Basketball Scouting Report: Missouri
Had Vanderbilt’s loss to Florida occurred during a season in which the NCAA tournament was a realistic possibility, Wednesday’s 50-47 gut punch would have moved VU in the wrong direction as far as the bubble was concerned. If VU then watched on Selection Sunday and found out that it was the first team out of the field of 68, the offseason would be filled with remembrances of how that big fish in Gainesville got away.
Florida scored just 19 points in the first half and failed to score a point in the final 8:37 of the half. The Gators made only one field goal in a span of just over 15 minutes, bridging the first and second halves. At the under-12 media timeout in the second half, Florida had scored just 27 points. Keep in mind, too, that it was announced just before the game that Dorian Finney-Smith, an essential part of the Gator lineup, was suspended for violating team rules. Without Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier, the team’s two best perimeter shooters, Florida looked lost. Vanderbilt’s defense had managed to make use of a favorable situation. Yet another SEC road win was there for the taking, not just because of Florida’s thin bench and lack of scoring punch, but because the Gators’ big men had not done much of anything and should not have been able to match up with Damian Jones in the low post. Jones has a much better skill set than either Jon Horford or Chris Walker.
There were just a few problems: First, Vanderbilt had trouble scoring, such that it couldn’t open up a massive lead. Second, Jones couldn’t stay out of foul trouble, and when this happened, Vanderbilt could not adequately compensate for his absence.
Jones picked up his fourth foul near the 10-minute mark of the second half and his fifth near the six-minute mark. In moments when Vanderbilt’s struggling offense could have used a low-post entry to its big man in a desirable matchup, Jones wasn’t able to deliver. His teammates did produce four scores in five possessions down the stretch to take a 47-46 lead in the final minute, but other than those five quality trips down the floor, VU’s offense suffered for the vast majority of the second half, a half in which Jones just couldn’t find a way to handle Florida’s defense. Then, in the final five seconds of regulation, Florida’s Devin Robinson powered home a winning dunk, a play which Jones might have been able to prevent. The depleted Gators improbably managed to overcome their roster limitations and a wretched 30 minutes of ball to steal a win from VU in the final 10 minutes of play. Had this game been a bubble battle for the Commodores, they never would have been able to live it down. This would have felt like a thunderbolt.
It’s good, then, that such a circumstance does not apply to VU. This young team, which has been making so much progress, received a very important lesson for the future, in the form of this question: “What are you going to do when Jones is not on top of his game, especially if he falls into foul trouble?” Vanderbilt’s supporting cast has to develop the coping skills needed to handle periods of adversity, and the only non-senior who was there for VU on Wednesday was Riley LaChance. Wednesday’s loss was painful, but the lack of high-stakes situations at this point in the 2014-2015 season means that pain can more readily be seen as a teacher for the future. Jones will obviously want to become more disciplined in using his body as a defender and in loose-ball situations, but on a day when he just doesn’t have it, his teammates will need to pick him up.
It’s not fun to endure what VU endured on Wednesday. Yet, it’s good for this team to collect such encounters so that it will be able to react with more poise the next time such a scenario emerges.
The theme of this game for Vanderbilt is very simple: The Commodores have no business overlooking Missouri, because this VU team knows what it’s like to endure a long string of losses and try to break through, only to fail. Vanderbilt eventually did break through after losing seven straight SEC contests. Missouri won its SEC opener against LSU and then lost 12 in a row. The Tigers did get closer to the winner’s circle in recent games against South Carolina (Feb. 10) and Mississippi State (Feb. 14), so their lack of results doesn’t mean they’re not going to solve this puzzle in the near future. Vanderbilt has walked in Missouri’s shoes. The Dores know they’re going to get a vigorous effort from the Tigers and have to fend them off.
Forward – Ryan Rosburg – Junior, 6-11, 264; 2014-15: 3.2 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game
Rosburg played only 18 minutes in Missouri’s most recent game against Arkansas on Wednesday. Coach Kim Anderson uses a nine-man rotation with evenly-distributed minutes, so Missouri doesn’t have a strong starting five so much as a collection of nine players. Rosburg is one of only four upperclassmen on this team. He would be getting more minutes if he had more of a presence (and impact) on the court.
Forward – Johnathan Williams III – Sophomore, 6-9, 225; 2014-15: 13 ppg, 7.3 rpg
Williams is Missouri’s leading scorer, one of only two double-figure scorers on the roster. He is, by a wide margin, the team’s leading rebounder, averaging more than double the rebounds of the team’s second-best rebounder. Yet, he hits under 44 percent of his field goals and is a 64-percent free-throw shooter. Williams’ production has emerged in a less-than-fully-efficient way, and it helps explain how much this team has struggled at the offensive end of the floor.
Forward – D’Angelo Allen – Freshman, 6-7, 220; 2014-15: 4 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Allen might be averaging only four points per game, but he didn’t miss a single shot against Arkansas: 3-3 from the field, 1-1 on threes, and 2-2 from the foul line. After that nine-point performance, Allen will need to be taken more seriously.
Guard – Namon Wright – Freshman, 6-5, 200; 2014-15: 4.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg
Wright is a starter only because Wes Clark, the second-leading scorer on the team and the best backcourt player on the roster, is out for the season with an injury suffered in the South Carolina game on Feb. 10. Wright is immersed in on-the-job training, and this is one reason why Anderson finds it necessary to widely distribute minutes on his team. It is also worth pointing out that Wright was recently suspended for two games. This will make him fresher for Saturday’s contest.
Guard – Keith Shamburger – Senior, 5-11, 170; 2014-15: 8.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.7 assists per game
Shamburger is Clark’s foremost replacement. With Clark in the lineup and Shamburger being able to back him up, Missouri had two three-assists-per-game point guards. Without Clark active, Shamburger is the only player on the team who averages more than 1.4 assists per game. This is a product of the fact that the Tigers just don’t shoot well. They’re next to last in the SEC and nearly 300th in the nation (294) at 40.9 percent from the field.
Without Clark in the starting five, the bench is shorter. Alongside Wright, guard Montaque Gill-Caesar was recently suspended for two games, so he will also have a little more energy for this game. He averages 8.8 points per game. Tramaine Isabell is the team’s other reserve guard. He averages 4.7 points per game. Forwards Jakeenan Gant and Keanau Post round out the bench. Gant averages 5.2 points per game, Post averages 3.5 rebounds per game, second-best on the team.
Keys to the Game
1) Establish Jones. It’s very important that after Wednesday’s many frustrations, Jones is able to bounce back and play well – not necessarily to the extent that he dominates, but to the extent that he stays on the floor, exhibits good instincts, and makes responsible kinds of plays at both ends of the floor. Being able to learn from mistakes is in many ways what this training-ground season is all about. An effective, wisdom-filled game from Jones is what this team needs more than anything else against Missouri.
2) Crush Missouri on the glass. The Tigers are 302nd in the nation, and next to last in the SEC, in rebounding percentage (48.1). They’re a terrible rebounding team. VU can severely limit the Tigers’ possessions and take control of this game by being vigilant on the boards.
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