Basketball Scouting Report: Saint Louis

The Vanderbilt basketball team, for one more time in 2014, tries to claim a winnable game on the road. Saint Louis is not what it once was. Can Vanderbilt become what it wants to be in the near future?


It’s useless to spill too many words in service of a very simple and obvious idea, one worn down by failures against Rutgers and Georgia Tech: Vanderbilt needs to win a game away from home. While a familiar shooting environment helps, basketball is still basketball. The gym is lit. There’s a 94-foot-long floor. There are two backboards with white squares painted on them. There are two rims with dead spots behind them, attached to the backboard. The three-point lines don’t move back on the road. The parameters of the lane remain the same.

Basketball is basketball, regardless of the location. Vanderbilt needs to be able to play the same game it does in Memorial Gym, displaying the same comfort level it often does in its own building. Until this nagging deficiency can be fully addressed, this team will not be able to realize anything close to its full potential. Head coach Kevin Stallings is painfully aware of this, but mere awareness is not a guarantee that problems will be solved. It’s all in the doing, not the talking, for the VU crew in Saint Lou on New Year’s Eve afternoon.

SAINT LOUIS AT-A-GLANCE

The Billikens are starting over after a great run started by the late, great Rick Majerus and continued by current coach Jim Crews. Saint Louis built a brand on being the toughest, peskiest, most thoroughly irritating team on the block, a total nuisance for any opponent. The Billikens played relentless defense in the mold of a vintage Bo Ryan Wisconsin team. Unceasing effort, crisp actions at the offensive end, and good floor spacing made Saint Louis the team no power conference behemoth would want to stare down. The Billikens made their way to a steady stream of NCAA tournaments and made the likes of Michigan State and Louisville work very hard for March Madness wins. (The 2013 tournament witnessed a collapse against Oregon in a game that just didn’t break right.) With veterans such as Jordair Jett, Rob Loe, Dwayne Evans, and Jake Barnett on the scene, Saint Louis established a core and then built around it to become an annual NCAA team, the kind of program Vanderbilt wouldn’t mind becoming.

Now, though, that veteran core is gone. The Billikens are playing two freshmen in the starting five. They’ve lost four games, most of them to no-name opponents that will hurt the RPI rating. The Billikens are 8-4 and are in possession of a resume that’s not borderline NCAA, but borderline CBI. Saint Louis has to do a tremendous amount of damage in the Atlantic 10 Conference just to play its way into the NCAA conversation. This is yet another beatable team for Vanderbilt on the road, but the Dores have to defeat this demon and create a new reality as they prepare for conference action in several days.

Starting Lineup

Center – John Manning –
Junior, 6-11, 240 2014-15: 3.3 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game

Manning, a veteran on this team, is not a big contributor or a guy who will eat up a lot of minutes. He played only 19 minutes in SLU’s most recent game, a 58-55 win over Vermont on Dec. 21. Backup center Austin Gillmann played 16 minutes against Vermont and should see decent minutes in this game. He averages 4.6 points and 1.8 rebounds.

Forward – Milik Yarbrough – Freshman, 6-6, 230; 2014-15: 8 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Yarbrough is one of two freshmen Crews is relying on to carry a heavy workload this season. Saint Louis needs more from every player on its roster, but while making that statement, it has to be said that the freshmen aren’t the ones who should be expected to do the most. In what is a very small lineup for SLU – three guards are starters – Vanderbilt should have opportunities to feed and attack the post and force Yarbrough to defend the interior with his 6-6 frame.

Guard – Davell Roby – Freshman, 6-4, 200; 2014-15: 3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg

Roby is trying to be nursed along by Crews, but he still played the fifth-most minutes of any Billiken against Vermont (21). Guard Mike Crawford played 27 minutes against Vermont. He averages 6.2 points, twice Roby’s average. This team really does things by committee, especially in the backcourt. The Billikens try to win with balance and their ability to share the ball. This is not a team with one or two go-to scorers.

Guard – Achraf Yacoubou – Junior, 6-4, 210; 2014-15: 9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 apg

This is SLU’s most complete player. Yacoubou provides a mixture of scoring and rebounding energy. He is the best rebounder on the team, but what makes that impressive is that he does so at 6-4. If there’s a player the Commodores have to watch, this is the one.

Guard – Austin McBroom – Junior, 5-9, 165; 2014-15: 10.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.8 apg

McBroom is the highest scorer on the team, but not the most complete player. His non-scoring stats are rather barren, so as long as VU can play strong man-to-man defense on McBroom and force other players to shoot, the Dores can make Saint Louis sweat on Wednesday afternoon.

Bench

You’ve met Austin Gillmann and Mike Crawford. Two other reserves who gained at least 11 minutes against Vermont are guard Marcus Bartley and forward Tanner Lancona. Bartley averages 3.4 points and 1.8 assists per game. Lancona averages 2.5 points per game. You can see that this is a team which just doesn’t generate substantial numbers in any category. That’s a team which hasn’t accomplished much this season.

Keys to the Game

1) Defensive rebounding.
Recall this game key against Georgia Tech on the road? Saint Louis doesn’t have dynamic shooters, so the Dores have to keep the Billikens a one-and-done team at the offensive end of the floor. If Vanderbilt doesn’t give away points, it will have a very good chance to win.

2) Low-post offense. Saint Louis does not have imposing size at all five positions, so in a road game – when long shots might not fall due to unfamiliarity with the shooting backdrop – it is advisable to attack the basket and try to get six-foot or four-foot looks at the basket. If Vanderbilt can create the right spacing and put its forwards in position to succeed, this road game might turn out differently from the one in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.

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