Scouting Report: William & Mary
Kevin Stallings is in a position to prime his young team for the long haul, not for a sprint. The opportunity to get a huge resume-boosting win outside the Southeastern Conference has come and gone. This team won't be able to make a run at the Big Dance based on its non-conference portfolio. The focus should now be to learn and grow as a team, enough to become threat in the SEC Tournament in the middle of March. If Vanderbilt – in a weak league – can play well enough to finish fourth in the SEC, it can gain a first-round bye, polish off a beatable foe in the quarterfinals, and then gain a chance to put together a two-game season in the semifinals and final. If Vanderbilt can use January and February to develop improved skills and better habits, it can win that "two-game season" and defend its SEC Tournament title, thereby making its way back to Bracketville on Selection Sunday. The road to such an endpoint is long, but that's why short-term pressure should melt off the Commodores' backs at this point. Now begins a more extended season with a big-picture view.
Vanderbilt's situation means that this game against William and Mary should be a time for Stallings to give extended minutes to a lot of players, tinkering with combinations before arriving at a more set rotation for the SEC grind. This low-profile non-conference tussle should give Stallings the space and freedom in which to experiment, looking for ways in which his team can mesh to an even greater degree. Vanderbilt needs to find more ways of scoring, more ways in which to the kind of team that can attack opposing defenses from many angles.
WILLIAM & MARY AT-A-GLANCE
The College of William and Mary has never made an NCAA tournament appearance, but current head coach Tony Shaver very nearly accomplished that feat in the 2009-2010 season. The Tribe entered Selection Sunday with a 22-10 record and three high-quality non-conference wins against NCAA tournament teams: Richmond, Maryland, and Wake Forest. The Tribe did endure a few bad conference losses to lower-tier teams from the Colonial Athletic Association, but their eye-popping wins should have given Bill and Mary a spot in what was then a field of 65 teams. Under the current 68-team format, the Tribe might have found a place on the Dance floor. At any rate, it's worth emphasizing that Shaver knows what he's doing in Williamsburg, Va.
William and Mary has one of the better records among CAA teams this season. On the morning before this game against Vanderbilt, the Tribe will know that at 7-4, they are one of just two CAA teams with a winning record, George Mason being the other. (James Madison is 6-6 but doesn't play until Jan. 3.) With Virginia Commonwealth now in the Atlantic 10 Conference, William and Mary has a better, more direct path to the CAA championship. Longtime league power Old Dominion is down as well, giving Shaver's team a legitimate chance to make its first-ever NCAA tournament. That's the good news for this team.
The bad news – or at least, the "curb your enthusiasm" news – for the Tribe is that their winning record is not based on substantial feats of basketball brilliance. William and Mary has lost to Miami University (informally known as Miami of Ohio), Wake Forest, and Richmond. One must note that Wake and Richmond – two victims of Tribal uprisings in 2010 – are no longer NCAA tournament-quality teams. William and Mary doesn't have a particularly big win to its credit as 2013 begins. Radford might be the best win on the slate at this point.
If the Tribe beat Vanderbilt, they could enter the heart of the CAA season with a fresh supply of newly-won legitimacy. Just the same, though, Vanderbilt should treat these Colonial competitors with supreme respect and seriousness.
Forward – Tim Rusthoven – Junior, 6-9, 235 2012-13: 14.3 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, 1.9 assists per game
Rusthoven has a developed, multifaceted skill set that makes him a highly valuable player for Shaver and his coaching staff. Rusthoven is an able passer, and at 6-9, he uses a fairly lean body to knife his way to the rim. Rusthoven makes his presence felt on the boards despite a comparative lack of bulk. For his height, 235 pounds is not particularly imposing, but Rusthoven's court sense enables him to survive in the paint.
