Women's Hoops Scouting Report: Florida
The laws of averages can be fickle – they can disappear on one day when expectations are shattered. However, they exist for a reason and command respect over the longer run of a given season, because – as coaches like to say – “you are what you are.” If teams want to change the laws of averages, they need to step inside the painted lines and prove that the “averages” need to be readjusted. Accordingly, if the averages change, the laws affecting them will also bend. However, if a team can’t step outside of a given identity or pattern over the course of many weeks, especially within the familiar competitive combat of conference play, any exception to the laws of averages remains just that: an exception, not a sign of profound and enduring change.
This is where the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team finds itself after scoring just 44 points in a blowout loss to Mississippi State.
The truth is made plain in blowouts, both wins and losses alike. When a loss is as lopsided as the one VU just absorbed, there’s no real comfort to be found. Vanderbilt had hoped that in Mississippi State, it had an opponent that was simply a favorable matchup. After all, the Commodores exploited MSU’s defense for 78 points earlier in the season. The game offered not the certainty, but the shining hope, that Vanderbilt’s offense could exist at a much higher plateau than previously thought. Yes, the past few weeks have been difficult for the Dores at the offensive end of the floor, but with a return engagement looming against the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt had one more reason to hope that it could turn the “on” switch against a good team when it really needed to prove something.
The fact that VU so obviously couldn’t find more magic the second time around against Mississippi State shows that, lamentably, this team doesn’t have a safe place – or a uniquely vulnerable opponent – it can repeatedly turn to in a time of need. Failing to do well against Mississippi State in a rematch does a lot to confirm what many already suspected: No, that 78-point outing against MSU a few weeks ago was not an indicator. It was the “A-word,” a word players and coaches hate to hear in negative situations and love to discover in positive situations: an aberration. Much as it’s great to know that a wild loss doesn’t truly define who or what you are as a team, it’s equally discouraging to realize that a fabulous victory did not reveal the true measure of your identity midway through the conference season. Vanderbilt and head coach Melanie Balcomb had hoped this was the answer, but Thursday’s loss in Starkville have to live with that reality… and now attempt to build something stronger and more durable as the month of February begins.
We’ll see if that loss to Mississippi State – reducing the impact of VU’s best single-game performance of the entire 2014-2015 season – is the splash of water which can create February urgency for this team, and perhaps a surge that will transform the character of this particular basketball journey in Nashville.
When Vanderbilt does take the court today, it will meet a team it can identify with. Last season, Florida made the NCAA tournament as a lower seed, a team that had to wear road uniforms in the round of 64. Yes, it’s true that Florida hasn’t established the postseason standards Vanderbilt has over decades. The Gators were something of a party-crasher last season in March Madness, whereas making the Big Dance is an expectation for VU. However, the fact remains that both programs made the tournament, leaving them hungering for more of the same success this season. Yet, much like Vanderbilt, Florida has endured a difficult season, including the long and hard march through the Southeastern Conference. If you look at Florida’s 2-6 SEC record, you’ll see a couple of shooting performances under 30 percent, and one very rare win in which the team somehow scored in the 70s. For the most part, Florida has scored in the 40s or 50s, having scored in the 60s in the earlier portions of its SEC schedule. Sound familiar, Vanderbilt fans? It should.
Florida head coach Amanda Butler can understand what Balcomb has gone through at VU this season, and vice-versa. This is a matchup of teams that have followed very similar paths since the road began in November.
Center – Haley Lorenzen – Freshman, 6-3; 2014-15: 7.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Another characteristic Florida and Vanderbilt share this season is that they’re both young teams that should be a lot better next season. The short-term pain doesn’t go away because of this fact, but it can certainly be understood a little better. Florida has three freshmen in its starting five. Lorenzen is one of them. It’s true that she played only 18 minutes against Missouri last week, so when accounting for her per-game averages, do realize that they will be appreciably different from her per-40-minute averages. Those are two different things.
Forward – Brooke Copeland – Freshman, 6-2; 2014-15: 5.2 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game
Florida is a guard-heavy team, at least when based on the rotation Butler used in the team’s most recent game against Missouri, a disappointing 68-52 loss. Florida played four reserves in that game, all of them guards. The Gators have Lorenzen at center and then two forwards. Copeland is the freshman forward, so in fairness to her, she shouldn’t be expected to have to carry the workload. Yet, it remains that her scoring and rebounding averages don’t offer a lot of production to a team that can certainly use more of it. Vanderbilt needs to make sure that low-output Florida players remain as much in this contest.
Forward/Guard – Kayla Lewis – Senior, 6-0; 2014-15: 9.4 ppg, 7 rpg
Lewis doesn’t even own a double-figure scoring average, and yet she’s the second-leading scorer on the Gators, a telling indicator of how much this team starves for points. On a team that doesn’t shoot well, Lewis is the team’s leading rebounder. She gives Florida more possessions, and for that reason alone, it’s reasonable to conclude that she’s the Gators’ most valuable player.
Guard – Carlie Needles – Junior, 5-6; 2014-15: 8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 assists per game
This is one of Florida’s two most well-rounded players. Needles shows aptitude as a scorer, rebounder and passer. Because of the team’s struggles from the field, Florida doesn’t have many high-assist players, but Needles is one of the two best facilitators on the team. Getting five boards a game with her size speaks to her ability to find and then grab the ball in traffic.
Guard – Dyandria Anderson – Freshman, 5-10; 2014-15: 2.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg
Anderson has plenty of help off the bench, with four reserve guards there to support her. As a freshman, she doesn’t have to do it all. Butler is clearly aware that she can give Anderson on-the-job training and cultivate her as a player for the future in Gainesville, yet still allow her to get solid minutes each time Florida plays.
Here are the four reserve guards we’ve alluded to: Ronni Williams, Cassie Peoples, January Miller, and Carla Batchelor. In this group, Williams is the leading scorer, and she’s also the top scorer on the whole team, with 9.8 points per game. Williams also averages 4.8 rebounds as well. Peoples is an even better version of Needles, a player who can score (9 points per game), rebound (2.6 boards per game), and pass (3.8 assists per game, tops on the roster). Miller is a decent helper off the bench, averaging 7 points and 3.5 boards per game. Batchelor offers 2.7 points per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Rebounding. It’s just not necessary to get complicated here. In games matching two teams that struggle to score, and which especially struggle to hit perimeter shots, being able to chase down misses and protect the defensive glass are paramount, because they add possessions and take them away from the opponent. Getting the upper hand against Lewis and Needles on the boards will be particularly essential for VU.
2) Pin down Needles. While Florida doesn’t have a single player who averages double figures in scoring, Needles hit 5 of 7 threes against Missouri, exploding for 18 points. Vanderbilt needs to prevent any one Florida player from getting hot and staying hot. One in-form shooter could be a tipping point factor for either team today.
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