Women's BB Scouting Report: Arizona State
An 8-9 game in an NCAA tournament features teams that did enough work to get into the field, but not enough to separate themselves from the middle layers of the 64-team field. Vanderbilt had visions of a 3 or 4 seed in late January, but a rough four-week stretch at the end of the regular season dropped the Commodores to this most precarious seed matchup in the Big Dance. The arrival of the NCAA tournament, and an unfamiliar opponent outside the SEC, gives coach Melanie Balcomb a chance to build up her players and create a new mindset that will hopefully translate into a meeting with No. 2 Notre Dame on Monday in Toledo.
The fact that this is an earlybird tip-off, at 11 a.m. Eastern, is metaphorically appropriate for Vanderbilt. This team rose early in the SEC season before falling off the pace. On Saturday, there won't be any time for Vanderbilt to lament its recent tailspin. Once the alarm clock goes off and the cobwebby effects of sleep are wiped away, Vanderbilt will begin March 22 with a simple agenda:
Eat. Get situated in Toledo's Savage Arena. Stretch. Loosen up (mentally as well as physically). Brush up on the game plan.
Does Vanderbilt have much of a chance against Notre Dame in the round of 32? You can answer that question for yourself. Regardless of the answer, though, this season will feel a lot more hollow if the VU crew can't at least earn the right to play the Irish and see what can happen in one game, one 40-minute canvas on a basketball court.
Vanderbilt has spent a season testing itself against the best conference in women's college basketball. If the Dores can take care of Arizona State, they can once again take on a member of college basketball's ruling class on Monday. It would be an opportunity worthy of this team and its place in the sport.
ARIZONA STATE AT-A-GLANCE
NOTE: We'll list Arizona State's starting five, but we'll focus on a team-based evaluation in this scouting report rather than funneling the report through the prism of specific players.
Arizona State collapsed much as Vanderbilt did in February and early March. Just before the Pac-12 Tournament, their defense vanished against Oregon, and their offense disappeared against Oregon State. Weeks earlier, ASU got torn apart by Arizona, 68-49. How bad was that clunker? Arizona went 1-18 against the Pac-12 (including the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament) and 5-25 overall.
Vanderbilt and ASU really can relate to each other. They were extremely strong through January, but then fell down the seed list in the final four to five weeks of the season, bowing out of their respective conference tournaments in their first game (Vandy to Georgia, ASU to USC).
Arizona State's Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal against USC showcased the Sun Devils at their best and at their worst. They made enough of a positive impression to show why they are a tournament team, but they left behind enough discouraging signs, proof of why they (like VU) didn't sit near a 4 or 5 seed on Selection Monday.
There are two profound similarities between ASU and Vanderbilt beyond the late-season tailspins. This is not necessarily a season-long observation, but it's based on an evaluation of ASU's loss to USC in the Pac-12 quarters.
The first similarity is that ASU does not consistently hit perimeter shots. Only one player, starting guard and leading scorer Deja Mann, hits more than 33.3 percent of triples. Reserve guard Katie Hempen (32 percent) did have a breakout game against USC in the Pac-12 tourney, making 4-of-6 threes. The Sun Devils, like VU, must find second and third options from the perimeter. They'll need to hit some shots (basketball can be analytically uncomplicated like that) to space the floor and open up driving lanes. Vanderbilt can identify with that same need. In the Pac-12 Tournament loss to USC, the Sun Devils hit just 5-of-16 threes. Vanderbilt would take that shooting stat right now if offered a chance to sign a contract.
The other point to make about Arizona State in comparison with Vanderbilt is that its frontcourt is not overwhelmingly powerful and dips in and out of games. Center Joy Burke is very tall but not that strong. Forward Kelsey Moos has a nose for the ball but struggles to finish plays near the rim against size and length. There's not going to be too much mystery in this game, at least in the sense that the Dores and Devils both struggle in certain components of competition. The side that fixes its problems to a greater degree is going to be the side that wins.
Here's where Vanderbilt must really devote its attention on Saturday: the defensive glass. The one thing Arizona State did really well in its conference tournament loss to USC was chase down missed shots. The Sun Devils grabbed 14 of their 32 misses, nearly a 50-percent rate. Burke's size and wingspan helped in this regard, but the much smaller Moos actually outperformed Burke (11 rebounds to 9 overall, 5-4 on the offensive backboard). Moos is that kind of player who isn't physically imposing but is such an excellent student of the game that she's always in the right position. Vanderbilt can't allow itself to be caught off guard by Moos on Saturday.
The other big detail to keep in mind when sizing up Arizona State is that the Sun Devils basically play with two units, creating a dynamic in which a group of 10 players are counted on to provide production. This is just not a team that wants individual performers to soar; it's a team that depends on balance.
Head coach Charli Turner Thorne -- an accomplished coach who has guided this program to multiple Elite Eights over the past seven years, powered by WNBA champion Briann January (in 2012, with the Indiana Fever) -- will shuttle five-player groups in and out of the lineup. Eight Sun Devils played at least 16 minutes in the loss to USC, and two other players played 8 minutes. Mann and teammate Elisha Davis are the quickest members of the backcourt and the foremost sources of energy for this team. Adrianne Thomas is a two-guard who was body-snatched against USC. Thomas committed bad fouls, coughed up multiple turnovers, and finished with only 4 points in 21 ragged minutes. Thomas is a weak link Vanderbilt must attack on Saturday.
Forward – Sophie Brunner – Freshman, 6-1; 2013-14: 7.5 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game
Forward – Kelsey Moos – Freshman, 6-0; 2013-14: 7.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg
Guard – Promise Amukamara – Junior, 5-8; 2013-14: 7 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Guard – Adrianne Thomas – Senior, 5-9; 2013-14: 8.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 assists per game
Guard – Deja Mann – Senior, 5-7; 2013-14: 11.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 apg
You've met Hempen, Burke and Davis. Guards Eliza Normen and Arnecia Hawkins plus center Quinn Dornstauder round out an 11-player rotation. .
Keys to the Game
1) Defensive rebounding. If ASU can't chase down its missed shots, it will be very hard for the Sun Devils to oust Vanderbilt. This should be the first three keys to the game.
2) Balanced scoring. Vanderbilt needs to play Arizona State's music and get (meaningful) balance at the offensive end of the floor. This can't just be a "Christina Foggie and one other player" production for the Dores. Melanie Balcomb needs to see four or five players emerge after a week and a half of much-needed down time. Rest must become a tonic for this team, and hopefully, that's exactly what will happen in Toledo.
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