Scouting Report: Morehead State

Vanderbilt scored a convincing win over Division II Alabama-Huntsville last weekend in an exhibition prelude to the 2008-2009 season. A.J. Ogilvy's 25 points helped the Commodores overcome sloppy early play to defeat the Chargers. On Sunday, the 'Dores officially begin their quest toward a third straight NCAA Tournament, kicking off a 14-game non-conference slate in a clash with Morehead State.

Vandy's Last Game

Last weekend's exhibition gave coaches and fans alike a chance to see the Commodores' heralded freshman class in game action for the first time. Behind Ogilvy's near-flawless performance -- the big Aussie went 9-for-10 from the floor and 7-for-7 from the charity stripe -- a pair of newcomers paced the home team in scoring with impressive debuts. Jeff Taylor nearly matched his center's accuracy from the floor, converting on seven of his eight field goal attempts en route to 16 points. Taylor showed off his versatility, knocking down his only three-point attempt as well as fearlessly attacking the rim. His tomahawk dunk to cap off a fast break drew gasps from the home crowd and became the first in what will assuredly be a long reel of highlights.

Fellow freshman Steve Tchiengang added a few highlights of his own, scoring 11 points and grabbing four rebounds in just 14 minutes of play. The physical forward ignited a previously listless Commodore offense, canning a long three-pointer before spinning in the lane and slamming home a left-handed dunk while drawing a foul. Tchiengang's mini-outburst erased an early 13-4 deficit and spurred the 'Dores on to a 33-12 run to close the first half.

As a team, Vanderbilt shot an impressive 55.8 percent from the field while holding the visitors to 41.3 percent shooting. The Commodores will try to duplicate their offensive prowess in the paint against the experienced and talented front line of Morehead State.

Morehead State At-A-Glance

The Eagles return three starters from a team that went 15-15 overall and finished third in the Ohio Valley Conference last season. Third-year coach Donnie Tyndall has turned around the fortunes of the program in his short tenure, taking over a team that won just four games three seasons ago and building it into an OVC contender. Despite the loss of point guard and assist leader Nikola Stojakovic, Morehead State hopes to challenge for the conference crown while relying on a trio of forwards.

Sunday's game will be the second of the young season for the Eagles. Coach Lyndall's squad lost a heartbreaker to Louisiana-Monroe on Friday, failing to score in the game's final two minute en route to a 56-54 defeat. After the Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 lead, that 56-54 score marked their only deficit of the entire contest. Morehead State shot just 25.0 percent in the second half and got just four points from its bench in the loss.

Starting Lineup

Sophomore Kenneth Faried epitomizes the Eagles' tough-nosed, post-oriented attack. The 6-8, 215-pound forward led his team and ranked third in the conference in rebounds a season ago, pulling down eight boards per game, 3.4 of which were offensive. Faried makes his living around the rim, shooting 51.6 percent from the floor a season ago, relying primarily on a skilled set of post moves and plenty of second-chance buckets. When the sophomore strays from the paint, though, his effectiveness declines rapidly, as he attempted just three shots from beyond the arc and shot a paltry 58.0 percent from the free throw line last season. Faried posted a double-double against Louisiana-Monroe, scoring 10 points and snatching 10 rebounds before fouling out. He'll be in even more danger of fouling out against Vanderbilt; as the Eagles' tallest starter, Faried will try his hand at defending A.J. Ogilvy.

Joining Faried in the talented Eagle frontcourt is 6-5 senior Leon Buchanan. Morehead State's leading scorer from last season, Buchanan averaged 13.2 points to go along with 6.1 rebounds per game. Like Faried, the senior does most of his damage around the basket. He shot a team-best 53.5 percent from the field a season ago by using his 220-pound frame to create space in the lane and finish strong at the basket. Even when he didn't convert from the floor, Buchanan could hurt opponents by getting to the free throw line at will. He made 136 free throws last year, almost double the amount of any other Eagle and good for just over a third of his total points. Not only does Buchanan get to the line often, but he excels when he gets there, shooting 82.4 percent from the stripe. Though he's smaller than the defenders the Commodores will throw at him, Buchanan will try to take advantage of the relative inexperience of Darshawn McClellan and Steve Tchiengang and build upon his 13-point outing from Friday.

