'The Biggest Challenge All Year'

After dispatching No.13 seed Montana, No.4 seed Wisconsin has an even bigger challenge on its plate when it matches up with No.5 seed and SEC Tournament champion Vanderbilt for the right to go to the Sweet 16 in Boston next weekend. Assistant coach Gary Close had the scouting report and he breaks down the Commodores.

Although they finished six games back behind No.1 Kentucky in the SEC regular season, No.5 seed Vanderbilt showed its muscle by knocking out the Wildcats to win the SEC Tournament title. Now the Commodores are looking to make it to the second weekend of the tournament for only the third time in school history when it faces No.4 seed Wisconsin at 5:10 p.m. CT.

Assigned the scouting report on Vanderbilt, assistant coach Gary Close breaks down the Badgers third round opponent to Badger Nation.

BN: Since Feb.8, Vanderbilt has lost three times and twice to Kentucky. When you watch the film of the Commodores over that stretch, can you tell that they are playing with some confidence?

Close: They play terrific. They have been playing pretty well down the stretch, probably the last four or five games, heading into the SEC Tournament. They played Kentucky very tight both games even though they lost. Both games came down to the last one or two possessions. They beat Florida and they obviously continued that momentum right through the tournament by beating Kentucky in the final.

BN: Vandy's three post players combined for 41 of its 71 points in that SEC final against Kentucky. What about its post play about the Wildcats really impressed you because it seemed Vandy's work in the paint really gave Kentucky problems?

Close: I saw a little bit of the game live and have since watched it on tape. Vanderbilt is very impressive defensively right around the horn. Their inside guys are strong, athletic and powerful. Their guards are quick and long, as well. They play really good solid defense and have been doing that most of the year. I think they rank No.1 in their conference in 3-point defense. I know they rank first in 3-point field goals offensively. The big fellow inside (6-11 center Festus Ezeli) gives them a shot-blocking, intimating force inside. They are very impressive on both ends of the court.

BN: What makes Ezeli so good that he has the ability to change how post players operate in the post?

Close: He's very strong and very physical. He's a senior, so he's been around the block. Has great length. He's a real defensive presence no question. I think you need to be aggressive on the perimeter because they have him inside to protect the rim, and he does a good job of that. We're going to have to move him around a little bit to try to open up some gaps because if he's around the rims, he's pretty tough to score on.

BN: As good as he is, Vanderbilt's two guards might be the best one-two punch in the country. Junior John Jenkins leads the SEC with 20.1 points per game and senior Jeff Taylor is second in the league with 16.3 per game. What are your impressions of those two?

Close: Those are two pros. They'll be playing at the next level. Jenkins has led the league in scoring the last two years and both shoot over 43 percent from 3-point range. They can put it on the floor and are big and physical. They are both the total package and probably the best couple players in the country. I don't know how many teams can say they have two guards like that in the country. They are experienced as well as talented.

BN: When you break Vanderbilt down, what style would you label them as? What do they like to latch on to?

Close: I would say they are probably a lot like Indiana or Purdue in our league. They aren't going to press very much but they will play pretty physical half-court defense. Offensively they can score a lot of points because they can score a lot of ways. They can shoot from three, they can post up and they can put it on the floor. It's why they as good as they are and hard to defend. They've got a lot of weapons and a lot of ways to beat you.

BN: You mentioned they are like Indiana and Purdue. Does it help the scouting report and the message get delivered to the boys because you have teams you've played?

Close: It does a little bit and in some cases you might point out an individual that's like another players for a point of reference. In some ways, it helps, even though they are a little different than those two teams. They are similarities with Indiana having Zeller and Vanderbilt having Ezeli inside. Both Indiana and Purdue have guards that can shoot it like Vanderbilt, but these are much bigger guards.

Vanderbilt plays a lot like Purdue defensively. (Vandy coach) Kevin Stallings played at Purdue and was an assistant there, so there are some similarities in playing physical.

Vanderbilt is different than Indiana because they are more experienced. In some ways they are better and in some way they are not. Vanderbilt is deep, talented and experienced with four seniors that start, their sixth man being a senior and Jenkins plays like a senior. They have been in a lot of wars together and they think this is their year. You watch them play Kentucky the three times they played them this year, you see them play them toe to toe all three times.

BN: You mention their 3-point field goal defense and that was a real strength of yours in beating Montana. What makes them good with their 3-point defense and what does Wisconsin need to do in order to get the looks you've had the last couple games?

Close: Well, they have great athletes that are big and long, so they can close out quickly and put pressure on shooters right around the horn with their perimeter players. They can play a little more extended because they have a shot blocker behind them. I think we have to take what they give us. We have to get some inside offense and well as outside. We'll need to move the ball well and get some penetration work, draw some help and make the extra pass. I'll bet we won't get as many open threes like we did against Montana, but you never know. You have to go in with the idea that you have to take what the defense gives us and if those are from three, so be it.

BN: You kind of answered this question but what is going to key for Wisconsin Saturday against Vanderbilt if you guys want to advance? Probably what the key has been all year in not forcing shots, taking what the opponent gives you and get that inside presence like you had in the second half against Montana?

Close: I would agree with that and I think we'll need a phenomenal defensive effort. We'll need all five guys on the same page because there are so many ways they can beat you. Between driving the lane, posting up, each position we'll have to lock in and try to make them take tough shots. That's easier said than done because Jenkins makes tough shots. He'll get his points. He's scored in double figures in 60-some games now, but we've got to make it work and try to keep some of those other guys down. We can't let Jenkins score 40, which he is capable of doing.

From a defensive standpoint, this might be the biggest challenge we've faced all year with the number of weapons they've got.

BN: If you say you need a phenomenal defensive effort, how would you describe your effort against Montana?

Close: I think we're going to have to play better. Montana is not as physical as Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is … they're men. Their size, their length and their strength right through the lineup is really impressive. Their guards are big and strong and while Montana's guards were quick, they weren't as physical. I thought the second half we were a little bit better than the first but this will be a different challenge. Montana really didn't have any inside presence to speak of, so I think this might be as good of team as we'll play defensively. Physically I think they are on par with Michigan State and Ohio State with the number of weapons they got.


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