Basketball Scouting Report: Lipscomb

The Vanderbilt men's basketball team passed its first test of the season. More challenging games await next week, so it's important to avoid a stumble at home on Friday night against a Nashville neighbor, the Lipscomb Bisons.


Any win is a good win, but the Vanderbilt Commodores bagged an above-average scalp – not an elite scalp, but an above-average one – when they took down Georgia State on Tuesday night. VU had the distinct pleasure of dealing former Kentucky Wildcat Ryan Harrow yet another loss in head-to-head competition. The Dores withstood Harrow's scoring onslaught, taking a positive step forward despite the two noticeable gaps on their roster, the ones spelled "K-E-D-R-E-N" and "K-E-V-I-N." The road ahead is a long one, but bolstered by the conquest of Georgia State, Vanderbilt should feel very good about itself heading into this next clash with a fellow city dweller, Lipscomb.

Butler, Providence and Texas line the schedule next, so VU needs to tuck this game away – ideally without any drama, but any kind of win will do as long as no one gets hurt.

LIPSCOMB AT-A-GLANCE

Lipscomb could be a dangerous opponent on Friday. The Bisons have already lost to one Nashville-based opponent, the Belmont Bruins, and will therefore be intent on avoiding a loss to another. This will be a motivated team, one that the Commodores will need to push back in the first 10 minutes. However, while the Bisons might play with passion, will they play with the precision needed to vex Vanderbilt?

Lipscomb endured a miserable 2012-2013 season, tumbling to 12-18 overall and 7-11 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Head coach Scott Sanderson has seen better days on the job, and after suffering an 87-83 setback against Belmont, he will feel the need to rebound against VU. It's only the first full week of the season, but Lipscomb might play with a sense of desperation in Memorial Gym.

The big takeaway from Lipscomb's loss to Belmont – the main basis for evaluating the Bisons at this early stage in the season – is that Lipscomb could not defend without fouling. The big story of the college basketball season is (and will continue to be) the new and stringent rules governing hand-checking and fouls in general. It will take weeks if not months for most teams to get used to these points of emphasis. Therefore, early-season games could turn based on a team's ability to avoid fouling… or not. Lipscomb fell short in this respect against Belmont.

The Bisons hit 52.5 percent of their field goal attempts against Belmont. They attempted 10 more shots, made six more three-pointers, registered 10 more assists (20 to 10), eight more offensive rebounds (11 to 3), and 15 more rebounds (42 to 27). Yet, they lost. Why? They committed 35 fouls to Belmont's 20. Lipscomb enabled Belmont to shoot 52 free throws (that's not a misprint). The Bruins made only 33 of those 52 shots (63.5 percent), but that conversion rate was still enough to win. Belmont outscored Lipscomb at the charity stripe, 33-9, taking advantage of a plus-33 margin in attempts (52 to 19).

Anyone want to guess what Lipscomb's first, second and third priority will be against Vanderbilt?

Starting Lineup

NOTE: Against Belmont, Sanderson used what was essentially a seven-man rotation, with two bench players receiving close to double the minutes of two officially listed starters. The lineups will provide the official starting five and put the two high-minute bench players under the "bench" subheading.

Forward – Martin Smith –
Junior, 6-4, 190 2012-13: 11.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists per game

If you're watching this game live inside Memorial Gym, be prepared to differentiate Lipscomb's Smiths from each other. There are three Smiths on the roster. Martin is one, Malcolm Another, Charles (a reserve not in the core seven-man rotation) another. Martin Smith is a capable passer who is willing to shoot long-distance shots. He operates at many points on the floor and will therefore deserve some attention from Vanderbilt's defense. How much attention? That's the real question. We'll see where things stand at the under-12 timeout in the first half.

Forward – Malcolm Smith – Junior, 6-5, 210; 2012-13: 4.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Malcolm Smith operates closer to the basket than Martin Smith does. He earned eight free throw attempts against Belmont and pulled down eight boards. Smith isn't tall, but he's chiseled, and Vanderbilt will need to be ready to absorb his energy within 10 to 12 feet of the basket.

Guard – J.J. Butler – Sophomore, 6-3, 195; 2012-13: 1.5 ppg, 1 rpg

Butler is one of the two Lipscomb starters who did not receive a normal starter's workload against Belmont, playing only 18 minutes. His meager averages last season reinforce the notion that Butler is a placeholder in the lineup and not as much of a central presence.

Guard – Talbott Denny – Sophomore, 6-6, 200; 2012-13: 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg

This is the other "non-starter starter" in the Bisons' lineup. He played only 14 minutes against Belmont, taking just two shots and leaving a minimal statistical footprint on the evening's proceedings.

Guard – J.C. Hampton – Sophomore, 6-1, 180; 2012-13: 6.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2 apg

We're using the Belmont-Lipscomb game as the main basis for evaluating Lipscomb in 2013, so keep in mind that a small sample size is at work here. The next few weeks or months might reveal new dimensions of personality and fresh tendencies from the Bisons, but based on the Belmont game, Hampton is one of the two high-volume shooters on the Lipscomb roster. Hampton took 14 shots and nine threes against Belmont. He hit four of those nine threes, so he's obviously a marksman to be feared. Vanderbilt needs to make Hampton uncomfortable, and if he heats up, the Commodores have to run him off the line. Being able to lock down a formidable shooter will give VU a welcome defensive challenge, one that will enable Kevin Stallings to teach his young team on a number of levels this early in the season.

Bench

The two "bench players" worth monitoring are the two men who played starter-level minutes against Belmont. Carter Sanderson, a 6-1, 170-pound junior, is almost as much of a volume shooter as Hampton. Sanderson attempted 12 field goals against Belmont, making eight of them, and he went 3-of-5 from three-point range. Everything that applies to Hampton for Vanderbilt's scouting report should also apply to Sanderson.

The other member of Lipscomb's core seven-man rotation is guard Khion Sankey, a 6-5, 220-pound senior who is unafraid to fight for loose balls in the paint. Sankey merits attention from Vanderbilt because he excelled in the non-scoring aspects of competition against Belmont, snapping down 11 boards (4 on offense) and handing out 5 assists while collecting 2 steals. Whereas Hampton and Sanderson are shooters first and defenders second, Sankey – like Martin Smith – showed considerable chops as a two-way force.

Keys to the Game

1) Make Lipscomb defend.
The Bisons could not defend without fouling against Belmont. Vanderbilt needs to be relentless in attacking the tin and putting pressure on Lipscomb to get to the right spot at the right time. VU needs to also put pressure on the officials, forcing them to apply the new hand-checking rules that exist in college basketball. Did Lipscomb learn how to defend since the Belmont loss? The Commodores need to test the Bisons on this front and ask them as many questions as possible.

2) Contain the shooters. Hampton and Sanderson are extremely talented. Running them off the three-point line should become a priority for much of this contest. Preventing the Bisons from getting into a long-distance shooting groove will shape the course of the game in a way that will favor VU.

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