Women's Hoops Scouting Report: Ole Miss
No team or coach likes to encounter the kind of moment the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team had to face on Sunday, but now that the Commodores have had to digest that loss against Florida, they need to absorb it and come to terms with it. This is not an NCAA tournament team. That’s a jarring realization, given the consistent standard of success which Melanie Balcomb has maintained at VU as Jim Foster’s successor. Vanderbilt has missed only one NCAA tournament since 1989. That miss came in 1999, near the end of Foster’s tenure before he sought a change of scenery at Ohio State. NCAA appearances are expected every year at this program, so it’s a punch to the gut to contemplate the reality of not making the tournament.
Yes, Vanderbilt does have chances to play its way into the field. If one wants to be very technical about the matter, VU is not officially eliminated. However, any realistic appraisal of this group should conclude that after the loss to Florida, no corner is being turned. No roadblock is being surmounted. No transformation is taking place. There’s that one sparkling gem of a performance against Mississippi State, and it simply did not lead to a more elevated level of play in subsequent weeks. If the close wins against Arkansas and Alabama really were harbingers of an upward surge in the SEC and a legitimate push toward the Big Dance, Vanderbilt would have handled Florida comfortably on Sunday. Instead, the Gators looked a lot more comfortable than the Commodores did, taking the lead early and preserving it through each segment between media timeouts. The Gators actually lengthened their lead in the final 10 minutes of regulation instead of allowing it to shrink.
It’s basic common sense: If Vanderbilt can’t do anything about the Floridas of the SEC, how are the Dores expected to do much of anything against big hitters South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, with two of those teams on the road. At 3-6 in the SEC, Vanderbilt is going to find it hard to come up with a record better than 7-9, and moreover, a 7-9 record at this point would actually rate as a decent achievement. That’s not going to get VU into the NCAAs, however. The lack of a high-quality non-conference scalp is going to work against this team.
By all means, this team should continue to fight with all its might, but it’s not unfair or somehow ignorant to face the big picture: A Vanderbilt women’s basketball team is going to miss the NCAAs for the first time in 16 years. This shows that something has been lost, so in the face of such a grim situation, the task of building this team back to an NCAA-level standard really begins right now. It’s in the present moment that Vanderbilt’s coaches and players – realizing that making the Dance is the longest of long shots – must discuss this topic: How do we get back to where we belong? It’s something which doesn’t require one and only one answer. Many ingredients are part of this recipe for restoration. The point to emphasize is that this journey can already begin. It doesn’t have to be put off or delayed until the offseason.
OLE MISS AT-A-GLANCE
The Rebels are 4-5 in the conference. They have one quality win in the league, over Georgia three weeks ago. Ole Miss enjoyed a cushy SEC schedule at the start of league play, but the past few weeks have seen the Rebels go up against the ranked heavyweights of the conference: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and top-ranked South Carolina. It’s not as though this team’s playing bad basketball most of the time. (It did, however, play horribly in a 29-point loss to LSU on Jan. 29.) The Rebels have simply run into excellent teams and have paid the price. They should expect to be able to beat Vanderbilt. It’s up to the Dores to access a higher level of quality, the very thing which has been missing since the virtually flawless performance against Mississippi State at home.
The big statistic to keep in mind about Ole Miss: The Rebels have shot over 43 percent just once in SEC play, and that was in their conference opener. Ole Miss has shot above 41 percent just once since the league opener. Vanderbilt has a chance to hold this team to a low shooting percentage, something it was obviously unable to do against Florida.
Forward – Danielle McCray – Senior, 6-1; 2014-15: 7.2 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game
Ole Miss has only one double-figure scorer. The rest of the rotation is comprised of blue-collar players such as McCray. Given that the Rebels don’t shoot really well, they need rebounding and defense up and down the roster. If McCray is contributing these things to the cause, she’s justifying her place on the floor. Yes, this might seem like a familiar part of an SEC scouting report… that’s because Vanderbilt has faced similar opponents this season. Ole Miss, though, is a better version of Arkansas and Alabama.
Forward – Tia Faleru – Senior, 6-1; 2014-15: 14.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg
This is the star of the Rebels. You can see the double-double average, something you don’t see much of in women’s college basketball outside the superpowers of the sport. For the most part, Faleru scores by getting good looks close to the basket. She hits 52.1 percent of her shots, eschewing the three (only two attempts all season) and not getting to the foul line very often in her past five games (more than five attempts only once in that five-game span). Vanderbilt needs to make Faleru uncomfortable to the extent it reasonably can.
Guard – Erika Sisk – Sophomore, 5-9; 2014-15: 9.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 assists per game
Sisk knits together the Rebels by being the second-leading scorer on the team while also providing some rebounding and adequate passing. What’s conspicuous about Sisk is that she’s the second-best assist provider on the team, but with barely more than two dimes per game. This gives you an indication of how irregularly Ole Miss hits shots. With lower shooting percentages, you get lower assist totals on a team.
Guard – A’Queen Hayes – Freshman, 5-8; 2014-15: 6.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 apg
Hayes is the leading assist giver on the Rebels, and her low number reinforces what was said above about Sisk. You will notice that Ole Miss has a senior frontcourt but an underclassman backcourt. This would certainly help explain why this team is limited at the offensive end of the floor. Next season, the Rebels are going to rise or fall based on how their younger bigs handle larger workloads and responsibilities.
Guard – Shandricka Sessom – Freshman, 5-10; 2014-15: 5.8 ppg, 3 rpg
Sessom received only 11 minutes in Ole Miss’ most recent game against South Carolina this past Sunday. It will be interesting to see how she fits into the Rebels’ rotation for this game tonight.
Two primary reserves gained at least 14 minutes against South Carolina: guard Gracie Frizzell received 25 minutes, while forward Shequila Joseph got 14. Frizzell averages 5.9 points per game. Joseph averages 4.5 points per game. Other reserves are forward Kelsey Briggs and guard Amber Singletary. Briggs averages 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds. Singletary leaves behind virtually no statistical footprint, averaging only 1.5 points per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Bother the Ole Miss frontcourt. Vanderbilt has to limit the impact of the Rebels’ frontcourt. It’s where Ole Miss is experienced and particularly capable, especially in Faleru’s case. Timely doubleteams. Attentive rebounding. A physical post presence on defense. These are the things Vanderbilt has to bring to the table in this game.
2) Turnover reduction. There’s just not much to say when a team commits 20 turnovers as Vanderbilt did against Florida. VU is up against small margins in every game it plays as it is. This team has to be able to limit turnovers to 12 or 13 per game, maximum, in order to have a reasonable chance of winning.
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