It’s the kind of “non-trend trend” which has to drive a coach batty. VU head coach Melanie Balcomb watched her team hit 52 percent of its shots in the SEC opener against Texas A&M last Friday night. However, A&M hit 56 percent of its field goal attempts. Okay, so Vanderbilt needed to work on its defense and figure things out at that end of the floor.
This past Monday night, then, Vanderbilt held a powerful Tennessee team to 36-percent shooting from the floor. The Commodores responded the way their coach hoped they would. They played great defense against one of the nation’s best teams.
There was just one problem: Vanderbilt forgot to shoot the rock, hitting only 33 percent of its field goals.
Just good enough to lose – just good enough, more specifically, to be outshot on a strong offensive day (A&M) or a high-level defensive day (Tennessee). One side of the ball gets fixed, only for the other one to fail to hold up its end of the bargain. Adjustments are successfully made and implemented… but without the positive qualities of the previous game being carried over to the next one. This is the rut the Commodores need to escape, and they hope they can do so against LSU.
For a program that has been to three straight NCAA tournaments and back-to-back Sweet 16s, this has been a bitterly frustrating season in Baton Rouge. LSU is used to being a next-level program and a Final Four contender – at least the kind of team that will be in the mix when the weekend of the Sweet 16 comes around. This makes the beginning of the 2014-2015 so hard to stomach for head coach Nikki Caldwell.
The Tigers have lost to a number of teams that have high RPIs but not big brand names (Arkansas-Little Rock at 49, Tulane at 46, Long Beach State at 35), but they’ve also thrown in a pair of losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (Miami at 101, Santa Clara at 184). LSU has simply struggled to score this season – that’s the most obvious component of the Tigers’ larger profile. LSU is 10th in the SEC in field goal percentage, dead last in two-point field-goal percentage. Amazingly enough, a team that can’t shoot twos is first in the SEC and 18th in the nation in three-point percentage, at 37.2. The team’s effective field goal percentage is still 12th in the SEC, though, because the two-point percentage is that bad (40.7 percent). LSU’s points-per-possession average of 0.865 is last in the SEC.
Because LSU is so bad at shooting twos, it’s no wonder that the layups and other easy baskets that are part of assists are just not found that often. This has kept down LSU’s assist average, which is stuck in the muck at 10.7 per game, which is not only last in the SEC, but 296th in the nation. The assist-turnover ratio is therefore also absurdly bad, worst in the SEC and 320th in the nation. The one saving grace for this team is that it forces 20.9 turnovers per game. If it hadn’t been able to do that, LSU would be 5-9 or 4-10 instead of 7-7. LSU has to finish plays – that has to be the starting foundation from which this team can then aim for bigger and better things.
Forward – Sheila Boykin – Senior, 6-2; 2014-15: 7.6 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game
Boykin is the third-leading scorer on this roster, which tells you plenty about the Tigers’ offensive woes. Boykin’s rebounding ability puts her in position to get putback opportunities, so her below-modest scoring average should rate as a concern for LSU and Caldwell. They need Boykin to be able to do more on offense, because this is a guard-heavy roster which needs to get some help from the post players.
Forward – Stephanie Amichia – Freshman, 6-1; 2014-15: 3.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Amichia, as a freshman, should not and cannot be expected to pull her own weight. Boykin, as a senior, has to be the one to step forward in this regard. It has to be very disconcerting for LSU fans to realize that their two starting forwards, combined, average 11.2 points per game, which is less than the next player on the roster:
Guard – DaShawn Harden – Senior, 5-9; 2014-15: 12 ppg, 2.6 rpg
Harden has two primary attributes: First, she is a 37-percent three-point shooter, which makes her the player the Commodores have to lock down near the arc. Second, Harden averages 2.6 steals per game, so a Vanderbilt offense which struggled so markedly against Tennessee must protect the ball in Harden’s presence. VU must make sure that it does not commit the kinds of live-ball turnovers that Harden can turn into easy buckets. Since LSU doesn’t know how to score easy buckets (two-point shots near the rim), Vanderbilt doesn’t want to assist the Bayou Bengals in any meaningful way, shape or form.
Guard – Raigyne Moncrief – Sophomore, 5-10; 2014-15: 10.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.9 apg
This is LSU’s best player. Moncrief is a capable scorer, but she’s the best assist passer on the roster, much more so than Harden as a point of comparison. The biggest reason why Moncrief is the best player on the Tigers is that at her size, she’s the best and most prolific rebounder for LSU. It’s staggering to contemplate how she’s able to throw herself into the fray and become a better rebounder than anyone who is at least six feet tall on the roster. Vanderbilt has to match Moncrief’s hunger at both ends of the court.
Guard – Rina Hill – Sophomore, 5-7; 2014-15: 4.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Hill needs to be able to develop a jump shot, one she is confident enough to both take and make, for LSU to become a much better team. Hill has attempted a single three-pointer this season. When opposing teams can cheat off her and focus on both Harden and Moncrief, it’s little wonder that the Tigers would have so many problems generating consistent offense.
Caldwell, in desperate need of offense, knows that she won’t get much from her frontcourt. However, she has to play forward Ann Jones in order to give Boykin and Amichia a rest from time to time. Jones averages 4.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Four more guards are part of LSU’s rotation: Akilah Bethel, Anne Pedersen, Jasmine Rhodes, and Jenna Deemer. Bethel is the team’s third-best rebounder, with 5.4 boards per game. Pedersen chips in 6.1 points per game. Rhodes scores 2.1 points per game, doing very little for the Tigers. Deemer adds 6.8 points per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Manage Moncrief. If Vanderbilt allows Moncrief to score 15 points, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. The main thing to keep in mind about Moncrief is that she rebounds and passes well. Limiting the scope of her impact in non-scoring areas would make it acceptable to allow her a 15-point night. How many other points will Moncrief create for LSU? That’s what Vanderbilt has to limit.
2) Defensive rebounding. It’s not a hard idea to grasp: Since LSU is terrible at shooting twos, Vanderbilt has to grab the misses before the Tigers can put them back in the bucket on offensive follow-ups. If the Dores beat LSU on the defensive glass, their chances of winning skyrocket.
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