Saturday, March 13, 2010

VSL Gets You Ready: Vanderbilt to Face Mississippi State in the SEC Semifinals

Vanderbilt's match-up with Mississippi State, the second SEC Semifinal game will certainly get much less attention than the first game between Kentucky and Tennessee. That's fine. Because whichever team emerges from that battle will hopefully be so emotionally exhausted, that their finals opponents (hopefully the Commodores) will be able to capitalize. But as the old cliche goes, one game at a time. Before Vanderbilt gets a shot at either the Wildcats or the Volunteers, they'll have to get through another pack of Bulldogs. Only this time, these Dawgs are playing for more than just pride, they're playing to make the field of 65.

Brief Recap:

Vanderbilt played a great tonight against the Georgia Bulldogs. For proper recaps, check out Jeff Lockridge's Tennessean article, and David Boclair's Nashville City Paper piece. My observations or highlights will be brief. Clearly, The Stroke, John Jenkins is the lead story for VSLNation. Jenkins showed tonight the scoring ability we hope to see for the next several years. Jenkins was 7-10 from the floor, 5-8 from downtown, and 6-6 from the charity stripe for a career high of 25 points. Beal added 16 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds, while A.J. contributed 10 points and 7 rebounds. I thought the Commodores stopped going to A.J. enough and that he should be taking more than 8 shots. Still, a solid performance.

The unsung heroes of tonight's game were Andre Walker and Steve Tchiengang (a.k.a. Stevie Thunder). Walker had the kind of glue game that pleases observers of this team (or at least me) immensely. 6 points, 10 rebounds (5 offensive/5 defensive), 5 assists, 3 blocks. He did it all. Stevie Thunder added 9 points, grabbed 2 boards, played exceptionally good defense, and perhaps most importantly, provided a spark and intensity off the bench that the team needed. Of all the guys on the team, he looks like he's playing the hardest and having the most fun. He is truly infectious to watch (and someone worth following on Twitter to boot).

A dark-spot, perhaps the lone on in this convincing win, was the play of Jeffery Taylor, who only netted 4 points, while grabbing 6 boards. He was 2-9 shooting, what's surprising is that he didn't get to the free throw line at all, something he's only done two other times this season. The great thing about this Vanderbilt team is that there are a lot of guys who can hurt you on any given night. Still, I think this team is better and more dynamic on offense if one of those guys in Jeffery.

Looking at Mississippi State

The Bulldogs beat Florida 75-69, and withstood a pretty fierce comeback back by the Gators after the game looked out of reach. Some things about their win stand out to me though:
1. Florida out-rebounded Mississippi State 34-23, the entire margin of which was on the offensive glass. In fact, Florida out-scored the Bulldogs 12-2 in second chance points. This leads me to believe that MSU is not a great rebounding team and that if Vanderbilt can establish themselves early on the boards, like they did against Georgia, then they will put themselves in a great position to win.
2. This team lives and dies by the 3 pointer. MSU was 10-20 last night.
3. Mississippi State's balanced scoring attack means everyone on the floor has be accounted for on the offensive end. In last night's game, 5 MSU players started and scored in double digits (against the Commodores, only 4 reached double figures).

Mississippi State's best known player is 3-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who is the all-time shot-blocker in college basketball history. Still, I'm not sure he is the key. Stewart Barry played a great time, pouring in 17 points against Florida. And Dee Bost, the diminutive point guard is the kind of player that Vanderbilt always has a difficult time suceessfully defended. Like Vanderbilt was able to do last night, the key for this team is not letting 2 players get hot at the same him. Mississippi State fan, who we'll affectionate refer to as Professor Baby Daddy, thinks the Mississippi State team is as good as 6'8 forward Kodi Augustus. Augustus was the Bulldogs leading scorer when the teams faced off in Nashville, pouring in 15 points on 6-12 shooting, in Vanderbilt's 75-72 win.

Bobby's Keys:
1. Free Throws: I said this was a key last night and it ended up not being. So I figure, what's the likelihood I'm wrong twice? I guess we'll find out. Vanderbilt attempted 5 more free throws that Mississippi State when these teams met in early February, of which they made 4. Vanderbilt won the game by 4. You do the math. The Commodores were able to get the Bulldogs in foul trouble in Nashville, with Varnado picking up 4, while forward Ravern Johnson fouled out. The Commodores would be well advised look to get this team in foul trouble early.

2. Depth. Again, relying of the expertise of Professor Baby Daddy, who saus Mississippi State is not a very deep team, Vanderbilt should look to play an up-tempo game and force the Bulldogs to commit a lot of fouls early. There is a serious drop-off in talent once Coach Rick Stansbury has to go to the bench. For one thing, I thought Kevin Stallings' decision to press, trap right before the half-court line, and then fall back into that 2-3 zone was a great strategy against Georgia. I can't help but think we'll see more of that today. Consider this, in their last 3 regular season games, Mississippi State's bench scored a combined 13 points. They scored 11 last night against the Gators. If they bench is M.I.A. Vanderbilt has a much better chance to win.

3. Defending the Three. Mississippi State likes to fire 3 pointers. If they are hitting them, they are a tough team to beat. When they're not, they're not. In SEC play, the Bulldogs are 4-5 when they shoot below 33% from downtown, and 6-2 when they shoot better than that. MSU shoots 40.7% from downtown when they win and just 28.7% when they lose.

4. High-Scoring Affair. Mississippi State is 13-3 when opponents score 65 points or less, and just 9-7 when their opponents score over 65 a game. For their part, the Bulldogs are 11-2 when they reach 75 points or more.

The NYC Commodore Crew anchored by Douglas James and myself will be at Barrow Street Ale House with many stalwarts of VSLNation. A welcoming group, Professor Baby Daddy and his wife, the lovely Knocked Up will be watching the game with us. Wife of Bobby will undoubtedly have to rely on her many years of friendship with these two to withstand the absurdity and offensiveness of my behavior in front of our dear friends. There won't be a live-blog, but as always, you can follow my thoughts on our Twitter feed, VSLNation. Game tips 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Kentucky/Tennessee game on ABC, but not before 3:15 eastern. Should be a good one.


Jdwendellc said...

Any thoughts on how losses by Wisconsin, Maryland, UNM and BYU might impact our tournament seeding? Can't hurt...

Bobby O'Shea said...

I'm glad you asked, see my most recent post

Andrew VU '04 said...

"Stevie Thunder?" Is this a new nickname you've constructed? If so, I heartily approve. Boffo.