Scouting Report: Indiana State
It's easy to identify this upcoming stretch of Vanderbilt's 2011-2012 basketball schedule. The prime-time showdowns from the week after Thanksgiving are over. Christmastime is approaching, and accordingly, coach Kevin Stallings has prudently scheduled games that won't drain every last ounce of energy from his starting five. This three-game stretch over the next five days is designed to give playing time to the bench and sharpen this roster for the huge Dec. 29 game against Marquette, followed by the start of the SEC season in early January. This is also a stretch in which Festus Ezeli, who has returned to the lineup well ahead of schedule, can slowly work his way back into 35-minutes-a-game playing shape. Shared minutes and shared responsibility are the phrases to keep in mind as this pre-Christmas week of hoops unfolds.
The first installment of this three-game set is by far the most intriguing one. Indiana State's run to the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship brings to mind a Karen Carpenter song lyric: "But like the young trees in the wintertime, I'll learn how to bend." The ISU crew displayed a level of resilience last season which VU would do well to cultivate in the coming three months, especially March. Indiana State's journey from Terre Haute, Indiana, to Nashville could offer the Dores a meaningful lesson in these weeks before SEC competition begins.
INDIANA STATE AT-A-GLANCE
After starting the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference season with seven wins in eight outings, coach Greg Lansing's Sycamores hit a wall. In late January, many college basketball teams begin to feel the heavy legs and the toll taken by the demands of a meandering season that requires a tremendous investment of intensity against hungry conference foes. November and December are basketball laboratories in which teams test themselves against unfamiliar opponents, so when January arrives and the conference wars commence, teams can quickly exhaust their fuel tanks and run on empty. This is what happened to Indiana State in late January of 2011. The 7-1 Sycamores lost five straight games, some of them against lower-tier teams in the Missouri Valley. For two and a half miserable weeks, Lansing and his staff couldn't find answers. A 7-1 mark turned into a 7-6 league record, and it seemed that ISU's season was going from NCAA at-large candidate to CBI aspirant. A team looked at the mirror in the second week of February, confronted by the question: "What do you want to become this season?"
The Sycamores, to a man, accessed a deeper level of resolve.
Indiana State did not lose another Missouri Valley game in 2011. ISU dropped a BracketBuster game to Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference, but Lansing's lads won their last five regular-season league contests to finish with a 12-6 mark and gain legitimate NIT consideration. Then, however, the Sycamores made the NIT a moot point by winning their three games at the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis. Digging out three defensive grinders (that's what Valley tournament games always are at "Arch Madness" in the Gateway City) by an average margin of 4.33 points, the team informally known as the "Trees" showed the nation that yes, it really had learned how to bend in the wintertime and endure all sorts of windy, stormy weather. While other Valley teams played in the NIT, there was Indiana State, with its No. 14 seed, repping its conference against Syracuse on first-round Friday at the NCAA Tournament. (Yes, it's called the second round. The NCAA's official language does not need to be respected.)
The Sycamores haven't racked up any high-quality wins this season, but after their formidable feat last March, Vanderbilt should not underestimate ISU for a single solitary second.
Center – Myles Walker – Center, 6-8, 250; 2011-12: 9.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Walker is not tall, but he's muscular and experienced. It's true that he lacks the quickness and footspeed of an elite big man, but his awareness on the floor is what makes (and has made) him a credible anchor for Indiana State's interior defense.
Guard/Forward – Carl Richard – Senior, 6-5, 215; 2011-12: 10.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
What you'll notice about Indiana State is that since this team does not possess imposing size or length in its starting five, everyone needs to rebound. Richard crashes the glass in support of Walker, enabling this blue-collar team to stay in the thick of the fight each time it takes the court. Teams have to use a lot of elbow grease and win 50-50 balls to survive in the rugged Missouri Valley Conference, so when Vanderbilt faces these hungry Sycamores, they'll need to be willing to endure a fair share of floor burns.
Guard– Jake Odum – Sophomore, 6-4, 170; 2011-12: 9.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 6.6 assists per game
This is Indiana State's best and most well-rounded player. ISU guard Aaron Carter has now graduated, but in the Sycamores' 60-56 triumph over top-seeded Missouri State in the championship game of the 2011 Valley tournament, Carter led the Trees with 15 points. Odum, then a redshirt freshman, poured in 12 points and hit four late foul shots to help ISU pull through. Even as a relative newbie, Odum was the second-best option on his team in a championship game. Odum is now the centerpiece of the Sycamores' offense precisely because he is such a prolific and skilled distributor of the ball. No one on this roster is an overwhelmingly explosive scorer, which makes Odum's 6.6 assists an eye-popping statistic. The ability to get his teammates that many high-quality looks each and every gameday marks Odum as a player with a particularly high basketball IQ. His off-the-charts court awareness makes him Vanderbilt's number one defensive assignment, hands down.
Guard – Jordan Printy – Senior, 6-4, 180; 2011-12: 8.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Printy, who was a bench player for the Sycamores last year, fits into the larger overall mold of this team: He doesn't try to be a hero. His stats don't represent anything individually remarkable by any stretch of the imagination. Printy merely defends with intensity, blends into ISU's halfcourt sets, and makes himself useful whenever and wherever possible. The "five-as-one" mentality belonging to close-knit basketball teams (and successful ones at that) is very much evident in Printy's demeanor and playing style. Lansing's ability to get Printy and the other Sycamores to buy into a selfless modus operandi on the floor is the number one reason why the Trees made the NCAAs last season.
Guard – Steve McWhorter – Sophomore, 6-2, 185; 2011-12: 5.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 2.1 rpg
You would think that a 6-2, 185-pound guard – nine games into a college basketball season – would have attempted more than 10 threes. Yet, McWhorter's reticence to shoot the long ball is a matter of public record. Lansing needs McWhorter – a bench player on last year's ISU roster – to be a little more assertive as a shooter. This is naturally the player Vanderbilt can cheat against. VU will want to clamp down on Odum and Richard and force McWhorter to shoot the rock.
Last year, Dwayne Lathan was a starter for Indiana State. This year, he's technically a bench player, but don't let that official designation fool you. Lathan averages 11.6 points per game, tops on the Sycamores' roster. He also grabs 5.4 boards per outing, so the 6-3, 205-pound senior obviously brings a lot of value to Lansing's lineup. The approach which is so evident in Lansing's use of Lathan is one based on energy conservation. Lansing thinks that Lathan's slightly reduced minutes (he averages 22 per game) keeps him fresh and enables him to play with a maximum of energy when he does take the floor. The results so far this season have justified Lansing's decision.
Keys to the Game
1) "D up" on Odom. Vanderbilt needs to be very aware in its help defense in this game. The Commodores need to shut off passing lanes so that Jake Odom cannot dissect VU's defense and become a particularly effective playmaker. If Odom can't set his teammates up for good opportunities near the rim, Indiana State – a team which is very sensible with its shot selection and does not bomb indiscriminately from 3-point range – will find it hard to function at the offensive end of the court.
2) Gang rebounding. Indiana State doesn't entrust its rebounding to any one player. The Sycamores crash the glass as a team, so every one of Kevin Stallings's players needs to be better and bolder on the glass in this contest.
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