Women's Basketball Scouting Report: Auburn

The Vanderbilt Commodores lacked answers on defense this past Sunday against South Carolina, particularly in the paint. Tonight's game against Auburn offers the Commodores a chance to regroup and re-establish the trajectory they want for the SEC season.


Vanderbilt fell short this past Sunday, surrendering 76 points on 54-percent field goal shooting while finishing with a minus-8 point differential (14 to 22) at the free throw line against South Carolina. The Gamecocks took the court with a freshman point guard, and yet you wouldn't have known it by the way they operated on offense in halfcourt situations. Center Alaina Coates came off the bench to score 24 points and grab 10 rebounds, anchoring South Carolina's offense. Tonight's game against Auburn will show us if Vanderbilt can toughen up its interior defense, clamping down in terms of low-post defense and the denial of dribble penetration into the paint.

Vanderbilt was not particularly efficient or potent on offense against South Carolina, but a team's defense needs to travel on the road. While this is obviously a very small sample size, it's true that through two SEC games, Vanderbilt's defense has been very different depending on location. A home-court effort against Georgia and a road-court performance against South Carolina offered two sharply contrasting portraits. Vanderbilt needs to show that it can defend at a high level in a road environment, especially on the low blocks and near the rim. Defending without fouling is just one of the details the Dores need to tend to tonight.

AUBURN AT-A-GLANCE

The Tigers have an RPI of 51, making them one of the less imposing foes in this challenging stretch of games for Vanderbilt. Yet, Auburn is good enough to pose a substantial threat to the Commodores. All in all, the larger attempt to survive the first three weeks of the SEC season depends on being able to win this game. Beating top-20 RPI teams is a much bigger ask. Beating teams in the 25 to 60 range has to occur in order for a team to finish in the top tier of the SEC and gain a strong NCAA tournament seed.

Auburn has been a relatively inconsistent team this season, including the past month. The Tigers defeated UCLA but then got smacked by Minnesota, showing two different sides of themselves against teams within 10 spots of them in the RPI (UCLA has an RPI of 61, Minnesota 43). Auburn is something of a mystery at this point for another reason as well: The Tigers have played only one game since Dec. 22, an 82-74 win over Mississippi State on Jan. 5. As the Tigers prepare for the heart of the SEC season, will this game against Vanderbilt involve a great deal of sluggishness due to a lack of regular game play, or will the Tigers find a comfortable rhythm as they settle into twice-per-week game nights on Sundays and Thursdays? It's hard to say. If Vanderbilt is trying to find consistency on defense, Auburn is in search of a higher and steadier standard in its own right. Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy has a lot of work to do.

Starting Lineup

Center/Forward – Tra'Cee Tanner –
Sophomore, 6-3; 2013-14: 16.4 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game, 2.1 steals per game

This is Vanderbilt's foremost defensive challenge tonight. As mentioned above, the Commodores were hurt by South Carolina center Alaina Coates this past Sunday. Vanderbilt needs to show that it can handle an opposing low-post player near the rim. Providing help defense, making rotations to perimeter shooters, and gang-rebounding on defense are issues that will probably flow from the way in which Vanderbilt defends Tra'Cee Tanner, teammate of Tyrese Tanner on this Auburn squad.

Forward/Guard – Tyrese Tanner – Senior, 6-1; 2013-14: 9.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 blocked shots per game

Notice how strong a rebounder Tyrese Tanner is at 6-1. Both Tanners are the best rebounders on the Tigers' roster. Matching the Tanners' energy on the glass will be a significant talking point when Melanie Balcomb gathers this team for a pregame talk. Rugged defense within 10 feet of the basket, supplemented by authoritative rebounding, will go a long way toward winning this game for the Commodores.

Guard – Hasina Muhammad – Junior, 6-1; 2013-14: 13.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.7 steals per game

Muhammad makes her presence felt in numerous ways, but she's not a good shooter, either from three-point range (25 percent) or the foul line (56 percent). More will be said about the composition of this team as you go down the roster, starting with the next player in the starting five:

Guard – Brandy Montgomery – Freshman, 5-10; 2013-14: 11.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 steals per game

What's true of Muhammad is also true of Montgomery. She plays quality defense and manages to facilitate this team's offense. However, her level of shotmaking prowess remains a weakness. She hits 29 percent of her threes and only 64 percent of her foul shots.

Guard – Kiani Parker – Junior, 5-9; 2013-14: 2.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.9 steals per game

Parker is a fine passer and a formidable perimeter defender, but she is even more limited than Muhammad and Montgomery in her ability to hit outside shots and provide a measure of inside-outside balance to a team that likes to score in or near the paint. Parker hits just 25 percent of her threes and 38 percent of her foul shots. She doesn't even look for her offense, but the larger point is clear about the non-Tanner members of Auburn's starting five: They don't shoot well from distance or from the charity stripe.

Bench

Williams-Flournoy uses a nine-player rotation. Auburn likes to attack the basket, and so reserve center Peyton Davis will demand a considerable degree of attention. She is a 6-5 senior who averages 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Other reserves include forward-guard Katie Frerking, who averages 5.5 points per game; forward Cabriana Capers, who provides 3.6 rebounds per game; and guard Allina Starr, who hands out 3.3 assists per game. Auburn succeeds to the extent that it has a lot of players who rebound, pass, and play defense. The Tigers do need a perimeter scorer to emerge, though, if they want to vault past Vanderbilt and climb to the top tier of the SEC this season.

Keys to the Game

1) Tame the Tanner Tigers.
The focus of the Vanderbilt game plan, especially on defense, obviously has to be the Tanners. The Commodores must contain Tra'Cee and Tyrese in the low post and on the glass. If VU fails in this regard, only a magnificent offensive display would likely save the Dores on the Plains.

2) Team rebounding and sensible passing. Auburn has so many good rebounders and defenders. Up and down the roster, Vanderbilt needs to box out and make simple passes on offense to avoid giving Auburn extra possessions, either through offensive rebounds or steals.

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