Commodores Face Siena in First-Round Action

In a sequence similar to last March, Vanderbilt dropped its final game of the regular season before being bounced from the SEC Tournament by Arkansas. Last Friday's loss was the Commodores' third in five games, yet Vandy surprised pundits by nabbing a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After a placid first day of tournament action, the ‘Dores take the court on Friday against the Siena Saints.

Vandy's Last Game

The Commodores fell to the Razorbacks for the second time this season and fourth in two years, failing to reach the semifinals of the SEC Tournament yet again.  As has been the case in many of Vanderbilt's losses, rebounding was the culprit against an Arkansas squad packed with strong post players and long, athletic guards.  The Hogs outrebounded the Commodores 45-24 and grabbed a whopping 20 offensive boards, leading to far too many second-chance points.

Despite winning the turnover battle, outshooting Arkansas from the field and from beyond the arc, and converting on 16-of-19 from the free throw line in the first half, Vanderbilt's offense could not overcome the team's shortcomings in the paint.  Alex Gordon scored a game-high 22 points, but the Razorbacks held Shan Foster in check for most of the afternoon, limiting the Commodore swingman to 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Ultimately, the Razorbacks were able to hold Vanderbilt to a mediocre offensive performance with size and physical defense, and their huge advantage on the glass gave them the edge.  Against Siena, the Commodores will face a much different kind of threat.

Siena At A Glance

A year removed from losing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game, Siena (22-10, 13-5) returned almost every key player this season and managed to not only make it back to the MAAC championship but win it to advance to its first NCAA Tournament since 2002.

Third-year Saints coach Fran McCaffrey has the most talented squad of his tenure this season, and he prepared his players well with a tough non-conference slate.  Though the Saints lost a close contest at Syracuse and were thumped by Memphis, they pulled out a 79-67 home win over a Brook Lopez-less Stanford team.

Siena depends on its capable backcourt to power its quick, penetration-based attack.  The Saints average 76.8 points per game and shoot 45.1 percent from the field, including 38.3 percent from three-point range.  Siena doesn't play at a breakneck pace, averaging just over 68 possessions per game compared to around 71 for Vanderbilt.  Armed with heady ball handlers and dangerous outside shooters, though, the Saints won't hesitate to push the tempo when the opportunity presents itself.

In a half-court setting, four Siena starters are capable of beating defenders off the dribble, and the Saints thrive when they knife into the lane for high-percentage shots around the basket.  With no starter over 6-7, Coach McCaffrey's bunch struggles to find an inside game, but the Saints offset that by taking care of the ball and valuing good shot selection.  Siena averages just 11.1 turnovers per game, turning it over on just 15 percent of possessions – for comparison, Vanderbilt commits a turnover on almost 20 percent of its possessions.

Defensively, the MAAC champion is all about pressure.  The Saints have posted an average turnover margin of +6.3 both by limiting their own miscues and forcing opponents into 17.4 turnovers per game.  Siena doesn't use the same type of full-court trap that Vanderbilt has seen against Tennessee, instead utilizing a mixture of man-to-man and zone press and some half-court traps.

Starting Lineup

Kenny Hasbrouck – Junior, 6-3, 192 lbs. – A first-team All-MAAC selection, Hasbrouck is the key to the Siena attack.  Second on the team with 15.6 points per game, the junior can score in a number of ways.  He's quick off the dribble and can get to the basket with regularity; Hasbrouck is second on the team with 112 attempts from the free throw line.  A 39.3 percent three-point shooter, he can also hurt opponents from the perimeter.  Not just a scorer, Hasbrouck is invaluable to the Saints for his ability to set up his teammates; his 2.3 assists per game are good for second on the team.  Also Siena's best perimeter defender, Hasbrouck swipes 2.3 steals per game.

Edwin Ubiles – Sophomore, 6-6, 197 lbs. – Ubiles, a rangy, athletic swingman, joined Hasbrouck on the All-MAAC first team this season.  He leads the Saints in scoring with 17.3 points per game and has scored in double figures in all but one of Siena's games this year.  Ubiles can knock down the perimeter jumper, shooting 44.9 percent on 77 attempts from three-point distance, but he's at his best when driving past defenders and using his length to create shots for himself at the basket.  The sophomore is shooting 53.3 percent from the floor because of his knack for getting to the rim and his soft touch in the mid-range.  At 6-6, the athletic Ubiles will almost certainly be Coach McCaffrey's choice to defend Shan Foster.  He has the quickness to stay with the SEC Player of the Year; the question will be whether he can consistently and effectively contest Foster's tough-to-defend jump shot.

Ronald Moore – Sophomore, 6-0, 157 lbs. – Siena's best ball handler and distributor, Moore averages a team-best 5.3 assists per game.  Whether he's driving into the lane and finding open shooters on the kick-out or pushing the ball down the court to convert a fast break, the sophomore almost always makes good decisions and puts his teammates in a position to succeed.  He's not an especially effective scorer, averaging 8.7 points on 37.4 percent shooting, but he'll knock down the open-three pointer and convert on the occasional drive to the hoop.  Moore, like the rest of the Siena backcourt, is a tenacious defender, averaging 1.5 steals per game and generally making life difficult for opposing point guards.

