerapowicz is from Sweden, giving Davidson the international element which as usually existed on this team. A player from either Europe or Africa has found his way to this North Carolina mid-major school over the past several years of McKillop's tenure, and Czerapowicz, with a scoring average of 9.1 points per game, gives Davidson's bench a needed dose of production. Tyler Kalinoski is a defense-first guard who fills out the eight-man look for the Wildcats.
Keys to the Game
1) Fight, fight, fight. Seriously – the Dores have to get after rebounds with Michigan State-level ferocity. Guards have to be strong with the ball when dealing with pressure. This is not new. This is not unexpected. This is not mind-blowing. This is what Vanderbilt has to learn to do in order to become successful.
2) Clamp down on Brooks. Everything starts for Vanderbilt with its interior defense. While Ezeli works his way back to full health, stopping Davidson's De'Mon Brooks will be the Dores' highest single priority within the context of the X-and-O matchup.
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