NIT Scouting Report: South Dakota State

The Vanderbilt Commodores are still playing basketball while Iowa State, Baylor, and other brand-name teams aren't. Kevin Stallings' team has won a postseason game. It won on the West Coast after a cross-country flight. It won in exactly the way it wanted to win, too. That's how you bounce back from a miserable loss to the hated Tennessee Volunteers.

It has become the defining characteristic of this Vanderbilt basketball season: Just when the Dores seem really down, just when they absorb the kind of loss that should send 19- and 20-year-olds reeling, especially in light of the program’s rough fortunes over the previous two seasons, they bounce back.

The loss at home to Tennessee? This team regrouped. The loss at Florida? This team regrouped. The loss last week to the Vols in the SEC tournament? This team managed to overcome that stomach punch as well, thoroughly outplaying the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Moraga, California. More than that, the Dores – having relied too much on the three-point shot in the final seven minutes of their SEC tournament defeat – played exactly the way they needed to play against Saint Mary’s.

Vanderbilt played this game through Damian Jones, and the big man – going up against a formidable counterpart in Brad Waldow – easily won the game’s most important one-on-one positional matchup. Jones not only scored 21 points; he did so on 10-of-14 shooting, which indicates a combination of good shot selection and effective low-post footwork, which created the positioning and body balance needed to register such a gleaming scoreline. Waldow was just 4-of-11 from the field. Jones flatly schooled him, and that’s the perfect thing for VU to take into the coming offseason. Knowing Jones can play big – big in the sense of imposing his size on opponents, not just in terms of “coming up huge” – is exactly what can give Vanderbilt a real hammer to use in the 2015-2016 season.

Being able to not only win against Saint Mary’s, but win the right way – developing the very thing this team needs to develop heading into next season – has already made this NIT invite worth it. Even if Vanderbilt should lose to South Dakota State in the second round on Friday night in Memorial Gym – giving James Siakam another home game in his VU career – the Dores can quite honestly and realistically say that they’re positioned to take the proverbial next step come November. Plenty of teams build NCAA tournament seasons on the foundation of a deep NIT run the previous season. Look at SMU. (NIT runner-up in 2014) as one example – there are plenty of others from recent history.) Yet, Vanderbilt doesn’t have to make it to New York in order to say it has set the table.

That said, making New York (for the NIT final four) would sure be nice. Moreover, with top-seeded Colorado State losing in round one, that path to the Big Apple is now a lot more realistic. Can Vanderbilt do enough to reach the NIT quarterfinals and extend its season by another four days?

Any power-conference team would rather be in the NCAA tournament, but for some teams in certain season-specific contexts, the NIT can be a reward. It felt like a reward for Vanderbilt on the night of the selection show, and VU treated this ticket as a reward in its positive performance against Saint Mary’s. Let’s see if the Dores can keep this season going.


Let’s be brutally honest: Colorado State, one of two teams truly snubbed for an NCAA at-large berth (Temple was the other), played with the basketball equivalent of a broken heart on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT. This happens plenty of times – it’s hard for that snubbed team to muster up the enthusiasm to play a game it didn’t expect or want to play.

However, while acknowledging that, we can also pivot and say that South Dakota State needed to be motivated and very much on its game to throttle Colorado State the way it did. The Jackrabbits hit 12 of 28 threes and committed only 7 turnovers in their win in Fort Collins, Colorado. Winning in Moby Arena, the home of the Rams, is not easy for anyone, but South Dakota State was not seriously threatened down the stretch. A good team pulls off a win on Colorado State’s home floor, regardless of whether the Rams were motivated or not. That’s the team facing Vanderbilt on Friday.

South Dakota State, it should be said, achieved nothing of note in non-conference play. The Jackrabbits’ best RPI win came over Utah State, at 149. However, this team did well in the Summit League, going 12-4 and losing the title game by one point to North Dakota State.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Cody Larson –
Senior, 6-9, 235; 2014-15: 13.8 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game

Larson is playing to extend his career at this point. If he loses, his career is done… unless he can carry his team to the NIT final and possibly win his last game. VU should expect the best effort of every Jackrabbit player, but seniors playing for their careers merit extra attention. It also helps Larson that he’s the team’s best rebounder. He isn’t just a leader by seniority; he’s a leader by example and, more specifically, production.

Guard – George Marshall – Junior, 5-11, 195; 2014-15: 13.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 assists per game

Marshall hits 41.6 percent of his threes – that alone should make Marshall a marked man on the perimeter for a VU team which, as you know, has struggled to defend the perimeter for most of the season.

Guard – Jake Bittle – Junior, 6-4, 215; 2014-15: 10 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 apg

At only 6-4, Bittle is the second-best rebounder on this team. Among players who played against Colorado State, South Dakota State doesn’t have a single one taller than 6-6. The Jackrabbits have a few bigger post players on their roster, but they did not play in Fort Collins on Wednesday, presumably buried on the bench due to inexperience.

Guard – Deondre Parks – Junior, 6-4, 190; 2014-15: 14.1 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.9 apg

Parks hits 36.2 percent of his threes, which is not scalding hot, but not something to be unconcerned about. He is SDSU’s leading scorer, so he obviously has a way of creating a shot on a consistent basis.

Guard – Reed Tellinghuisen – Freshman, 6-6, 175; 2014-15: 8.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Tellinghuisen is a player – you see it on a team every now and then – who is tall enough to shoot over the top of smaller defenders if he’s able to be matched up with one. However, he can’t create his own shot with the dribble. He needs to shoot off the catch, and as a result, he will often shoot more threes than twos during a game. Simply sticking with him (with enough size to bother him) should be sufficient for Vanderbilt.


The Jackrabbits turn to forward Ian Thiesen and guards Keaton Moffitt and Zach Horstman. Thiesen averages 2.6 points per game. Moffitt averages 3.3 points per game. Horstman averages 4.2 points per game.

Keys to the Game

1) The Siakam Special.
Damian Jones just played a very impressive game on Wednesday. VU, though, has a quick turnaround for this game on Friday, so should we expect Jones to be at his very best? No. If this game had been played on a Sunday or Monday, one would really want Jones to feast at the rim again. However, given the short turnaround time, it’s necessary for the supporting cast to step forth. Jones might get a battle from Larson in the low post, but Siakam should be taller than his opponent. This should be one of VU’s main lines of attack on offense, and Siakam – playing his last home game for sure (VU would not host a quarterfinal) – should embrace the chance to go out in style.

2) Crisp perimeter rotations. Let’s not complicate things at this late stage in the season. South Dakota State hit a ton of threes against Colorado State and barely turned the ball over. VU needs to get in the Jackrabbits’ grills and bother them on the perimeter, period.

Commodores Daily Top Stories