Men's Hoops: Scouting Jacksonville State

NASHVILLE-- What a long off-season it has been. The last time the Vanderbilt men's basketball team played a Division I opponent, they suffered a tough loss to Memphis in the NIT. So much has happened to Commodore basketball and SEC basketball since then – the NBA draft, the commitments of JeJuan Brown and Jermaine Beal, tough early workouts and practices, injuries, a suspension, and the Northern State exhibition game. Date: November 18 Tipoff: 7 p.m. Central

Although some people came away from the Northern State game with a lower opinion of the Commodores, those who knew about the Wolves' coach were not surprised. The Dores faced a tough test against a well-disciplined team, and the team missed the presence of seniors Julian Terrell and Mario Moore. However, the team got a chance to test themselves again on Saturday, in a "shared practice" or "controlled scrimmage" against former NCAA tournament foe Western Michigan. According to various sources, Vandy was able to dominate with the help of the two seniors. Vanderbilt's post play has traditionally been suspect, but rumor has it that Terrell and redshirt freshman Davis Nwankwo had fantastic performances in the scrimmage, particularly with rebounding.

But now is where the speculation ends. Vanderbilt will face off against Jacksonville St. on Friday, beginning a 3 game homestand in which the Dores attempt to hone their skills to perfection before traveling to Georgetown over Thanksgiving weekend.

Fans have not yet seen Julian Terrell on the court, but all signs indicate that he will see plenty of action on Friday. His stress fracture was caught very early, before it had a chance to become a more serious injury. Mario Moore, however, will be sitting out the second game of his three game suspension. The Commodores are likely to start Alex Gordon, Derrick Byars, Shan Foster, Julian Terrell, and Ted Skuchas. Coach Kevin Stallings has indicated that shooting guard Dan Cage will probably be the first man off the bench, as Cage has shown great toughness and leadership ability while improving his individual skills. DeMarre Carroll and Davis Nwankwo are the other two Commodores expected to see the most playing time on Friday.

Jacksonville State is coming off of two terrible seasons. Three years ago, in the 02-03 season, JSU had a 20 win season in the Ohio Valley Conference. However, in the last two seasons, the team's struggles have been epitomized by their road record – in those two seasons combined, the JSU Gamecocks are 2-25 on the road, with wins over Savannah State and Tennessee-Martin. JSU was 7-22 overall last season.

However, despite the dismal picture painted by those win/loss figures, Head Coach Mike LaPlante sees something in this year's squad. This year's schedule is tougher than most for the Gamecocks, and it includes three away games against SEC opponents. "This will be a very demanding schedule for us," said LaPlante. "We like the opportunity to have 13 definite home games … however, the challenge to this year's team will be to find success on the road."

If the Gamecocks are going to find that kind of success, they will need great performances from three key seniors: Walker Russell, Anthony Wilson, and B.J. Spencer. Russell, a 6'0" senior point guard, had an amazing statistical season last year. Boasting nearly 37 minutes of playing time per game, Russell led his team with 14.5 points per game, 7 assists per game, and over two steals per game. His efficiency and ball distribution were excellent, as reflected by an assist/turnover ratio over 1.5.

B.J. Russell mans the other guard position, and his main offensive weapon is the three pointer. Over half of Russell's points from the field last year came from three point shots – he had over 150 attempts on the season. Also listed as a guard is Anthony Wilson. Wilson is an unusual player, who not only made over 41% of his three point attempts, but also led his team in defensive rebounding.

Given JSU's recent history on the road, Vandy should have little trouble coming out of this game with the victory. The Commodores expect to dominate the boards with Nwankwo, Skuchas, and Terrell building off of the success they reportedly had against Western Michigan. The only true returning post player standing in their way is Dorien Brown, who finished last year's campaign for JSU with 76 rebounds and 31 blocks. Ted Skuchas said earlier this year that "Davis [Nwankwo] really helps us out in practice. He is a physical guy, a shot-blocker, and he helps us prepare for our match-ups against shot blockers on other teams." Expect the Commodores to emphasize points in the paint, and don't be surprised if Dorien Brown is forced into foul trouble.

Finally, one of the purposes of this game is to prepare Vanderbilt for tougher opponents down the line. Obviously, one key in that respect will be the progress of Julian Terrell's healing process. The rebounding margin is always an important factor, especially now that Kentucky has shown great vulnerability in that area (failing to out-rebound Lipscomb on Monday). Also, Coach Stallings will be keeping a close eye on Gordon and Byars at the point guard position in Mario Moore's absence. Because Mario will only have one game before the trip to Georgetown, the Commodores would be relieved to see at least one other player show consistent production from the point guard position.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 83, Jacksonville State 54.

Julian Terrell: 15 points, 10 rebounds, 26 minutes

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