Friday, March 16, 2007

Washington State Preview

After absolutely beating the crap out of The George Washington Colonials, Vanderbilt now looks ahead to a match-up with the #13 ranked Washington State Cougars, a 3 seed in the East Region. Washington State is an interesting team, as they completely defied expectations (much like the Commies) to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. 26-7 on the year, with a record of 13-5 in the Pac-10, Washington State has beaten 5 top 25 opponents this season (one less than the Commies), and has a record of 7-6 against NCAA Tournament teams (Vanderbilt is 5-4). For some reason, the Sports Information Director at Washington State thinks its worth mentioning that Cougars currently have the most diverse men’s basketball team in the Pac-10 with seven states, the District of Columbia, and three countries represented. Note to Rod Commmons, it’s not.

Washington State has never played Vanderbilt, but they have defeated Kevin Stallings when he was the head coach at Illinois State in the second round of the NIT in 1995. What they have done is held their last 10 opponents to scoring droughts of 0 field goals for 5 minutes or longer at some point during the game. That stat, coupled with Kevin Stallings’ penchant to horde time-outs might mean Commie fans playing the VSL Basketball Drinking Game could be in for a long day. For those of us attending weddings this weekend, I imagine the dance floor will be a sight for sore eyes.

While Vanderbilt 33 point shellacking of GW pretty much speaks for itself, Washington State’s road to the second round is worth delving into a bit. Down 2 at the half, Tony Bennett’s squad got red hot in the second half, shooting close to 60% from the floor, and 50% from behind the arc. On the season Washington State is 10-2 when trailing at the half. While that’s admirable, it’s worth mentioning that only 3 of the teams they beat were up by 6 or more at the half.

As Brett Hait writes in yesterday’s City Paper, The Cougars are ranked 15th in the nation in scoring defense entering the NCAA Tournament. According to Kevin Stallings, “Their defense is unusually good.” That sage wisdom aside, Bennett’s boys are 16-1 when holding opponents to 40% or less from the floor. They are just 10-6 when opponents shoot better than that.

Washington State is not particularly deep, with only 7 players getting more than 10 minutes against Oral Roberts, and 5 playing over 29 minutes. Compare that to Vanderbilt, who, by virtue of being pretty deep, and having blown out GW, had 10 players get over 10 minutes of run, and 9 over 15. Washington State likes to play a slower paced, half-court game. While Vanderbilt can certainly play that style, the depth of their bench and the fact that they have fresher legs, would lead you believe that the Commies will look to push the ball, and play their aggressive 2-3 trapping zone that has been so successful all season. On the year, Washington State had a -.7 turnover average, so clearly they don’t take care of the basketball as well as they could. Vanderbilt’s ability to create turnovers, get out in transition, and turn those Washington State mistakes into points will be key for Vanderbilt dictating pace and ultimately winning.

Vanderbilt’s depth aside, Dan Cage did hurt his back in the GW loss. He was going to rehab and rest friday, and is expected to start tomorrow. Given the spark-plug performance of presumptive 2009 SEC Player of the Year George Drake, I wouldn’t be shocked if Stallings had deadly Dan come off the bench if he isn’t 100% at tip time. In other news, Dan does appear to be drug free.

Washington State is not a big team, with only one player being over 6-7 in their starting five. While Vanderbilt is usually a team that gets beaten on the boards, that should not be the case tomorrow. The Commies will have to keep an eye on Washington State junior guard Derrick Low and swingman Kyle Weaver. Low averages 13.5 points a game, but as’s tournament preview points out, he is a very inconsistent offensive player. Low put up 37 against Oregon, but just 2 against UCLA. Weaver is Washington State’s most versatile player according to the ESPN preview, averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, and the first Cougar to get a triple double ever. Sophomore guard Taylor Rochestie brings the ball up for the Cougars allowing Low to wander more on offense (think Erik Snow and A.I. with fewer tats). Rochestie is relatively new to the starting line-up and has a poor turnover/assist ratio of 2:1. Harassing the youngster will go a long way in forcing turnovers and speeding up the pace of the game. Robbie Cowgill and Ivory Clark round out the starting line-up, and are the two best Cougar defenders, and are respectively averaging 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds, and 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds respectively. Cowgill is the sole starter over 6-7.

For Vanderbilt to be successful, they will need to get the dynamic duo off to a good start. Since blowing up, Derrick Byars appears to be pressing a bit (maybe he's too banded together). He is only shooting 35% from the floor in his last four, including 10-32 from downtown. If Derrick just lets the game comes to him, he will be that much more deadly. Vanderbilt has a number of offensive weapons and Derrick doesn’t have to do it all by himself. In particular, look for Alex Gordon to give the Commies a big offensive lift. He was an efficient 2-3 from downtown, and 4-4 at the charity stripe for 10 points yesterday. He added 4 assists and should be able to teach the younger Rochestie a thing or two about this little game we like to call basketball.

Props to David Rodriguez, who scored his first points of the season against the Colonials. Last year, Hait writes, David was playing in a fraternity league. I wonder if he ever had the pleasure of an errant elbow from the Stanimal?

According to university officials, about 325 black-and-gold supporters made the trek to Sac Town. If I knew I was going to be weathered in today, I might have tried to get to Mississippi via Sacramento.

After round one, the Math Teacher has overtaken the old man for the early lead. Team O'Connell was 29-3 in the first round of the Vanderbilt Sports Line Bracket Challenge.

Finally, the powers that be (Seamus and I), have decided that the person who finishes last in the VSL Bracket Challenge will have to write a poem about the winner and his/her picks. Details to follow, but don’t think this challenge doesn’t have consequences…because it does.

Enjoy the game tomorrow.

Go Commies.

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