Second Basketball Scouting Report: Texas A&M

The Vanderbilt Commodores might have been thrown off balance by the adjusted schedule they had to deal with this past week. Yet, should a weather-based delay result in a minus-14 offensive rebounding differential against South Carolina? VU knows what it must fix before it hosts Texas A&M on Saturday.


The Vanderbilt Commodores didn't exactly play poor defense against South Carolina on Thursday afternoon. The Gamecocks hit only 37.5 percent of their shots (exactly three-eighths of their 64 attempts). They made only four three-pointers (31 percent of their triples for the day). Heck, South Carolina hit only 62 percent of its foul shots as well. How did Vanderbilt lose? Let's take some time to unpack the answer.

There are multiple ways to examine basketball. Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which to view "offense and defense." Some people will separate "initial offense" or "initial defense" from rebounding, while others will bundle them together. Defending a player – preventing him from making a shot – is a separate skill in relationship to rebounding. However, once you successfully defend a player, you then have to rebound his missed shot. You can see why people on both sides of the divide would form their own opinions about the relationship between "offense/defense" and "rebounding." A wall exists between the terms, and yet at the same time, it's just as true that they are indeed part of the same (larger) piece.

Regardless of your own viewpoint, then, Vanderbilt certainly failed to beat South Carolina because it couldn't protect the defensive glass. Whether you call that part of "defense" or not is up to you, but VU couldn't box out once it forced a miss from the Gamecocks. South Carolina snared 26 offensive rebounds compared to 12 for the Commodores. In a six-point game (65-59 in favor of the Gamecocks), those 14 extra possessions certainly mattered. Yes, Vanderbilt also missed nine foul shots (out of 23), but the team's inattentiveness to the defensive backboard is what cost Kevin Stallings' students more than anything else.

No team ever wants to concede extra possessions, of course, but Vanderbilt's lack of depth makes the Dores a group that is particularly vulnerable to wear and tear if it has to play an extra 25 to 35 seconds of defense at a time. The mantra from Stallings to his team has to be something akin to this: "Work harder in the short run so that you aren't forced to put in more work in the long run."

TEXAS A&M AT-A-GLANCE

The Aggies are not a complicated team – they can be understood fairly easily. Coach Billy Kennedy's bunch is 5-6 in the SEC, but only one of its five conference wins has occurred when it has scored fewer than 69 points. On the other side of the coin, only one of its six SEC losses has occurred when A&M has scored more than 55 points. This team has a feast-or-famine offense, and the Aggies' level of output at that end of the floor typically determines how this team fares on gameday.

Texas A&M visited both Kentucky and Florida this season and was wiped out each time. There's nothing particularly threatening about this team; Vanderbilt waxed the Aggies by 11 in College Station a few weeks ago, so there's no reason the Dores can't find success a second time against A&M.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Kourtney Roberson –
Junior, 6-9, 244; 2013-14: 9.8 points per game, 7 rebounds per game

Roberson's scoring and rebounding output have barely budged relative to the last time these teams played, on Jan. 25. We mentioned in the first scouting report of the Aggies that only one player, Jamal Jones, averages at least 10 points without rounding up to the nearest whole number. That's still the case, with Roberson stuck at just under 10 points per contest. Want to know why A&M struggles to score? The answer is right there – no second scoring option truly exists on this team. Vanderbilt should be able to hold the Aggies at 55 points a second time.

Forward/Guard – Jamal Jones – Junior, 6-8, 197; 2013-14: 12.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg

Jones is the best scorer on this team… and he hits 36.7 percent of his shots. Sometimes, sports aren't complicated; the same goes for sports analysis.

Forward – Antwan Space – Sophomore, 6-8, 224; 2013-14: 5.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Space has replaced Fabyon Harris in the Aggies' starting five, one of two changes to the starting lineup that has occurred over the past three weeks. The statistical profile indicates that Space is little more than a "grunt guy" for Texas A&M, and that's precisely why this team doesn't have the resources needed to become a top-tier (or even second-tier) team in a mediocre 14-school conference. It takes work (or a lot of bad luck regarding injuries and departures, which is what Vanderbilt has endured) to be seventh place or worse in this year's SEC. Texas A&M, try as it might, just can't put the ball in the bucket in live play or do enough to compensate at the foul line. The skill level on this roster is not where it needs to be, which is striking in light of the fact that A&M made the Sweet 16 in 2007.

Guard – Shawn Smith – Freshman, 6-4, 192; 2013-14: 6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.3 apg

Smith has replaced Jordan Green in the Aggies' starting five. The details that apply to Space also apply to Smith as well. Kennedy simply has to find more formidable scoring threats if this team is to blossom into more of a force. That blossoming process isn't likely to occur before this season is over. Next November is when the Aggies need to take the proverbial "next step."

Guard – Alex Caruso – Sophomore, 6-5, 183; 2013-14: 8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, steals per game, 2 steals per game

Caruso's averages have all declined over the past three weeks: His scoring average is down 1.3 points per game; rebounds are down 0.2 per game; assists are down 0.5 per game; steals 0.2 per game. Caruso is still the most complete player on the roster, but his best brand of ball has not been quite as good as it was in January. That's part of the story behind this team's continued struggles.

Bench

In what is now a nine-man rotation, the two main reserves for the Aggies other than Green and Harris are forwards Tavario Miller and Davonte Fitzgerald. Of these two players, Fitzgerald is more productive, averaging 7.3 points per game. Miller averages only 2.1 points per game, though he does chip in with 2.4 rebounds per contest.

Keys to the Game

1) No cheapies.
Let's not get complicated: No easy baskets due to turnovers, and don't defend without fouling. If VU can prevent A&M from getting cheap points, it should thrive.

2) Box out at the defensive end of the floor. Another simple key: If the Commodores don't allow second-chance points, A&M will have a devil of a time scoring.

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