Basketball Scouting Report: Western Carolina

The Vanderbilt Commodores needed to find a shooting touch in their own building, Memorial Gym. They found it against Purdue on Saturday. Now they need to tighten up on defense as the Western Carolina Catamounts come to town.


In a 2012 NBA playoff game, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich – ticked off at his team’s lack of effort – blurted to his team, “I want some nasty!” The quote was classic Popovich, reflecting the passion of a leader who has scaled the heights in professional basketball.

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings doesn’t have Popovich’s reputation, but he unfurled a quote about Riley LaChance that had the same basic ring to it after the sharpshooter shot down Purdue on Saturday night.

“He has some dirty in him — a good dirty — and some nasty,” Stallings said of LaChance, who led by example and showed that in a home gymnasium, a team ought to shoot well if it gets reasonably open looks. The Commodores shot over 58 percent as a team and hit 9-of-14 3-point attempts. What made LaChance’s performance so impressive was not the 26-point scoreline so much as the way in which he created it. LaChance did hit 3-of-4 triples, but he also hit 6-of-9 twos and 5-of-5 foul shots. He hit the long ball, but he used every spot on the floor and played with aggression. That’s the “nasty” Stallings – and Popovich, and any good basketball coach – can recognize in a player. Can the rest of the Dores follow LaChance’s example?

Tonight against Western Carolina, they’ll want to do so on defense. Vanderbilt has to get more “nasty” at that end of the floor, because road trips to Georgia Tech and Saint Louis are coming up. When playing on the road, you can’t expect shots to fall as regularly as they do at home. Defense is what truly needs to “travel” in basketball. You should always be able to defend with ruggedness and persistence, no matter where you play. Vanderbilt scored a “pretty” win – a very Stallings kind of win – against Purdue, one that came from a maximum of offensive flow. Against Georgia Tech and Saint Louis, VU will have to use the “good dirty” LaChance embodies… but at the defensive end of the floor.

WESTERN CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE

The Catamounts are coached by Larry Hunter, who has spent the last 10 years at WCU and has been a head coach for 35 years. Western Carolina is historically known in a college basketball context for being the 16 seed that – like Princeton against Georgetown in 1989 – came very, very close to toppling a 1 seed. The Catamounts came within an eyelash of beating Purdue in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament in Albuquerque before the Boilermakers escaped.

This year’s WCU crew is off to a 3-6 start, hampered by turnover. Four of last season’s top six players are gone, so Hunter is building almost entirely from scratch. If Vanderbilt wants to gain some practice at playing better defense – the Dores cannot settle for allowing an opponent to hit 47 percent of its shots the way Purdue did on Saturday – Western Carolina might be just the team to give VU a manageable opponent heading into the Georgia Tech game on Saturday.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Torrion Brummitt –
Junior, 6-7, 240 2014-15: 10.4 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game

Brummitt, as you can see, is not particularly tall as the main low-post defender on what is a very small team. No one in the Catamounts’ starting five goes higher than 6-7, so Brummitt – with his bulk and muscle – is the last line of defense and the team’s main rim protector. It’s noticeable that Brummitt knows how to carve out space and box out his opposing man. An average of over seven rebounds a game is no small feat, given that Brummitt will be outsized by most if not all of the post players he faces on a regular basis.

Forward – Kenneth Hall – Senior, 6-7, 210; 2014-15: 3 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Hall played only 18 minutes in WCU’s most recent game, way back on Dec. 5 against Minnesota (before finals week and the lengthy interruption of a schedule which normally occurs for college basketball teams at this time of year). He shares time with forward Justin Browning, a 6-4, 175-pound worker bee who averages 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Guard – James Sinclair – Senior, 6-3, 180; 2014-15: 18.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.7 apg

Here’s the player Vanderbilt must focus on more than anyone else on the WCU roster. Sinclair is a natural scorer – he is a volume shooter and has the mentality of a player who wants the rock in his hands at all times. Unlike some scorers who focus only on that one component of performance, Sinclair attacks all aspects of basketball. He’s an above-average rebounder for his size and weight, and he’s a more-than-adequate passer who will set up teammates if he needs to. If Vanderbilt wants to improve its defense, Sinclair will make the Commodores aware of exactly how – and where – they need to develop. Bottling up Sinclair on the glass and as a passer might prove to be just as important as denying him open looks. Sinclair actually hits under 30 percent of his threes – he likes to go to the basket and apply pressure to a defense. Taking away the dribble from Sinclair – preventing him from getting into the lane – will do a lot to help Vanderbilt’s cause.

Guard – Rhett Harrelson – Junior, 5-10, 170; 2014-15: 16.6 ppg, 3.2 apg

This is another highly capable scorer in the WCU backcourt. Unlike Sinclair, Harrelson is a strong three-point shooter, checking in at 39.1 percent. Sinclair does like to create with the dribble, so he will try to make a kickout pass to Harrelson. Vanderbilt needs to choke off that line of attack and stifle WCU’s halfcourt offense.

Guard – Mike Brown – Junior, 6-3, 175; 2014-15: 13.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.4 apg

As is the case with Harrelson, Brown is a 39-percent three-point marksman. He also needs to become a priority for VU’s perimeter defense. Like Sinclair, though, Brown is excellent at pounding the glass. It’s very much worth noting that Vanderbilt will need to block out Western Carolina’s guards as much as the forwards.

Bench

The Catamounts, at least to this point in the young season, have not found many answers on a bench that’s very thin. You’ve met Justin Browning. Other than him, there just aren’t any players who have left substantial statistical footprints so far this season. Forwards Tucker Thompson and Charlendez Brooks have provided only trace amounts of statistical production this season. The same goes for rarely-used backup guard Devin Peterson.

Keys to the Game

1) Contain Sinclair – more as a rebounder and passer.
It’s one thing if Sinclair scores 20 points on drives and mid-range jump shots. It would be far worse for VU if Sinclair scores 14 but grabs 10 rebounds and hands out 8 assists. Limiting Sinclair’s impact in non-scoring categories – especially the kickouts to Harrelson and Brown – needs to be the true priority for Vanderbilt on defense.

2) Take the ball to the basket and convert at the foul line. In order to prepare for upcoming road tests against Georgia Tech and Saint Louis, Vanderbilt needs to be able to know that it can go strong to the rim and do a better job of converting at the charity stripe. VU was only 16-of-23 at the foul line against Purdue. This team will have to be better on the road in making free throws. It will also have to work very hard to earn 23 foul shots on the road, so 30 attempts would make a good target tonight. When jumpers aren’t falling – and they’re less likely to fall on the road – teams have to know that they can get to the foul line. This is why tonight’s game should lead VU to see what it can achieve in that regard against an undersized opponent.

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