Free at last! Free at last! Thank Jeffery Taylor Almighty, the Vanderbilt Commodore basketball team is free at last! Yes, the Vandy hoopsters finally broke free of their chains, chasing away their demons with an authoritative win at Marquette on Thursday night. The team Vanderbilt fans hoped to see before the season finally appeared for 40 whole minutes, with no real lapses and no tissue-soft moments. March is now much more likely to bring an NCAA bid, not an NIT prison sentence. However, the secret to making – and then winning in – March Madness is to bring a big-league effort to the building every night. The challenge of cultivating consistency begins with Monday's game against Miami University.
The Miami (Ohio) Red hawks return three starters and 10 of 13 players from last year's squad. However, the player that they lost wasn't just any player, but a performer who ran the offense for the Redhawks: Kenny Hayes, who started 71 games in his career in Oxford. Under the point guard's guidance, the RedHawks' offense was always secure. Now, Miami has one of the top post players in the MAC in forward Julian Mavunga. Swingman Antonio Ballard and forward Nick Winbush will provide the team with a measure of senior leadership and will have to step up as the main returning starters when MAC competition gets going. Hayes' replacement is Allen Roberts, who is ready to explode this season after a strong freshman campaign. Coach Charlie Coles hopes that the early portion of the schedule will prepare the RedHawks for a nice run when the MAC schedule rolls around. As usual, the crew from Oxford plays a challenging nonconference schedule. They jammed their schedule with all the tough programs from the state of Ohio. They beat Dayton at home, at Xavier, at Cincinnati, versus Wright State, and at Ohio State. That's not cupcake city by any measure.
Center – Drew McGhee– Sophomore, 6-11, 241 2011-12: 3.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg,
As a freshman McGhee played with his back to the basket on almost every play. Drew has some good hands, positive moves (he doesn't futz around) and a nice jump hook that will only improve as he matures as a college basketball player. It is becoming very obvious that McGhee needs to find some weights and actually lift them. When he hits the gym, he will become an even better player and a key component for the Redhawks. In terms of his running ability for a big man, he is average but needs to build some more stamina, and that will come with more time. As he continues to evolve as a student, one thing that will serve McGhee well is that he plays hard and works on the glass. As many players in the MAC, McGhee is a very talented player who will get better with time and strength.
Forward– Jon Harris – sophomore, 6-8, 186; 2011-12: 7.8 peg, 3.9 rpb, .343 3-PT %
Harris is a lefty shooter that can hit shots up to 20 feet. Technically, he is a power forward for Miami, but he has the length and athletic ability to make a move in the future to small forward. Some near the program believe that he will make that move before he graduates. Scouts see Jon as a player who has great upside and a well-rounded skill set to complement his length. Miami is expecting big things from him in conference play and especially in 2013.
Guard/Forward– Josh Sewell – Sophomore, 6-5, 207; 2011-12: 8.9 peg, 3.8 rpg
Sewell is a strong athletic slasher. He has a big body which will only get bigger as his career unfolds. He has a big body and is very good at getting into the lane and finishing. As of right now, he is a decent shooter and can hit the mid-range jumper. He is a good rebounder for his position. The scary thing about Sewell is that if he can improve his jumper, he will become deadly. It will be very tough to guard his slashing ability along with his jumper.
Forward –– Julian Mavunga Senior, 6-8, 232; 2011-12: 19.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Entering this season, it was becoming easy to see that Mayunga would go on to break Miami's all-time games played record. Coming into his season, Julian had played in 98 career games, and the record is 122. However, that was not the only record that Mayunga was on pace to break this year. He cracked 1,000 points this season and ranks in the top 30 in all time leading scorers at Miami. Mayunga ranks in the top 10 in terms of rebounds at Miami. Before the season ends, Mayunga will crack the RedHawks' respective career top-10 lists in both blocked shots and free throws made. Finally, if things go according to plan this season, he will become the 11th player in program history to earn All-MAC honors three times in a career. Julian will carry the Redhawks this season. The team will go as far as he carries them.
Guard – Quinten Rollins – Sophomore, 6-0, 176; 2011-12: 5.8 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.5 rpg
Rollins is a capable point guard, and will only improve and he gets more playing time. There is a trend here with Miami. The RedHawks are a very young but talented team. Rollins was considered a division I football player. He has a very good basketball IQ and is great at running a team. Rollins is also very good at driving to the basket. He has excellent ballhandling skills, which allow him to get in the paint, after which his athletic ability allows him to finish at the rim. The part of Rollins's game that needs to improve is his shooting. (You can also see that Miami is not a great shooting team, to say the least). Rollins is also a good perimeter defender.
The Miami bench isn't as deep as it has been in past years, and if the RedHawks want to threaten Vanderbilt, they are going to need to get more production out of their bench players. Some of those players include guardBrian Sullivan, forward Adam Thomas, and center Vince Legarza. If these players cannot step up to the challenge it's going to be a long night in Nashville for the group from Oxford, Ohio. The RedHawks' starting five can compete against VU, but as is the case in games like this, the difference always shows in depth between the teams, and that's where Miami will be acutely challenged.
Keys to the Game
1) Retain what was cultivated and created in Milwaukee against Marquette. Let's not complicate the issue. If the Vandy team that played Marquette can stick around for three months, this will be a big season. Period.
2) Pound the ball inside. Be physical. Be authoritative. Exploit Miami's youth and lack of size. Punch the RedHawks in the mouth. It sounds like a football pep talk, but it applies to basketball, which – as you know – is NOT a non-contact sport.