Vandy's Last Game
The Commodores never found an offensive rhythm against an Illinois
team that matched their size and physicality, especially with the absence of Steve Tchiengang
and Lance Goulbourne
. The Illini constantly collapsed on A.J. Ogilvy
in the post, and the Commodore perimeter players could not make them pay, shooting just 26.7 percent from beyond the arc. Even when they successfully got the ball inside, the 'Dores too often failed to capitalize, missing multiple shots within five feet of the basket and eight of 21 free throw attempts, including three front ends of one-and-one situations.
's defense proved formidable once again, particularly on the interior. The Illini managed to shoot just 30.4 percent on two-point attempts. However, the Commodores' defensive efforts were somewhat compromised by their deficiencies on the glass, as they gave up 17 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, guards Trent Meacham and Demetri McCamey made sure that their team's struggles in the lane would not cost them the game, as the pair combined to go 9-of-15 from downtown. If not for some exceedingly difficult shots by McCamey and Illinois' perfection at the line (11-for-11), the Commodores may have eked out a win. In the end, though, Bruce Weber's squad made the clutch plays down the stretch while the 'Dores missed too many opportunities. To beat a solid MTSU team, the hosts will have to take better advantage of those opportunities, especially at the free throw line.
The Blue Raiders (2-1) return all five starters from a team that finished third in the Sun Belt and beat NCAA at-large bid South Alabama in the conference tournament before falling to Western Kentucky in the finals. Under seventh year coach Kermit Davis, the veteran squad hopes to improve on last season's performance and reach the NCAA Tournament. Both the media and league coaches tabbed MTSU as the preseason favorite to do just that.
The Raiders fell short of stealing a season-defining win in just their third game of the season on Friday, losing by ten points at home to 13th-ranked Tennessee. MTSU played the Vols close, tying the score with just over 17 minutes left in the game, but the defending SEC champions proved to be too tough. In their first two games, the Blue Raiders and their four-guard attack pounded Trevecca and Houston Baptist, and they'll get their second chance at upsetting an SEC squad when they visit Memorial on Monday.
-- Junior, 6-7, 225 lbs. -- Elected as the Sun Belt's Preseason Player of the Year, Yates is both literally and figuratively the centerpiece of the MTSU attack. The versatile forward scored in double figures in 19 out of his last 20 games to earn a spot on the All-Conference first team a season ago, and he's expected to be even better in his third season in Murfreesboro. Nicknamed "Boogie," the Somerville native averaged 16.0 points by shooting a staggering 57.5 percent from the field. Yates is a scoring threat from all over the court. Though a bit on the short side, he has the strength to bang in the post and the athleticism to beat bigger defenders to the basket. He can also hurt opponents from the perimeter, as he knocked down 20 of his 39 three-point attempts last season. And forget about fouling him -- Boogie shot a cool 80.5 percent from the line as a sophomore and has made 6-of-7 freebies so far this year. One way to try to neutralize Yates is to force him to play defense as much as possible. Though he's a fine defender, MTSU's guard-heavy lineup often makes him the Raiders' biggest player on the court, leading to mismatches against true centers (like Ogilvy, for instance). Tennessee exploited this, and Yates fouled out after playing just 19 minutes.
-- Senior, 6-2, 185 lbs. -- A preseason All-Conference selection, Kanaskie is the Raiders' best perimeter threat. The combo guard led the team with 61 three-pointers last season, draining them at a 37.4 percent clip. He was the team's third-leading scorer a year ago, contributing 11.7 points per game, and he led the Raiders by making 116 free throws. Kanaskie has been outstanding through three games this season, leading the team with 8.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game. The lone area in which he's struggled has been his shooting; after knocking down all six of his three-point attempts against Trevecca, the senior has gone just 6-of-22 from the floor and 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. If the Raiders hope to win in Memorial, they'll need Kanaskie's sharpshooting to open up the floor for the rest of the athletic MTSU squad.
-- Senior, 6-4, 190 lbs. -- After sitting out in the team's first two games, Green picked up where he left off last season, leading the Raiders with 17 points against the Volunteers. The juco transfer's 12.5 points per game were good for second on the team last season, and he'll be counted on to increase that production as teams focus more heavily on slowing down Boogie Yates. Green is a multi-faceted scorer with the ability to shoot the perimeter jumper, drive and finish around the rim, or get to the free throw line. Though the senior is a volume shooter, he rarely shoots his team out of the game, converting 46.8 percent of his field goal attempts last season. A testament to his versatility, the athletic guard finished second on his team with 4.4 rebounds per game a year ago.
-- Senior, 6-2, 185 lbs. -- The lightning-quick Johnson serves as MTSU's point man on both offense and defense. He led the Raiders with 3.4 assists per game last season and has upped that average to 4.3 per game through three games this year. On a team loaded with athletes, Johnson's speed makes him the perfect facilitator of the Raider fast break. He can also be a dangerous three-point shooter, knocking down 31 triples and shooting 41.3 percent from long range last season. The senior's quickness makes him perhaps the team's best on-ball defender, earning him 39 minutes against a hyper-athletic Tennessee group. His match-up with Vanderbilt's Jermaine Beal
will be crucial; if Johnson can disrupt the Commodore offense by forcing Beal to rush, the Blue Raiders could induce enough turnovers to steal a win.
