The Vanderbilt Commodores have eaten three cupcakes, but as anyone could tell you on the day after Thanksgiving, too much sweet and fattening food isn’t good. A workout is needed to shed a few extra pounds and create a leaner, more effective machine – this is true for the individual human person as a biological being, and it’s true for basketball teams as well. Now, we’re going to begin to learn a lot more about the Commodores as they set up shop in Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic.
This first game tonight against Rutgers is very important for two reasons: First, beating Rutgers will enable Vanderbilt to most likely face Virginia in Saturday’s championship game. If VU can meet UVA, the Commodores will see their RPI rating increase just by virtue of playing the Cavaliers. That’s a tangible goal to shoot for in this game against Rutgers. The second reason it is essential for the Dores to take down the Scarlet Knights is that the act of playing Virginia – one of the tougher teams in the ACC and the nation – will give coach Kevin Stallings a lot more information to gather. Getting to test itself against Virginia will enable Vanderbilt to find out what kind of team it has heading into December.
Clearly, a lot is riding on this rendezvous with Rutgers and Vanderbilt’s foray into action against power conference opponents for the first time this season.
The Scarlet Knights are a mess, but of course, Rutgers athletics is a mess in general. This is the program whose athletic director, Julie Herrmann, has been overshadowed by controversy since she took her post. Subsequent revelations and reports that have emerged since she was hired have reinforced the idea that she never should have been hired in the first place. Herrmann’s problems have mirrored the Rutgers basketball program, which had to deal with the ugly fallout from Mike Rice’s abusive actions toward RU basketball players. This was not a desirable job in the aftermath of the Rice scandal, and Eddie Jordan was asked to pick up the pieces. Not surprisingly, there’s absolutely nothing which points to the notion that the Scarlet Knights are about to improve.
Last season, Rutgers closed out its one year in the American Athletic Conference by going 12-21 overall, 5-13 in the league during the regular season. The Scarlet Knights’ conference record was actually 6-14 due to a split in the AAC Tournament, but the final game of the team’s season was a humiliating 92-31 loss to Louisville in the AAC quarterfinals. The extent of that drubbing offered a perfect metaphor for Rutgers men’s basketball over the past several seasons, especially the past three. It’s going to be a challenge for this program to move forward, but perhaps playing in its backyard will help RU to find some focus against Vanderbilt.
Forward-Center – Greg Lewis – Junior, 6-9, 260 2013-14: 1.5 points per game, 2 rebounds per game
Lewis played only 16 minutes in Rutgers’s embarrassing 68-50 loss to St. Peter’s at home on Tuesday, Nov. 25. He is, however, the starting big man for the Scarlet Knights, because teammate Shaquille Doorson played only six minutes against St. Peter’s. At this early point in the new season, Lewis averages 4.8 points and five rebounds per game. He’s gotten a little better, but only a little, relative to last season.
Forward – Junior Etou – Sophomore, 6-7, 230; 2013-14: 5.3 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game
Etou has nearly doubled last season’s scoring average in the first four games of the new season, posting a 9.8 points-per-game average. He has in fact doubled last season’s rebounding rate, ringing up 9.2 boards per game. Rutgers’ schedule, though, has not captured the eye: George Washington, Farleigh Dickinson, Saint Francis (N.Y.), and St. Peter’s. It will be interesting to see what Etou can go against Vanderbilt’s front line… and vice versa.
Forward – Kadeem Jack – Junior, 6-9, 235; 2013-14: 14.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg
Jack is one of three core returning players for Rutgers this season. His numbers through four games are slightly down from last season: 11.5 points per game and four rebounds. Jack is not a volume shooter. He has only 18 field goal attempts to date this season. However, he is willing to shoot the three and tries to get involved in many ways. Vanderbilt needs to be ready to counter what Jack brings to the table for Rutgers.
Guard – Bishop Daniels – Sophomore, 6-3, 185; 2013-14: N/A
Daniels is a transfer from Miami (Florida) who sat out last season and is trying to get into the flow of what the Scarlet Knights do at the offensive end of the floor. So far this season, Daniels is averaging seven points per game. He didn’t get a long look at Miami to begin with, but he remains a mystery as far as the Commodores are concerned.
Guard – Myles Mack – Senior, 5-10, 175; 2013-14: 14.9 ppg, 4.3 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game
Mack is Rutgers’s best player, but the problem with Mack being the team’s best player is that if a 5-10 point guard stands out more than anyone else, a lot of players with more size, length and bulk are not doing their fair share. Mack is averaging over four rebounds and assists this season, and he’s averaging 3.5 steals as well. He is doing all he can for Rutgers, but his teammates have not been able to pick up the slack. More will need to be said on this in the keys to the game.
The two main reserves Jordan used against St. Peter’s on Tuesday were guard Mike Williams, who averages 5.2 points per game, and forward D.J. Foreman, who averages 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Make Mack earn everything. When one team has a noticeably talented player but a weak supporting cast, and that star player averages 3.5 steals per game, the battle lines can be clearly drawn. Vanderbilt’s offense needs to make sure that Mack, a practiced and accomplished pickpocket, doesn’t get a bunch of steals that lead to easy baskets. On a more general level, Mack can’t be allowed to get his teammates into the flow of the game. As long as Vanderbilt forces Mack to be a freelancer who has to score points on his own – not by passing to an open player – the Commodores’ defense should be in good shape.
2) Exploit Rutgers’s lack of size. It’s noticeable that the Scarlet Knights do not have highly skilled big men who play extended minutes. Rutgers is a team without quality frontline depth. Vanderbilt needs to be able to punish the Scarlet Knights on drives to the paint and in the battle on the glass.
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