Commodores function without key seniors

On Wednesday, the University of Kentucky beat Northern State by roughly 30 points. On Saturday, the Vanderbilt Commodores faced the Wolves without the services of their two seniors – Mario Moore and Julian Terrell. Although the 87-70 victory might not be everything that hungry Vanderbilt basketball fans were hoping for, it was a solid performance against a well-coached, disciplined team.

News broke last week that Julian Terrell would not be playing against Northern State. Reportedly, there is a problem with fluid in Julian's foot, requiring him to wear a special boot. The injury could only be made worse by playing, so the decision was wisely made to sit Julian out for the Northern State exhibition game.

Mario Moore was listed as the starter for Vanderbilt, but he arrived at Memorial without a basketball uniform. Mario is suspended for three games (against Northern State, Jacksonville St., and Furman) for a violation of team rules. Mario will be back for the game against UNC-Greensboro, giving him a chance to get in a groove before a tough road game at Georgetown. After the game, Coach Stallings elaborated on Mario's rules violation: "There are only three rules, so I'll give them to you. Rule number one is to be on time. Rule number two is go to class every day. Rule number three is to do your best. And he didn't do his best. Those are our three team rules and he violated number three."

Without Mario and Julian, the Commodores were forced to rely on an unconventional lineup throughout the game. As Ted Skuchas put it after the game, "it's tough because you play with them in practice, and then suddenly they're gone and it throws off your chemistry. It's just a matter of trying to figure out what you need to do to overcome those obstacles." Backup point guard Alex Gordon started in place of Mario, but Derrick Byars was the only player available to back Alex up. Derrick is expected to see most of his time at the wing positions for Vanderbilt this year. Coach Stallings commented that "Right now, [Derrick is] our backup point guard, for at least a couple more games. He was not as good at that spot today as he has been in practice, but that's a lot to ask. He literally played four positions today, and that's not bad… Derrick did admirably for sitting out so long." However, the real star at the point in today's game was Alex Gordon. Although he had four turnovers, Alex really seemed to make the offense run well – an improvement over last season. In addition, his six steals more than made up for his few offensive slip-ups.

Without Julian Terrell, the remaining post players stepped up their production, out rebounding the Wolves 34 to 23. DeMarre Carroll and Ted Skuchas collected 3 fouls each, and as a result of DeMarre's first half foul trouble, Vandy "had to go to a lineup that [they are] not very used to practicing with," according to Coach Stallings. However, Stallings also singled Skuchas out as one of the exceptional performers of the night. Skuchas was 6 for 8 from the field, finishing with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. DeMarre Carroll, the starting power forward, was 6 for 10 with 14 points and 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Both Skuchas and Carroll had 3 offensive rebounds. Alan Metcalfe and Kyle Madsen put in gritty performances, but both showed that they still have quite a bit of work to do. Metcalfe scored 2 points in 11 minutes, with 2 personal fouls and a turnover, and Madsen played 10 uneventful minutes. Both showed a good deal of energy on the defensive end; Alan pulled down an offensive rebound, and Madsen gathered an assist. Vanderbilt fans were also very excited to see Davis Nwankwo enter the game. Davis blocked his first shot as a Commodore, and gathered 4 rebounds. However, he was called for 4 personal fouls in only 13 minutes of play. This game made it ever more clear that Vanderbilt needs Julian Terrell to be highly productive in the post, and that the other post players need to improve their defense without giving up personal fouls.

Derrick Byars and Shan Foster (photo at right) started at the wing positions for Vanderbilt, and both played over 25 minutes. Derrick finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds, despite not taking a three point shot. Surprisingly, Derrick was listed as a starting forward while Shan was listed as a guard. Common knowledge among Vanderbilt fans is that there is little difference between the two positions, but it is notable that while Shan attempted 9 three-point shots, Derrick attempted zero. Foster led the team in scoring with 17 points.

Vanderbilt can take away several positives from this game. The offense clicked on all cylinders, as every starter scored 12 or more points, and every Commodore who took a shot in the game scored. There was no sign of the scoring droughts, which plagued Vanderbilt last season. The ‘Dores were successful in their efforts not to rely on the three-pointer, attempting only 15 threes, compared to last season's average of 25. Vanderbilt showed great prowess on the offensive boards, reflected by the fact that Vanderbilt had more offensive rebounds than Northern State. had defensive rebounds. Coach Don Meyer was very complimentary about Vanderbilt after the game, concluding that the Commodores were probably one of the two best teams in the SEC East.

However, the ‘Dores still have much work to do. Carroll, Skuchas, Metcalfe, Madsen, and Nwonkwo combined for 12 personal fouls, 5 turnovers, and only 15 rebounds in 75 total minutes of playing time. Those players will be aided by the return of Terrell, and they were a productive part of the offense, but they did have frequent difficulties on the defensive end of the court. Also, Alex Gordon and Derrick Byars combined for 7 turnovers as point guards, reflecting the need for senior leadership at the point.

The bottom line is that exhibition games are for learning, fine-tuning, and correcting mistakes. Vanderbilt expects to have further opportunities to work on weak areas against Jacksonville State, Furman, and UNC-Greensboro before visiting highly regarded Georgetown. The Commodores cannot afford to take any of these games lightly, and Kevin Stallings has made a statement to the team that anything less than a player's best will simply not be tolerated. Vanderbilt fans should expect the Commodores to be an energetic, talented, and skilled bunch throughout the year.

Photo by Neil Brake of Vanderbilt University.

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