Scouting Report: Central Arkansas

Monday night saw Vanderbilt rebound from its first loss of the season as they dispatched of a pesky Middle Tennessee State team in Memorial. Though the game was a sloppy affair, the banged-up Commodores will take all the wins they can get while still missing some key players. On Wednesday, the 'Dores try to make it two in a row as they host Central Arkansas in a Thanksgiving Eve contest.

Vandy's Last Game

The Commodores improved their effort across the board from the loss to Illinois. After giving up 17 offensive rebounds to the Illini, Vanderbilt out-rebounded MTSU 42-30 and gave up just ten offensive boards. The 'Dores played inspired defense, holding the Blue Raiders to a paltry 30.4 percent from the field. Once again, the Vanderbilt interior defense proved suffocating, as the home team held its opponent under 30.0 percent shooting on two-point shots for the second straight game.

Offensively, the Commodores were able to establish an inside-out game that eluded them against Illinois. A.J. Ogilvy led all scorers with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, while freshman Jeffery Taylor recorded his first career double-double, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Vanderbilt's timely outside shooting helped to open the floor for its forwards. Brad Tinsley, Jermaine Beal, and Charles Hinkle combined to go 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Though they won the game, the Commodores suffered a loss when sophomore Andre Walker left the game with a injured knee in the second half. He will likely miss Wednesday's game, leaving the 'Dores even shorter-handed against Central Arkansas.

Central Arkansas At-A-Glance

Like the Commodores, Coach Rand Chappell's Bears entered the 2008-2009 season looking to replace the production of a few key players, including last season's conference-leading scorer. Out of the Southland Conference, Central returns only two starters from last year's 14-14 team, but the Bears will have the services of two important players who watched last season from the sidelines. They'll also count on a crop of freshmen and a junior college transfer who could end up becoming the league's best sixth man.

The Bears (2-1) began this season -- only their third in Division I -- on a sour note, as they served as little more than practice fodder for Northwestern. The Wildcats drubbed Central Arkansas in Evanston, holding the Bears to 25.0 percent shooting while converting on 60.9 percent of their own shot attempts. Since that 81-39 debacle, the Bears have won two straight, beating Bacone College of the NAIA and UNC-Greensboro in Conway.

Starting Lineup

Marcus Pillow -- Junior, 6-0, 190 lbs. -- Pillow is the Bears' leading returning scorer and assist man from last season. With 13.0 points and 2.7 assists per game this season, the combo guard again paces his team in both categories. Pillow is Central Arkansas' most dangerous shooter; his 69 three-pointers led the team last season, and he has knocked down nine trifectas in three games this year. Though he can be a prolific scorer, Pillow needs a lot of shots to get his points. He's taken 30 attempts to get those nine three-pointers, for example, and his overall shooting percentage is down to 30.6 percent from last season's 33.6 percent. Pillow can also be erratic as a lead guard. His team-best 2.7 assists per game are offset by 4.0 turnovers per contest, also a team high. The junior will undoubtedly take his standard 12 to 15 shots on Wednesday; if he catches fire or the Commodores leave him open too often, the Bears could pose a bigger threat than expected.

Mitch Reuter -- Junior, 6-6, 220 lbs. -- After sitting out last season with a torn ACL, Reuter returns to the Bears' starting lineup and will immediately be counted on to shoulder a big portion of the scoring load. The swingman is Central Arkansas' best inside-outside player; he has the size to be effective in the lane and the stroke to make teams guard him on the perimeter. Reuter is shooting 52.4 percent from the field through the Bears' first three games, including a 7-for-13 effort against Barcone. Though the junior has just one three-pointer this season, he made 27 of his 76 attempts in his freshman campaign. Reuter hasn't been a huge factor on the glass, averaging just 3.7 rebounds per game, but with a pair of bigger forwards in the frontcourt, he can focus on other parts of his game.

Chris Brown -- Sophomore, 6-8, 210 lbs. -- One of the aforementioned bigger forwards is Brown, a transfer from Wichita State who the Bears hope will provide an athletic presence in the post. Like Reuter, Brown (8.3 ppg) converts a high percentage of his shots in the paint, but he doesn't offer the outside shooting that Reuter brings. The sophomore has been a boon on the glass thus far, averaging 6.3 rebounds per game. He just missed a double-double in his second game as a Bear, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine boards in the win over Bacone. Brown will be asked to help contain a depleted Vanderbilt frontcourt and could find himself pitted against A.J. Ogilvy if center Brian Marks gets into foul trouble.

