Though Vanderbilt's second string played more minutes together than they're likely to see in regular season action, Kevin Stallings needs more out of his starters than he got Monday night. In particular, Shan Foster went 0-for-6 from the field, scoring six points on free throws.
The night was not without its bright spots, however. Freshman Andrew Ogilvy scored 17 points and pulled down seven rebounds in his Vanderbilt debut, and senior Alex Gordon matched those totals.
The game against Tusculum was a consequence-free chance for Vanderbilt to get a long look at its freshmen. On Saturday, the Commodores take the court in their first action that counts, when the Austin Peay Governors visit Nashville.
Saturday's game also marks the first regular season action for Austin Peay. The Governors are a year removed from winning the Ohio Valley Conference, but they missed the NCAA Tournament when they lost by a single point in the finals of their conference tournament.
With Coach Dave Loos entering his 18th season at the helm, the Governors return all five starters, including the OVC Player of the Year, junior forward Drake Reed. Standing 6-5 and weighing in at 236 pounds, Reed posed a severe match-up problem for Ohio Valley foes last season. Though he's a bit undersized for the post, Loos elected to stick his best player on the block. Reed responded by shooting 52 percent from the field en route to 15.8 points per game. The Clarksville, Tennessee native is most comfortable around the rim; he attempted just eight three-pointers last season and shot a paltry 62 percent from the free throw line. While Vanderbilt's frontcourt players have the height advantage over Reed, the junior's strength will allow him to create shots for himself around the basket. Ogilvy and Ross Neltner must keep Reed from getting second and third shot attempts.
Complementing Reed's bulk on the inside is 6-5 senior Fernandez Lockett. He gives the Governors a more athletic presence in the frontcourt, as well as a slightly more versatile scorer. Last season, Lockett's 11.9 points per game were good for second on the team behind Reed, and he led the conference in rebounds with 7.9 per game. He relies on his superior athleticism and quickness to get position on bigger players, and he has the ability to finish above the rim. Like Reed, however, Lockett is undersized for a post player, but he can certainly disrupt opposing frontcourts on both ends. To keep the senior at bay, Vanderbilt will need to use its bigger forwards to play him physically and use their strength to keep him away from the rim.
Senior wing Todd Babington gives Austin Peay a perimeter threat to complement its talented forwards. The 6-5 wing knocked down 77 three-pointers last year, shooting at a 37 percent clip from beyond the arc. Babington is a decent perimeter defender, but outside shooting is by far his greatest asset – over 86 percent of his scoring came from three-pointers and free throws. If Vanderbilt can continually contest his perimeter shots, the ‘Dores should be able to neutralize Babington, forcing Reed and Lockett to beat them on the inside.
Kyle Duncan is the fourth 6-5 player in Austin Peay's starting lineup. The junior swingman was a starter last season until an injury ended his season in February. He averaged just over four points and three rebounds per game, but his size in the backcourt could pose a problem for Vanderbilt.
Senior Derek Wright is the Governors' fifth starter and point guard. Standing just 5-9, Wright is more than just a way to get Austin Peay's scorers the ball. He averaged 8.2 points a game to go along with his team high 4.1 assists per contest a year ago. Wright is a quick, athletic guard capable of creating turnovers – he logged over two steals per game – and making life difficult on opposing point guards. The senior also shot 38 percent from beyond the arc last season. If he is able to force the Commodore guards into turnovers, he and Babington will hurt the home team with transition threes.
Sophomore and Memphis native Wes Channels gives his team a sixth man who could just as easily be in the starting lineup. The 6-3 guard can score in the mid-range and from the perimeter. He averaged 7.1 points per game last season, but after entering the starting lineup when Duncan went down, Channels scored in double figures in four out of the team's last five games.
Also coming off the bench for Austin Peay are 6-6 sophomore wing Ernest Fields and 6-0 freshman guard Caleb Brown. Fields is one of the Governors' best athletes, but he didn't offer his team much in the way of scoring last year. Meanwhile, Brown will back up Wright at point guard and offer the Govs another perimeter threat.
As you might expect from a team built around its two post players, Austin Peay prefers a slower tempo. The Governors rely heavily on Drake Reed to carry the scoring load – he scored in double figures in all but three games last year – so they need to run disciplined half-court offense to get their star the ball.
Teams that can force the Govs to play at a faster tempo have success; opponents scored 70 points or more in all but one of Austin Peay's losses last year. Vanderbilt put up 80 against Tusculum enduring off-games from both Foster and Neltner, and the ‘Dores will look to their stars to drastically increase their output this time around. Austin Peay is a talented and experienced team, though, and grabbing a win over the OVC champs will not be an easy task. To secure a solid first win and start the season on the right foot, here are the keys to the game for Vanderbilt:
- Crash: Last season, it came to no surprise for Vanderbilt fans if the ‘Dores were outrebounded in a given game. This year, though, with an infusion of talented big men, there is no excuse for getting outrebounded by Tusculum College, especially when the Pioneers grabbed 18 offensive boards. Coach Stallings hinted after the game that members of the backcourt weren't always pulling their weight on the glass; expect that to be remedied on Saturday. If Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett are frequently given second attempts, the Governors will have a huge scoring advantage on the inside.
- Man in the Middle: Though Reed and Lockett are skilled and athletic in the post, the fact remains that they are only 6-5. Andrew Ogilvy is a legitimate 6-11, and he shined in the opener, putting a soft baby hook, athletic defense, and even some ball handling skills on display. The Governors have no one that can match up with the Australian freshman, as their tallest rotation player is just 6-6. Ogilvy should dominate this game.
- Star Watch: For Vanderbilt, it is imperative that Shan Foster has a better offensive performance than he had on Monday. The senior may have been giving his teammates a chance to show the coaching staff what they're made of, but he looked complacent on offense far too often. The ‘Dores will succeed this season only if Foster follows Derrick Byars' example from last year and becomes more aggressive in his shot selection and his drives to the basket.
Prediction: Austin Peay is a dangerous first opponent for the Commodores. The Govs were easily the OVC's best team a year ago, and they return the core of that team. However, they struggled in the early going last season, especially on the road, where they lost five of their first six games. The Govs were blitzed in two games against big-time opponents, losing to Illinois and Memphis by a combined 70 points. Vanderbilt struggled in the second half against Tusculum, but the ‘Dores played stretches of very good basketball. Expect to see more and longer of those stretches on Saturday, but the Governors are too experienced now to get blown out. Final score: Vanderbilt 74, Austin Peay 66.