Women's Basketball Scouting Report: Ole Miss

The Vanderbilt women's basketball team is now very much ahead of schedule as it moves through the SEC season. Another strong defensive performance has Melanie Balcomb's team in position to gain a 6-1 SEC record through its first seven league games in 2014.


This is what Vanderbilt hoped for… but might not have been conditioned to expect. The Commodores' loss at South Carolina definitely feels more like an aberration than an indicator at this point. Vanderbilt is keeping its opponents in the sixties by pressuring the ball and contesting shots near the rim. It's quite the feat to not only beat Tennessee – as VU did this past Sunday – but to do so by a double-figure margin (11 points) while limiting the high-octane Lady Vols to only 63 points. It's also a spectacular achievement to defeat a elite team so convincingly while losing the battle on the offensive boards, 18-6.

How did Vanderbilt thrive despite absorbing a lot of body blows from Tennessee's tall trees in the low post? The Dores hounded the Lady Vols into 19 turnovers and were able to defend without fouling. Vanderbilt forced Tennessee to win the game from the perimeter and rightly dared Meighan Simmons to win the game. Simmons couldn't do so, hitting just 3-of-11 three-pointers on a day when the Vols went 3-of-17 from long distance. Packing the paint and making excellent choices in terms of which Tennessee players needed to shoot the ball paid off handsomely for VU, which conceded only 13 foul shots and watched Tennessee miss seven of them. The only thing better than the effort level displayed by the Dores on Sunday was the team's high basketball IQ. Vanderbilt thought through the game and processed situations with considerable clarity. Balcomb – who is coaching at a high level right now – has to love the way her team is responding to the challenge of handling a cutthroat SEC.

Now comes a game that is more a psychological challenge than anything else. Vanderbilt has to avoid a letdown against an Ole Miss team that is 0-3 in the SEC. In VU's seven-game stretch at the start of the SEC season (essentially the first half of the league campaign before the nine-game stretch on the back end), this is the least challenging game on the slate, though it has to be said that the win over Georgia a few weeks ago doesn't look as impressive today, with the Bulldogs falling to 0-4 in the SEC. Nevertheless, this is a game Vanderbilt should tuck away without much of a problem. It's up to Balcomb to keep her players vigilant and wakeful. It's up to the leaders on the floor to set the right tone and take care of business tonight in Oxford.

OLE MISS AT-A-GLANCE

The Rebels haven't appeared in the NCAA tournament since 2007, and first-year head coach Matt Insell is trying to build something new in the Tad Pad. Ole Miss is a strange team in that it hasn't come particularly close to winning any of its first three SEC games, but it played Baylor – yes, Kim Mulkey-coached, really-big-deal Baylor – quite well in an 87-80 defeat on Dec. 18. You can be sure that Balcomb will bring up that Baylor result, because human nature can so easily look at an 0-3 record and conclude that the Rebels are doormats. That's just not the case.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Tia Faleru –
Junior, 6-0; 2013-14: 16.2 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game, 1.6 steals per game

When you look at Ole Miss, what stands out about the Rebels is that they work hard, as reflected by their rebounding numbers. This is a team that throws itself at the glass and gets significant rebounding contributions from many different players. Faleru is the best rebounder of the bunch, eclipsing the second-best rebounder on the team (Danielle McCray, who posts an average of 5.6 boards per game) by a considerable margin.

The deeper point to make about Ole Miss's rebounding prowess is that if the Rebels don't get second-chance opportunities – often near the rim, which is naturally where many offensive rebounds will be corralled – they don't score. This point will be explained in greater detail as this scouting report unfolds. The point is plain, though: If Vanderbilt can limit Faleru and the other Rebels on the glass, it will eclipse Ole Miss at its strongest point, thereby taking complete control of this contest.

Forward – Danielle McCray – Junior, 6-1; 2013-14: 7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg

McCray, as noted above, is the number two rebounder on the Rebels. Let's begin to unpack the point about the connection between rebounding and scoring for Ole Miss: McCray hits just 20 percent of her three-point attempts, and Faleru isn't much better, at 27.3 percent. You will continue to see players with solid rebounding totals and poor shooting percentages on this roster. It's a trend Balcomb will find impossible to miss.

Forward – Shequila Joseph – Senior, 6-3; 2013-14: 6.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Joseph is a starter, but she averages only 17.3 minutes per game, whereas reserve Gracie Frizzell, technically listed as a member of this team's bench, averages 29 minutes per contest. Frizzell is the one player on this entire roster who hits over 30 percent of her three-point tries. That stat tells you how hard it is for this team to generate offense when it's not chasing a miss near the rim and putting it back for a quick bucket.

Guard – Valencia McFarland – Senior, 5-4; 2013-14: 15 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.2 apg, 2 steals per game

Faleru is Ole Miss's best low-post player. McFarland is the Rebels' best perimeter player. She might not exceed Faleru in terms of overall quality (that's a debatable point in either direction), but she clearly gets more out of her abilities than any other member of this roster. At 5-4, McFarland is somehow able to pull down almost five boards a game. That's remarkable on so many levels. McFarland has also taken a leadership role when running the Rebels' halfcourt sets. She is by far the team's best distributor, and she's also the best on-ball defender, given her abilities as a pickpocket. However – and this is a broken record for Ole Miss players, as you now know – McFarland hits under 30 percent of her threes (29.4). The Rebels won't make substantial forward strides unless or until they can knock down perimeter shots. Sometimes, basketball really is that simple.

Guard – Diara Moore – Senior, 5-7; 2013-14: 11.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.8 apg

At 5-7, Moore gets over four rebounds per game, affirming this team's greatest strength. As a guard who should be able to function well on the perimeter, Moore hits only 12.5 percent of her three-point attempts, magnifying this team's biggest weakness.

Bench

You've read about Frizzell, a player who is essentially a "sixth starter" for this team. The Rebels' other primary reserves in a nine-deep rotation are forwards Kenyotta Jenkins and Monique Jackson plus guard Amber Singletary. Jenkins averages 4.5 rebounds per game, Jackson 2.4. Singletary averages 2.1 boards per game. The only player on the roster averaging fewer than 2 boards per game is Frizzell, and interestingly enough, she's the only player on this team who shoots at a half-decent rate from three-point range. The The shared characteristics of the players on this team are rather conspicuous, with Frizzell being the noticeable exception to the rule.

Keys to the Game

1) Rebound with energy and commitment at all five positions.
If Vanderbilt denies Ole Miss on the defensive glass, it will win. Period. End of story.

2) Contain McFarland and let the rest take care of itself. McFarland does so many things for the Rebels. If Vanderbilt's defense limits her influence and effectiveness as a passer, Ole Miss will have nowhere else to turn.

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