-- Junior, 6-4, 190 lbs. -- O'Neil returns to the MTSU starting lineup after sitting out all but 16 minutes of last season with a torn ACL. Two years ago as a sophomore, the guard earned 28.5 minutes per game, good for second on the team, so he'll undoubtedly play an important role now that he's healthy. O'Neil doesn't pose the same perimeter threat that Kanaskie, Green, and Johnson do, but he's more adept at finding the open spot on the floor and scoring around the basket. After scoring ten points in back-to-back games to start this season, O'Neil was held to a single point against Tennessee on Friday. He may have a hard time getting back on track against a Vanderbilt squad with athletes comparable to the Vols' on the wing.
Like its starting lineup, MTSU's bench is guard-heavy. Junior transfer Eric Allen
and fellow junior guard Darren Avery
are the first two off of the Raider bench and bring different skills to the table. Allen is a scorer who can fill it up from beyond the arc, while Avery is expected to be a defensive stopper. Both stand 6-4, but Avery has 20 pounds on Allen and is capable of defending multiple positions.
Also bolstering the backcourt are 6-2 redshirt freshman Antwaun Boyd
and 6-4 true freshman DeMario Williams
. Boyd's athleticism stacks up with any other Raider's, but he is still honing his offensive skills. Meanwhile, Williams is the Blue Raiders' point guard of the future. He ranks third on the team with 2.0 assists in only 9.3 minutes per game.
Finally, 6-10 senior Theryn Hudson
and 6-4 junior Monterrio Haddock give MTSU a little depth in the frontcourt. Hudson led the team with 5.4 rebounds per game last season and shot 64.7 percent en route to 9.1 points per contest. He played his first game of the year against Tennessee and finished with five points in 13 minutes. He'll likely see many more minutes if Vanderbilt uses a lineup including both Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli
. Haddock is six inches shorter than Hudson, but at 230 pounds, he's a wide-body who can dish out some punishment under the glass. He's averaging 4.0 rebounds through the first three games.
Keys to the Game
- Control the pace -- It was just two years ago that Vanderbilt employed a lineup similar to MTSU's four-guard attack, so the 'Dores should know what they need to do to win on Monday. The Blue Raiders don't shoot as well as that 2006-2007 Vanderbilt squad, but they have more athleticism and a blazing fast point guard to push the action. Coach Davis will implore his team to run at every opportunity, as scoring in the half-court will be difficult against a Commodore team that grossly outsizes MTSU. The faster the tempo, the less of a chance Ogilvy will have to dominate the game. As a result, the 'Dores need to be deliberate with every possession. Vanderbilt has the athletes to run with the Raiders given the opportunity, but to get the big Aussie established, the hosts must play a half-court game.
- Star vs. Star -- A.J. Ogilvy and Boogie Yates have two things in common: Each is regarded as one of the best, if not the best player in his league, and each plays center for his respective team. That's about as far as the similarities run, though. Ogilvy thrives in the paint, where his repertoire of post moves and his ability to finish with either hand make him a menace to defend. Yates, meanwhile, roams the court, scoring from a different spot every possession. As long as the Raiders employ their four-guard lineup, Boogie will certainly be called upon to guard Ogilvy; even in a zone, Yates will occupy the lane. This matchup could prove very fruitful for the Commodore center on the offensive end, but he'll be tested defensively against the quicker Yates. If Ogilvy can establish himself early and draw some quick fouls on Yates, the Raiders will be in for a long night. Conversely, if Boogie can draw Ogilvy out on the perimeter on offense and harass him into an offensive foul or two on defense, the Commodore star could find himself frustrated for the second game in a row.
- Find Kanaskie -- Too often Vanderbilt's guards could be seen out of position when Illinois' Meacham and McCamey lined up a three-point shot. Kanaskie, the Raiders' best shooter, will surely be running off of screens all night; the Commodore guards must do a better job of finding the shooter, especially after helping out down low. The Raiders aren't the nation's most dangerous team from beyond the arc, but if they see the same kinds of looks that the Illini got, they should knock down enough to make this game closer than Vanderbilt would like.
Prediction: The Blue Raiders are one of the toughest teams Vanderbilt will face during the non-conference schedule. Favored to win a good conference, MTSU is not looking for any sort of moral victory on Monday night. The Raiders do not have the size that Illinois did, so the Commodores should have an easier time scoring around the basket. However, if the hosts fall into a back-and-forth affair, they won't get the chances inside that they need to prevent MTSU from hanging around. After a sloppy loss last week, look for Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal to impose their wills on the tempo of this game; if they do, the 'Dores will win a hard-fought contest. Final score: Vanderbilt 72, MTSU 67.