After six days off, Missouri returns to the court in a big-time non-conference game with Vanderbilt. The Commodores have lost just once and have already beaten North Carolina. Can they upset the Tigers? We get the scouting report from Chris Lee of VandySports.com.
What are the strengths of this Vanderbilt team?
Vanderbilt is good at a lot of things. People traditionally look at Vanderbilt as a plodding team that shoots a lot of outside shots and excels in a half-court offense, but coach Kevin Stallings has done an outstanding job of recruiting athletes to the point to where the Commodores are no longer a one-trick pony.
Offensively, Vandy can get points from a lot of places. The percentages don't show it right now, but shooting guard John Jenkins may be the most gifted shooter in America, and if he has the ball and an inch of space, the shot is going up. Festus Ezeli is emerging as a go-to scorer inside, and is slowly adding a few post moves and short shots to compliment his thundering dunks, and players like junior Lance Goulbourne and freshman Rod Odom have started to emerge as guys who can get points in bunches, too.
And probably what's most impressive about VU offensively is that they've done it without contributions from Jeff Taylor on most nights. Since scoring 27 against Presbyterian on opening night (with just one missed shot), foul trouble and a minor injury have kept Taylor from being anything close to what he can be. The junior will likely declare for the NBA Draft after this season, and is usually the best athlete on the floor when he's in the game.
The other two notable qualities about this team are that they rebound and defend better than any VU team in memory. Goulbourne and Ezeli have been outstanding in both those areas, and Goulbourne, in particular, has been a monster on the offensive glass. Taylor was voted the Southeastern Conference's preseason defensive player of the year, and Stallings often matches him up against opposing guards, which can make shots hard to get off given that Taylor is 6-foot-7.
Vandy's man-to-man defense has been very good for the most part, though Stallings will occasionally show a 2-3 zone. The zone was instrumental in beating North Carolina in Puerto Rico, but has looked pedestrian at other times this year.
Missouri likes to get teams running up and down the court. Are the Commodores comfortable with that or are they better in a half-court game?
The Commodores like to push the ball up the floor and get buckets in transition as much as they can. They won't remind you of Missouri in that regard, but since the stereotype persists that VU is a plodding, Princeton-offense-kind-of-team, the way they run the floor at times probably surprises some fans who don't see them often.
Ironically, it's the half-court offense that Stallings is most-displeased with at this time. They were not good at it in the first half of Saturday's game against a good Belmont squad, but Stallings made some adjustments and VU scored 50 in the second half. Turnovers are a huge part of the problem, as the Commodores don't tend to take good care of the ball at times.
Who is the one player who has to play well for the Commodores to pull the upset?
If there's one area of concern for Vanderbilt, it's point guard. Junior Brad Tinsley tallied the first triple-double in school history in the opener vs. Presbyterian, but let's face it, the rest of the schedule will be nothing like that. Tinsley is a better athlete than people think, and a very good passer, and Stallings seems to have confidence in the way he runs the team.
Still he has struggled with turnovers against good teams. He's prone to getting his pocket picked once or twice a game. He also tends to pick up his dribble too quickly in the half-court, which leads to double-teams that cause issues with the offensive flow.
His backup, freshman Kyle Fuller, played his high school ball in inner-city Los Angeles, so he's naturally geared to playing an up-tempo style of ball and to facing pressure. Fuller's speed with the ball and his lateral quickness may be the best on the team. But like many freshmen getting used to the speed of the college game, he plays out-of-control at times, and he's not a guy who concerns opponents with his shooting ability just yet.
If you could combine Fuller and Tinsley's strengths, you'd have a fairly-complete point guard. But at this point, you sacrifice something when one of them is on the floor running the show.
Which areas do you think the Tigers have an edge over Vandy in this game?
Anderson is a terrific coach, and you can expect he'll go after Vandy's guards with a lot of pressure. In addition to the issues at the point, Vanderbilt is without starting power forward Andre Walker for a while due to a bout of mononucleosis, and there's no game on the schedule where his absence hurts more than it will against Missouri.
Walker doesn't score much, but his ball-handling skills have made him very effective against the press. He's an outstanding passer, too. Goulbourne and Odom will pick up more playing time in Walker's place, and while both have become good scorers, they've combined for seven assists against 24 turnovers.
On the whole, the Commodores are a very good team, and a team that could potentially play past the first weekend of NCAA Tournament play. But if they don't take care of the ball well enough on Wednesday, it's going to be tremendously difficult to upset the Tigers.
Vanderbilt's only loss this season came in its only road game. Do you think this is a team that can go on the road and win in a tough environment?
In addition to everything else, Stallings has done an outstanding job of changing the culture of the program from a team that can upset anyone at home, but gets clobbered on the road.
Last year, VU went 6-2 on the road in the Southeastern Conference. They were the only team to win at Tennessee last season, and they also won a tough contest at Sweet 16 participant St. Mary's, too.
And while VU actually hasn't played a true "road" game (the loss to West Virginia came in Puerto Rico), a number of players on this squad have won a lot of big road contests over the years. While playing on the road at a tough venue like Missouri will be a tough test, I think it's the Tigers' style of play that will cause more problems for Vandy than their fans.
PowerMizzou.com will have complete coverage of the Tigers and Commodores from Mizzou Arena tonight.
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