Three Keys – Vanderbilt vs South Dakota State

Going on the road with just a couple of days’ notice is tough. Going on the road almost 2,300 miles to the other side of the country and beating a senior laden team who know their team is about to fall apart is almost impossible.

Apparently impossible really is nothing after all.

The fifth seeded Commodores were able to beat the fourth seeded St. Mary’s Gaels in Moraga, Calif., on Wednesday night after weathering a hot start by the hosts five senior starters. By half time though the ‘Dores youth had taken over and built an eight point lead. The Commodores never trailed again.

Up next for the ‘Dores is a visit from the eight seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits upset top seeded Colorado State on the Rams home floor late on Wednesday night. Here are three keys which will see the ‘Dores men’s basketball season continue rolling along.

1. Stop George Marshall

Anyone who has watched a lot of NCAA Tournaments will tell you it is not always about being the best team, it is about being the hottest team at the right time. This is true with individual players too, as the Jackrabbits junior guard George Marshall proved with a dominating display in the first round of the NIT.

Marshall, who averages a healthy 13.8 points per game, went crazy in Fort Collins putting up 24 points to lead all scorers. As a transfer from Wisconsin, Marshall can handle the physicality of players from power conferences better than most who are playing in the Summit League and he will be the man the ‘Dores know they have to stop on Friday evening.

2. Strong perimeter defense

The biggest key to the Jackrabbits win over the Rams was their three point shooting proficiency. While Colorado State were slogging through a 5-22 (23%) shooting performance from downtown, South Dakota State went 12-28 (43%) from behind the arc. Marshall was again the Jackrabbits leader, hitting five of their treys.

One of the biggest problems for the Rams and their perimeter defense seemed to be apathy. Of all the teams not selected for the NCAA Tournament it was Colorado State who presented one of the strongest cases. It seems that teams react to a snub like this either by playing their hardest game of the year in the NIT, or by mailing it in. Defensively at least the Rams were guilty of the latter as there was no energy to get out to the shooters and the Jackrabbits could basically fire at will from behind the arc. Expect a very different story in Nashville where the /Dores youth and boundless energy at the guard spots will see every shot being contested for the full 40 minutes.

3. Feed Damian Jones

Damian Jones had another monster game on Wednesday night. He lit up the Gaels for 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds for good measure. This tied his career high for field goals made and proved just how important the sophomore center has been to the ‘Dores late season surge.

The big man will be important again on Friday night when Vandy takes on the Jackrabbits. San Diego State only has one player on their roster, Cody Larson at 6’9”, who has the size to get close to Jones and who plays more than 10 minutes per game. Expect the ball to be fed to Jones early to see how Larson can handle his scoring ability. If the Jacks sag in on Jones to give Larson help, then the guards need to find their outside stroke. Either way, the flow of the game will be keyed off of the ‘Dores ability to find their big man down low.

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