The third of three returning Eagle forwards is Maze Stallworth. A 6-4 junior, Stallworth presents a different kind of threat than Faried and Buchanan. Though he has the ability to bang in the paint, he can also step out behind the arc and knock down the three-pointer. In fact, Stallworth led the Eagles with 68 trifectas last season while making them at a 38.4 percent clip. His 11.9 points per game were good for third on the team and second among returning players. Vanderbilt will need to call upon its stable of athletic wings to defend the versatile Stallworth; the junior can use his size to post up smaller guards while luring bigger, slower defenders out to the perimeter.

In the backcourt, Morehead State is counting on sophomore Demonte Harper to improve his efficiency and give the team another threat from the perimeter. The 6-4 guard shot just 35.9 percent from the floor and scored fewer than four points per game last season. Harper has a good enough jump shot to hurt opponents from long range but, like many freshmen, couldn't find any sort of consistency in his first year.

Expected to round out the Eagles' starting lineup is freshman guard Terrence Hill. A 6-1 combo guard, Hill is one of a few players Coach Tyndall will try out in the starting backcourt in an attempt to replace the stability lost with the departure of Stojakovic. In his first game action as a collegian, the Georgia native scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting in 16 minutes of play. If the freshman can find his three-point stroke, look for him to play significantly more against the Commodores on Sunday.

Bench

Should Hill fail to adjust to a starting role, look for junior college transfer Robert Murray to inherit most of his minutes. Murray, a 6-1 junior, has more experience as a point guard, albeit more of a scoring point than a traditional distributor. The newcomer led the Eagles with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in his first game with the team, but he also committed five turnovers to go along with just three assists, a poor ratio for any point man. Nevertheless, Murray adds another perimeter threat to the mix, and the 'Dores will have to adjust accordingly when he's on the floor.

Junior Cecil Brown and sophomore John Lamb also add depth to the Morehead State backcourt. The 5-11 Brown will see minutes at the point; he doesn't offer the scoring ability of Murray or Hill, but he's more experienced than either and will provide a steady presence at the head of the offense. A 6-1 marksman, Lamb's 39 three-pointers rank him second among returning Eagles. Purely a shooter, the sophomore accumulated 81.8 percent of his points from beyond the arc while shooting threes at a 32.2 percent clip last year.

Andreas Coleman, a 6-7 junior forward, fortifies the Eagles' frontcourt. Seldom used last season, Coleman will be counted on simply to rebound and play steady interior defense when Faried or Buchanan hit the bench for a breather.

Keys to the Game

  • Help! -- Built around scoring forwards, the Eagles feature more one-on-one play than most teams, especially given the lack of a proven distributor. Demonte Harper is the team's assist leader among returning players, and he handed out just 1.6 per game last season. In its first game of this season, Morehead State logged just seven assists while committing 16 turnovers. Against a team that depends so much on players creating for themselves in the lane, Vanderbilt's perimeter defenders can afford to sag off their marks in order to help out down low. With the exception of Stallworth and, to an extent, Robert Murray, the Eagles don't have the personnel to stretch the Commodore defense to give Faried and Buchanan room to operate around the basket. Helping out on Morehead State's two interior scorers should also prevent Vanderbilt's post defenders from getting into foul trouble.
  • Advantage, A.J. -- Last season, Ogilvy thrived in the non-conference schedule against mid-major teams, who tend to be undersized in relation to their major conference counterparts. Though the Eagles' frontcourt is undoubtedly talented, it is nevertheless underwhelming in size. Provided he avoids foul trouble, Ogilvy should have little trouble establishing himself on the offensive end. This will be repeated over and over this season, but Vanderbilt must look to its star center early and often to have the success they should against such an undersized opponent.
  • Window Washers -- Though the Eagles don't have the size of the Commodores, Faried and Buchanan give them two tenacious rebounders who are capable of doing serious damage given second and third opportunities. The 'Dores have been known to be generous to offensive rebounders in recent years; if that trend continues Sunday, the Eagles could be in position to score an upset. Along with Vanderbilt's returning forwards, Tchiengang and Festus Ezeli must prevent Morehead State's stars from wreaking havoc on the glass.

Prediction: A team with three talented forwards is not a common sight in mid-major conferences. For that reason, Morehead State will give plenty of teams plenty of trouble this season. As recently as last season, a team like the Eagles would be more than capable of stealing a win against the Commodores. With the infusion of big, athletic freshmen and a season of experience under the belts of Ogilvy, McClellan, and Andre Walker, though, the 'Dores have more than enough to combat the Eagles' interior muscle. If Ogilvy can stay out of foul trouble and the Commodores can have an average shooting day from the perimeter, look for the home team to start the season in the win column. Final score: Vanderbilt 76, Morehead State 65.

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