Brian Marks -- Senior, 6-9, 260 lbs. -- By far the Bears' biggest body, Marks will be called upon to defend Ogilvy for as long as he can stay on the court. The senior is a load in the paint, and he's used that size to collect a team-best 8.3 rebounds per game this season. Of his 25 rebounds, 13 have come on the offensive end, making him a threat to a Commodore squad that gave up 17 offensive rebounds just two games ago. Outside of second-chance points, though, Marks isn't much of a scorer. He's averaged 5.7 points per game this season while shooting just 41.2 percent, a low number for a wide-bodied post player who doesn't take many shots. Defensively, Marks will be able to bang with Ogilvy, but the big Aussie shouldn't have much trouble shooting over the senior. Marks averaged nearly a block per game last season but racked up most of those blocked shots against undersized mid-major teams.

Dewan Clayborn -- Freshman, 5-11, 180 lbs. -- Though he's struggled to find any offensive rhythm in his first three collegiate games, Clayborn has earned a starting spot because of his ability to distribute and take care of the basketball. With an erratic combo guard like Pillow in the lineup, Central Arkansas will benefit from having a steadier guard in the backcourt as well. Clayborn shares the team lead with 2.7 assists per game, and he's committed half the turnovers that Pillow has. The freshman has also been effective on the defensive end, swiping three steals in the win over UNC-Greensboro. However, Clayborn didn't make his first field goal until the team's third game, and he's started his career going 2-of-14 from the field, including 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. If he can find his shot, he will be an important contributor to his team.

Bench

Junior Mike Pouncy is the Bears' sixth man and second-leading scorer. After logging just ten minutes in his first game, the junior college transfer has scored 34 points in his last two, including an 11-for-14, 26-point outburst against UNC-Greensboro. The 6-1, 195-pound guard does most of his damage inside the three-point arc, using a quick first step to knife into the lane and finish around the basket. Also a solid defender, Pouncy has recorded a steal in each of the team's three games.

Also fortifying the Central Arkansas backcourt is 6-1 sophomore Imad Qahwash. Used sparingly in his freshman season, Qahwash simply needs to play sound defense and take care of the ball in order to contribute alongside scorers Pillow and Pouncy.

Senior center Landrell Brewer and freshman forward Chris Henson bolster the Bears' frontcourt. The 6-8 Brewer is the team's best shotblocker and a solid rebounder, while Henson, also 6-8, has provided a bit of scoring punch in his limited action so far.

Keys to the Game

  • Quick Start -- Vanderbilt has gotten off to a sluggish start in every game this season, including the exhibition against Alabama-Huntsville. Against a significant underdog like Central Arkansas, a slow start is the first step on the path to an upset. The Commodores should handle the Bears, but if the hosts repeat the pattern of playing a sloppy first ten minutes, the underdogs will gain confidence and might hang around for a while. Conversely, if the 'Dores limit turnovers and establish their post game in the game's first quarter, they should be able to put away the Bears by halftime.

  • Empty the Bench -- With Goulbourne and Tchiengang out and Walker likely to miss the game, Wednesday's contest gives Coach Stallings an opportunity to see what other reserves can offer. If the Commodores do get off to a good start, look for Festus Ezeli (barring further back issues), Darshawn McClellan, George Drake, and Charles Hinkle to get significant minutes. Stallings knows that Walker, Goulbourne, and Tchiengang are key players; he'll look to further define his playing rotation in what should be a rout.

Prediction: Of Vanderbilt's early games, this is the one the Commodores are most likely to run away with. The Bears are just three years removed from Division II, and they have yet to find an offensive identity after losing their go-to scorer from last season. Though they have a bit of size and athleticism, the 'Dores should be able to establish an inside game and continue their string of fine defensive performances. Despite missing three players, this is not a game Vanderbilt should come close to losing. Final score: Vanderbilt 79, Central Arkansas 54.

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