Forward – Kyle Gaillard – Junior, 6-8, 220; 2012-13: 9.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.1 apg
Gaillard is cut from the same cloth as Rusthoven, offering the same palate of skills, just on a slightly smaller scale. Gaillard, at 6-8 and 220, is long and lean in much the same way that Rusthoven is. Gaillard hits 55.6 percent of his threes, but don't be alarmed by that statistic – it is the product of only 18 three-point attempts. Rusthoven, as a point of comparison, is much more willing to shoot the long ball than Gaillard, launching 57 bombs this season. Rusthoven, as a result of being a higher-volume three-point shooter, converts only one third of his treys. Gaillard is the best percentage shooter in the Tribe's starting five, hitting 62.9 percent of his shots. That tells you something obvious – he waits for good looks, working to make sure that he is open when he eventually shoots. Vanderbilt must counteract Gaillard with relentless defensive energy.
Guard – Marcus Thornton – Sophomore, 6-4, 185; 2012-13: 18.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg
This is William and Mary's unquestioned meal-ticket scorer. Thornton is a high-volume three-point shooter, and he hits 41.2 percent of his triples, making him a threat whenever he catches the ball near the arc. Thornton's overall field goal percentage is an even 48, which tells you that he has a superb stroke and a scorer's natural feel for the ball. Thornton, at 6-4, can sometimes play over the top of a smaller man, but playing over the top does not always have to be the attack plan for a sophomore who, at 185 pounds, is light on his feet and can glide to the hoop. Thornton will provide VU with a terrific defensive challenge, with Kentucky's backcourt looming next on the schedule.
Guard – Brandon Britt – Junior, 6-2, 195; 2012-13: 14.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 steals per game
This is William and Mary's unquestioned number two scorer when Thornton is locked down or otherwise unavailable. Britt isn't nearly as good a three-point shooter as Thornton, hitting only 34.4 percent of his treys, but his overall field goal percentage is higher, at 52.4, which tells you that he doesn't take bad shots (he's taken only 32 threes compared to Thornton's 68, for instance). He's not as natural a shooter, but he gets into the paint and makes sound decisions with the ball. He's also a pest at the defensive end of the floor, giving ballast to the Tribe in ways that transcend his offensive impact.
Guard – Matt Rum – Senior, 6-4, 200; 2012-13: 4.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3 apg
Rum's identity is clear. He's a glue guy, the kind of player every basketball team needs in order to be successful. While Thornton and Britt carry the scoring load for William and Mary, Rum is the guy (you know him and recognize him) who works off the ball, sets up his teammates for good shots, and gives his all as a defender and rebounder. At 6-4, his rebounding prowess is noticeable. Rum enables William and Mary to remain at least somewhat competitive on the glass, despite the Tribe's lack of beefy, lunch-pail warriors.
Shaver's distribution of minutes acquires a clear pattern. He loads up four of his five starters, giving them at least 31 minutes per game. Rusthoven is the only starter averaging under 27 minutes per contest. The Tribe use two primary reserves in what is typically a seven-man rotation: freshman guard Terry Tarpey and forward Fred Heldring. Junior guard Julian Boatner sometimes gets an extended look from Shaver, but he's clearly eighth in the rotation. Tarpey contributes five rebounds per game. Other than that, William and Mary's reserves don't make a big dent on the stat sheet, reserving their energies for the defensive end of the floor.
Keys to the Game
1) The two hours of power. Vanderbilt's low-post offense needs to get a workout in this game. The Commodores will be facing an opponent that lacks size, going no bigger than 6-9 at any position. More than that, however, one must realize that William and Mary does not possess beefy size. The Tribe have lanky players such as Rusthoven and Gaillard on the low blocks. They cannot and will not win games by outmuscling opponents. Vanderbilt can roll up its sleeves, feed the ball into the post, and back down the Rusthoven-Gaillard combo to create numerous shot opportunities within six feet of the tin.
2) Take away either Thornton or Britt. In the face of two superb backcourt wizards, Vanderbilt should not expect to lock down both Thornton and Britt. As long as one man is contained, the other will have to carry an unusually large load, and that just doesn't fit into a winning offensive performance for the undersized Tribe. If Thornton and Britt both go off, William and Mary can flourish, but as long as half of this duo is kept under wraps, the Virginia-based school will not have a realistic path to prosperity on Wednesday night.
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