Scouting Report: Lafayette

For some people, it's irritating to encounter a sentence which starts with these words: "Not to draw a comparison with X, but…" The reason for such irritation is precisely that a comparison IS being drawn with the object in question. This notion is alive and very much at work when the Lafayette Leopards face Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.


"NOT TO DRAW A COMPARISON WITH THE RICHMOND SPIDERS, BUT…."

LAFAYETTE AT-A-GLANCE

...That's the perhaps irritating yet irresistible way to begin this little preview of Vanderbilt's game against Lafayette, a downtrodden program in the Patriot League. It's true that unlike the 2011 Richmond team, Lafayette does not possess elite players. The Leopards won't pose overwhelming matchup problems. They're not in the same league as the team that drummed Vanderbilt out of the most recent NCAA Tournament.

But… they are a poor man's version – a very, very famished poor man's version – of the not-so-itsy-bitsy Spiders. The Leopards are not blindingly fast or overwhelmingly athletic. They require craft and guile to carve out what they can on the court. Vanderbilt, before its big game against Marquette on Dec. 29, will face a team that can best be described as pesky… not with a level of quality that can even remotely approach the 2011 Richmond roster, but with a style that won't seem completely foreign in comparison to the Spiders. This game won't be a test on the merits, but it will be a test in terms of style, and that's probably why VU coach Kevin Stallings scheduled this game in the first place. Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon might give Vanderbilt an unconventional chess match that could unearth some meaningful truths about the Commodores before their must-win clash against a power-conference team on the other side of Christmas Day.

Starting Lineup

Center – J.D. Pelham –
Senior, 6-10, 245 2011-12: 0 points, 1.9 rpg

As a senior, Pelham is being given the privilege of starting for the Leopards. Pelham usually plays only nine minutes, though, so his numbers are paltry. Yes, it's true: As of the morning of December 21, Pelham hasn't scored a single point this season. Dan Trist, a 6-9, 217-pound freshman, comes off the bench to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 minutes a game as Pelham's de facto backup.

Forward– Ryan Willen – Senior, 6-8, 212; 2011-12: 15 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 apg

Willen isn't the most prolific scorer in the Leopards' starting five, but he's clearly Lafayette's most well-rounded player. It is said that a mature and fun-loving adult, someone who enjoys life and is comfortable in his or her own skin, "knows what to do with a good bottle of wine." Well, Willen knows what to do with a basketball. The senior displays savvy on the court. He finds his way to the tin as a scorer and rebounder, and he's a very capable passer as well. This on-court craftsman needs to be a main point of focus for the Dores' defense. Excellent technique is and will be Vanderbilt's best way to counter Willen's arsenal of skills.

Guard – Seth Hinrichs – Freshman, 6-7, 214; 2011-12: 8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg

You'll notice that Lafayette isn't a terrifically small team – it's not a bunch of sequoias or redwoods, but its starting five is not undersized, a reality underscored by the presence of a 6-7 freshman guard. Hinrichs is representative of the other players on the Lafayette roster in that he isn't physically imposing. He's just beginning to learn how to use his body and endure the rigors of big-time college basketball. If Lafayette's starting five had first-rate quickness and footspeed, two things would be different: First, the Leopards would be 8-2 against their schedule to this point in the season, not 4-6. Second, Hinrichs would be averaging 18.9 a game, not 8.9. As it is, Hinrichs could still score if he can shoot over the top of a smaller defender. The matchups are not gimmies for Stallings in this contest.

Guard – Rob Delaney – Junior, 6-4, 200; 2011-12: 9.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4 apg

Delaney is a more conventionally sized guard, although his size is more in line with a shooting guard, not a point guard. It's Delaney who drops most of the dimes for the Leopards. The upperclassman has a more compact build than most of his teammates, but instead of powering the ball to the basket, Delaney is content to share the rock and set up his teammates. If anything, Delaney should be a pinch more selfish on the court. The Commodores will see if that newer and more aggressive approach manifests itself or not.

Guard – Jim Mower – Senior, 6-3, 189; 2011-12: 18.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .429 3-PT shooting percentage

Willen is the complete player in Lafayette's starting five, but Mower is that rare specimen known as the sniper. He's no John Jenkins (who is or ever can be?), but Mower averages at least six 3-point field goal attempts per game and hits at a 43 percent clip. His scoring average is substantially a function of his shooting ability, and for this reason, he's the guy whom Vanderbilt cannot lose for even a split-second on Wednesday.

Bench

While the aforementioned Dan Trist is a reserve forward who is asked to bang near the basket for Lafayette, guards Nick Petkovich and Joey Ptasinski come off the bench for different reasons. Petkovich helps on the glass – he's pulling down an average of 4.7 boards per contest – but he's asked to provide some scoring punch when Mower takes a brief break. Petkovich gets almost 19 minutes of playing time each gamenight, while Ptasinski – more of a ballhandler – gets 22 minutes per game from O'Hanlon, who uses eight men for his core rotation and gives 10 players at least six minutes of live action whenever the Leopards take the floor.

Keys to the Game

1) Handle Willen one-on-one.
If Vanderbilt can guard Willen one-on-one, everything else should fall into place for the Commodores at the defensive end of the floor. Willen is a jack-of-all-trades performer, which means that shutting him down as a scorer is not the end goal for VU. Willen can set up teammates and create possibilities by doing things other than scoring. Double-teaming Willen could very well enable Mower to get open three-point looks and enable Delaney to find driving lanes. It matters if you can stop certain players with one man and not two; Willen is the player, more than anyone else on the Lafayette roster, whom VU needs to shut down with one defender.

2) Use liberal portions of elbow grease. Lafayette's bench does the dirty work for the Leopards, so Vanderbilt has a chance to respond in turn with its own rotation. Starters and reserves alike must answer the call on the boards and in the low post. A rugged defensive performance from the bench and the bigs will enable VU to enter the Marquette game in the right frame of mind.

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