Alex Franklin – Sophomore, 6-5, 228 lbs. – Don't be fooled by his lack of height; Alex Franklin is a dangerous power forward.  His team-best 8.0 rebounds per game complement his 15.2 points per contest, which he earns in a number of different ways.  Despite being undersized for a power forward, Franklin has the strength and athleticism to create for himself in the paint.  He's shooting 56.6 percent from the floor and has attempted a team-high 167 free throws.  While he's a beast around the basket, Franklin can also draw bigger defenders out to the perimeter, where he can knock down the occasional jumper or beat his man off the dribble.  Franklin's match-up with Ross Neltner will be one to watch on Friday night.

Josh Duell – Junior, 6-7, 259 lbs. – Like Franklin, Duell is a bit undersized for his position.  The role player is not a great rebounder, grabbing just 3.2 per game to go along with his 5.6 points per contest.  Duell is not devoid of offensive ability by any stretch, though; he can drain the odd three-pointer and score in the mid-range if the defense leaves him open.  Where Duell will be most needed on Friday is on the defensive end, where he'll match up against the 6-11 A.J. Ogilvy.  Facing a similar post threat in Rider's Jason Thompson, the junior struggled somewhat, as Thompson averaged 23.7 points in three games against the Saints.  If he can push Ogilvy away from the basket better than he did Thompson, Siena stands a chance to pull the upset.

Bench

Diminutive senior Tay Fisher is Siena's sixth man and spark plug.  The 5-9 guard is averaging 7.7 points per game, with 64 of his 74 field goals coming from beyond the arc.  The 42.7 percent three-point shooter can get points in a hurry, as he showed while draining 6-of-10 from long range in a 21-point performance against Rider in the MAAC championship game.  If the lightning-quick Fisher starts to heat up on Friday, expect to see Jamie Graham get some minutes against the Siena senior.

Siena's backcourt is also bolstered by a pair of freshmen, 5-9 Chris De La Rosa and 6-3 Clarence Jackson.  Jackson's minutes have been few and far between recently, but he can be a scoring threat when he gets off the bench.  De La Rosa backs up Moore at the point guard spot, where he dishes out 1.5 assists per game.

In the frontcourt, sophomore Corey Magee and freshman Ryan Rossiter add some depth.  Neither the 6-8 Magee nor the 6-9 Rossiter poses much of a threat offensively; the Saints count on their backup forwards simply for defensive and rebounding purposes, and they'll be needed in that regard against a bigger Vanderbilt frontcourt.

Keys to the Game

  • Establish A.J.:  This one's obvious.  Like Auburn, Siena doesn't have a starter who can match up with Ogilvy on the inside, so Vanderbilt will look to feed its freshman center at every opportunity from the opening tip forward.  The precocious Aussie destroyed Auburn in the SEC Tournament because the other four Vanderbilt starters got him the ball as soon as he got position time and again.  Siena's perimeter pressure may complicate things, but if the ‘Dores can keep the ball moving around the perimeter and work the high-low with Neltner, they can get Ogilvy the needed number of touches.
  • Ball Movement:  The undersized Saints will undoubtedly try to hassle Vanderbilt's guards into bad shots and sloppy passes.  Siena's pressing, trapping guards are likely to take some gambles as well, jumping passing lanes and leaving shooters open in the process.  If Jermaine Beal can be his typical steady self and keep the Vanderbilt offense calm, the Commodores should be able to exploit the Siena pressure as they did against George Washington in last year's tournament.  The Saints are susceptible to quick, crisp ball movement, at which Vanderbilt excels.  If Siena doesn't get the steals it desires, look for the ‘Dores to torch the Saints from beyond the arc.
  • Let's Get Physical:  Despite being a guard-heavy team, Siena doesn't shoot a lot of three-pointers, launching a trifecta on just 30 percent of its possessions.  The Saints prefer to put pressure on opponents' interior defense with dribble penetration.  Siena may have the edge over Vanderbilt in quickness, but the ‘Dores can combat that by being physical with the Saints as they enter the lane, constantly forcing them into tough shots or kick-outs.

Prediction:  The talking heads love Siena in the upset on Friday, but they seem to be ignoring what looks like a huge match-up problem for the Saints.  Not only does Vanderbilt have a weapon that the Saints aren't equipped to handle in A.J. Ogilvy, but the Commodores have been successful all year against pressure.  If Siena's guards can get into the lane with any consistency and knock down some early three-pointers, the Saints can keep it close.  However, Siena doesn't defend the three-pointer well, and that spells trouble against the ‘Dores.  If the Commodores have a good shooting day from three-point land, look for Vanderbilt to win in a rout.  Final score: Vanderbilt 84, Siena 72.


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