Basketball Scouting Report: Marshall
The state of Vanderbilt men's basketball is not particularly strong at the moment. Sadly yet undeniably, the losses of Kedren Johnson and Kevin Bright are turning out to be as substantial as everyone around the program figured. Even small doses of those two players' skills would have made a difference for VU on Monday night against Texas. A lack of balanced scoring and widely-spread contributions from the roster left the Dores shorthanded in terms of manpower… and short by six points on the scoreboard in Austin (70-64).
Vanderbilt is now 0-3 against power conference teams this season. The Commodores lost to Butler and Providence before bowing to Texas. If this team wants to achieve anything of note in non-conference play, it will need to beat both Georgia Tech (Dec. 21) and Saint Louis (Dec. 30). Yes, the Atlantic 10 might not be considered a "power" conference within a narrow context, but the league produced a few legitimate Final Four threats last season – lower-tier threats, but threats nevertheless. Saint Louis and VCU were both top-five seeds in the NCAA tournament (SLU at four, VCU at five), so one can view the Billikens as a "power conference team" in a larger context.
The point is plain: Vanderbilt has to be ready to win against Georgia Tech and Saint Louis. The two-game stretch against Marshall and Austin Peay must prepare the Dores for the road ahead. Since this matchup with Marshall is the last game VU will play until Dec. 17, it's important for head coach Kevin Stallings to gain some important lessons and teaching tools from 40 game-clock minutes inside Memorial Gym.
Marshall is just beginning to face the tough part of its non-conference schedule. Head coach Tom Herrion has struggled to lift Marshall to the top tier of Conference USA, and if he's going to achieve anything this season, his Thundering Herd has to prove itself in the next week and a half. Marshall follows this visit to Vanderbilt with a road trip to Penn State and then a home game against in-state rival West Virginia on Dec. 14. Marshall, like Vanderbilt, is looking for its first win against a power conference team. Vanderbilt must wait a few weeks for its opportunity, but Marshall gets a shot in Nashville on Thursday night. The Thundering Herd might be seen as a legitimate underdog (that would be the proper inclination here), but that very reality might lead the visitors from Huntington, W. Va., to play with great energy and enthusiasm.
Forward – Elijah Pittman – Senior, 6-9, 220; 2013-14: 23.7 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game
The first thing to keep in mind about Pittman's glossy scoring numbers is that they're the product of a soft schedule. A robust effort from Vanderbilt's defense should be able to hold Pittman under 20 points. It's true that Pittman has scored at least 29 points in four games this season, but the quality of opposition has played a role in enabling him to stuff the stat sheet.
In terms of assessing Pittman as a scorer, he doesn't shoot free throws well but hits almost 40 percent of his threes. He's a volume shooter as well. He has attempted at least 17 field goals in four games this season, at least 13 in six. He has attempted at least 11 threes in four games this season. Taking him out of his comfort zone in the first 10 minutes of play will be important for Vanderbilt.
Forward – Ryan Taylor – Freshman, 6-5, 225; 2013-14: 11.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg
The fact that a 6-5, 225-pound player is easily Marshall's best rebounder should tell you something about Taylor's determination and work ethic. If Vanderbilt doesn't match Taylor's energy on the glass, Marshall will be able to gain a number of extra possessions and give Pittman a number of additional looks at the basket.
Forward – Cheikh Sane – Junior, 6-9, 225; 2013-14: 2.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg
Sane is listed as a starter, but he doesn't receive starter-level minutes (under 15 per game). If he's playing solid defense, he's justifying his place on the floor for Herrion and the Herd.
Guard – Chris Thomas – Sophomore, 6-5, 188; 2013-14: 13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.6 apg
Thomas is a poor three-point shooter (27 percent) but a strong two-point shooter (55 percent). You don't have to know the ins and outs of modern basketball analytics to know how Thomas should be defended. (He hits only 59 percent of his foul shots, weirdly enough.)
Guard – Kareem Canty – Freshman, 6-1, 185; 2013-14: 17 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 7.3 apg
This is Marshall's best player. Pittman, a senior, is a scorer. Canty, though only a freshman, can score and share the ball. The fact that he's both a scoring and passing threat makes Canty far more dynamic and versatile than anyone else on the Herd's roster. Yet, his identity as a freshman means that strong on-ball pressure from Vanderbilt could rattle Canty and change the trajectory of this game in the Dores' favor.
Three players fill out what is generally an eight-man rotation for Marshall: Forwards TyQuane Goard and Shawn Smith plus guard Tamron Manning. The only substantial statistical footprint to emerge from these three players is found on the glass. Goard and Manning both average four rebounds a game (Goard technically at 4.3). When Marshall's subs rotate into the game, the Thundering Herd becomes a better rebounding team if Taylor is not replaced in the process.
Keys to the Game
1) Send a message on defense, especially to Pittman and Canty. Marshall has not played high-quality teams this season. Vanderbilt can rattle the Thundering Herd with a strong defensive performance in the first 10 to 12 minutes. When Marshall sits down for the under-eight-minute television timeout, the Thundering Herd need to realize that they're going to have a very difficult time scoring against the Commodores. If Vanderbilt can plant that seed, it should be able to dominate the rest of the way.
2) Get balanced contributions. Vanderbilt needs more (and different) players to step up each night. Eric McClellan, Rod Odom, and Kyle Fuller need help if VU is to become a complete team… one that can sweep the Georgia Tech-Saint Louis non-conference double in the latter part of December. The path to those two games begins here against Marshall. The Dores' supporting cast has to cultivate a much greater sense of confidence.
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