Intriguing local matchup tonight at Bridgestone Arena as Middle Tennessee (8-3) takes on Vanderbilt (5-4) in the venue that will host the SEC Tournament this coming March. The Blue Raiders are a 5 and a half point favorite in Vegas, but that number might be a few points higher were it not for the name recognition factor of both programs. This is Middle’s best chance in a long time of getting a win over the Commodores, who have won this matchup each of the last 4 seasons. Let’s take a look at a scouting report and how the teams match up using my observation
backed up by the statistical analysis of Ken Pomeroy (www.kenpom.com).
There is a stark contrast in the makeup of these teams in terms of depth and experience:
% of Bench Minutes (D-1 rank out of 347) Experience (rank)
Middle TN 40.6% (19) 2.62 yrs (2)
Vanderbilt 22.8% (324) 1.11 yrs (318)
Middle plays an entire lineup of Juniors and Seniors, while VU has no seniors on the roster and only a pair of juniors with key roles. The Blue Raiders go a legitimate 10 deep, with Vanderbilt scraping together 8- though the return of G Dai-Jon Parker provides some much needed help in the backcourt.
PROFILE: BLUE RAIDERS (#35 Ken Pomeroy Rank)
- Balanced scoring with no stars, but with a ton of players who can make a big play. Kerry Hammonds is 10th on the team in scoring, but hit perhaps the biggest shot of the year thus far with a tough 15 footer in the final minute of Middle’s big win over Ole Miss.
- Average shooting team, but excels by earning extra possessions on the offensive glass (grabs 39% of their own missed shots, ranking 28th)
- Has improved on last year’s Achillies-- FTs: 68.4 %, up from last year (63.5%)
- Major strength (rank: 35). Pressure Man to Man using their depth to wear down the opponent and sustain the intensity every possession.
- Particularly effective on the perimeter. Causes a high rate of steals and turnovers, and is holding opponents to just 28% from 3 point range (27 th).
14 MARCOS KNIGHT- Stocky slasher at the 2 guard position. Decent shooter but prefers to drive, score or get fouled. Has taken the most FT’s on the team. Excellent defender.
12 SHAWN JONES- Has done a good job in the role that LeRon Dendy was in last year. Top inside scorer who is also Middle’s best offensive rebounder. Poor FT shooter (52%).
13 BRUCE MASSEY- true point guard who can create and distribute. Would rather dish than shoot. Has not hit a 3 pointer this season. Excellent defender.
15 RAYMOND CINTRON- 3 point specialist. Takes and makes the most 3’s on the team by far, and hits a very good percentage (44%).
PROFILE: COMMODORES (126)
- Relies heavily on the 3 point shot, a surprise on the surface based on the loss of shooters from last year like John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor, and Brad Tinsley. 43% of their Field Goal attempts are from 3pt range (12th most in D-1). Hitting a solid 36% as a team.
- Getting very little production in the paint. No post threat. Ranks 314 th with only 45% of their offensive production coming from 2point FG’s.
- Struggling to take and make FT’s. Hitting a poor 59% from the line, but the bigger problem is the lack of ability to get fouled and get to the line to begin with (16.5 FTA per game).
- Solid, scrappy man to man that can mix in some zone. Has improved since the season started and has become a strength. Pressures the ball well and defends the 3 effectively (30.6%).
- Does a good job of boxing out and holding opponents off the offensive boards.
2 KEDREN JOHNSON- has emerged as the focal point of the offense. Has vastly improved his outside shooting and can drive and dish as well. Long arms and reach help him on defense and help him get his shot off in traffic.
11 KYLE FULLER- plays with great intensity on both ends. Not a great shooter but wills himself to make plays. Can be very up and down, but confidence seems to be growing.
0 ROD ODOM- The key to Vanderbilt’s success on offense. Must be more efficient and is capable of doing so. Showing signs of life of late. Not a post up player. Prefers to step out and shoot 3’s. Can get to the basket but having trouble keeping his balance and finishing strong with conversions.
15 KEVIN BRIGHT- freshman with length and and a soft shooting touch. Still learning how to get his shot off more, which should improve over time. Has as many 3’s made (14) as he does FT’s and 2 pointers combined. Solid rebounder and defender at the 3spot.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Tonight’s game has a good chance to be a grinder in the high 50’s. Both teams will be confident in their respective half court pressure man to man defenses. Vanderbilt will need to know the particular strengths of Middle’s deep personnel. They have to know who they are guarding and what that person likes to do. Guarding Cintron is very different than guarding either of the Knight’s for example. The Commodores will have to excel both limiting 2nd chance points and cheap points off turnovers. If Middle has a big edge in these two areas, they will win. Middle will try and wear down Johnson and Fuller with their pressure and depth. They can do this on both ends of the court. Foul trouble could be a concern for the
Commodores with their thin bench, especially the way the Blue Raiders attack the basket on offense. Dai-Jon Parker potentially can play a key role.
Finally, MT will definitely extend and challenge the VU 3 point shooters. They will dare the Dores to make something happen in the paint. Watch to see if Vanderbilt can get a lift from someone like Odom or Josh Henderson to balance things inside. If they don’t, it will be a long night unless they hit a bunch of tough ones from downtown- which won’t be easy.
This has a chance to be a good finish, but Vanderbilt will have to play it’s best game of the year to win. For the first time in this matchup’s history, it’s the young Commodores who are the scrappy underdog. This Middle team is excellent, even better than last year. They should win about 25 games, but contests like this are important for them. They have a nice win over Ole Miss, but this is their last chance to play an out of conference team from a power conference. A loss here would not look good on their resume.