Scouting Report: Northern State

Tonight the Vanderbilt men's basketball team will be facing Northern State in an exhibition game. Commodore fans will be treated to a match up that promises to be much more interesting than some of the exhibition games from previous seasons, as Northern State appears to be a solid, well-coached squad.

Located in South Dakota, Northern State is led by Coach Don Meyer, who coached at Lipscomb from 1975 to 1999. Meyer's all-time record as a head coach in his 32 years of experience is 814-281, and he is 112-61 at Northern State. Meyer also runs the highly regarded Don Meyer Coaches Academy, which coaches from Tubby Smith and Pat Summitt to John Wooden have hailed as one of the best coaching workshops in the country. According to Meyer's biography at Northern State's official website, http://www.northern.edu/athletics/, over 10,000 coaches have attended this Academy in the past 9 years. Coach Meyer's instructional tapes have been used with great success by the Duke, Kansas, Wake Forest, and UNC men's basketball programs.

Meyer and Northern State use a motion offense similar to what Meyer employed at Lipscomb. Meyer's teams in 1989, ‘90, ‘92, ‘93, and '95 led the nation in scoring, averaging 100+ points per game. With this offense, Northern State averaged 79.7 points per game last season, playing in the NSIC in NCAA's division II. Northern State was the conference champion, and advanced to the Division II version of "March Madness."

More recently, the Northern State Wolves faced a tough exhibition game last Wednesday, as they played the University of Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Northern State put up a valiant effort before losing to the Wildcats by a score of 80-51. A notable success by Northern State was the degree to which they neutralized Kentucky's post players. Starters Sheray Thomas and Lukasz Obrzut were held to 8 points and 3 rebounds each, and Northern State out-rebounded Kentucky as a team until midway through the second half. According to Thomas, ""If we want to make a long run this year and win a lot of games, we have to rebound. We have capable players and we do it in practice, but in games it's been a different story." The Wolves also limited Rajon Rondo to 8 points in 22 minutes, despite Kentucky's efforts to force a very fast pace of action.

Northern State will be led by senior forward Matt Hammer. From Elkton, South Dakota, Matt went 6 for 13 with 14-second half points against Kentucky. Another big man, senior center Bjoern Schoo from Germany, had 6 points, 6 rebounds, and a blocked shot against the Wildcats. These two post players are the strength of the team, and Hammer has received numerous preseason honors in the NSIC.

For the Commodores, Julian Terrell may be sidelined for the game on Saturday, with an injury to his foot. There seems to be no consensus on when Julian is expected to be back in action, but it at least appears that he will back to 100% before the Commodores reach their toughest games in the out of conference schedule. In Julian's absence, there will be a starting spot open in the post for the ‘Dores. Coach Kevin Stallings will likely distribute post minutes between Ted Skuchas, Davis Nwankwo, Alan Metcalfe, Kyle Madsen, and DeMarre Carroll. The should be a great opportunity for Coach Stallings and Vanderbilt to test the less experienced post players, and to see whether Ted Skuchas' confidence and improvement in pre-season practice translates into success during games. Mario Moore, Derrick Byars, and Shan Foster are expected to start on the perimeter, but those starting spaces are not guarantees. Dan Cage has received much praise for his toughness and attitude this preseason, and could be rewarded with the honor of starting the first game of the season.

Despite Northern State's excellent coaching and high skill, especially relative to other exhibition opponents, the ‘Dores should have no trouble pulling out a solid victory. Sources close to the program say that you should expect more fast-break opportunities and a more up-tempo offense than in recent years for the Commodores, as the team's level of athleticism has consistently increased. Also, don't be fooled by the "exhibition game" label: the Wolves are as good as or better than several division one squads. If Vandy's post players can thrive against the Wolves' leader in Matt Hammer, especially in Terrell's absence, it will be a good sign of things to come. While most do not consider the outcome of this game to be in doubt, all Vanderbilt fans will be paying close attention to the rebounding margin and the play of newcomers Nwankwo, Madsen, and George Drake. This game is a great chance to begin to test the rumors of off-season improvements, such as Alex Gordon's passing at point, Skuchas' offensive confidence in the post, and Alan Metcalfe's conditioning. If these improvements have been made, and the ‘Dores are able to thrive in the post and the fast-break, then Vanderbilt fans could be in for a fun Saturday and a great basketball season to come.

Kentucky's Rekalin Sims drives past Northern State's Levi Hamilton during the first half of their game Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)


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