Brad Tinsley will have the edge over Oregon State's point guard platoon in tonight's Finals.
Poor Cleveland State. Despite beating Vanderbilt in the opening round of the TCLC, they got stuck playing St. Bonaventure and Kent State while Vandy backed into a pair of resume-building games against BCS conference teams.
Kevin Stallings and his crew are hoping that these games provide some healthy resume fodder when the selection committee looks at Vandy's prospective seeding in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina State and Oregon State don't have the same cache that wins in the preseason NIT or Maui Invitational would hold, put could still present some significant victories depending on how the season plays out. Excepting NC State's loss to Vanderbilt, both teams are undefeated so far.
Oregon State took a tough road to get there, though. Their matchup with Texas was a high-scoring affair that went into overtime when Texas's Myck Kabongo had his game-winning shot blocked in the paint by Eric Moreland. The Beavers took over from there, opening the extra frame with a 9-2 run that effectively sealed their spot next to Vanderbilt in the title game.
Jared Cunningham has emerged as a star over the course of the Beavers' last two games, averaging 36 points per contest and leading OSU to a pair of victories. Against Texas, he went 20-23 from the free throw line and played a big role in fouling out four of the Longhorns' big men. The 6'4" shooting guard will have a speed advantage over John Jenkins, so the Commodores will likely turn to a combination of Jeffery Taylor and freshman Dai-Jon Parker to stop him. If Taylor can limit Cunningham consistently, it would make a huge statement for his NBA resume.
Cunningham will team up with Devon Collier to give the Beavers a strong scoring combination at the wings. Collier is averaging 16 points per game behind an efficient slashing attack. While he's not much of a three-point threat, he can get to the rim and the free throw line with relative ease - he's attempted 7.5 free throws per game through the season thus far.
Eric Moreland, a redshirt freshman, is a lithe big man who can rebound and block shots well. However, he'll cede a strength advantage to Steve Tchiengang and Lance Goulbourne, who will be tasked in keeping him off the glass. What Moreland lacks in girth, Joe Burton replaces. The tree stump of a center stands only 6'7" but has the strength, rebounding ability, and passing to be effective in the pivot. He leads the team with six assist per game so far but was held to just seven points and three rebounds while fouling out against Texas. Australian big man Angus Brandt rounds out a solid OSU big man rotation.
Vanderbilt will have the edge at point guard, which is Oregon State's most unsettled position. The diminutive Ahmad Starks is a volume scorer who shot 35.6 percent from the field last year and sits at 37.8% in 2011. While he has the quickness to pester Brad Tinsley, Vandy's zone defense should minimize his impact. Roberto Nelson also handles the duty at the point, but he's had a rough year so far, shooting just 31.3 percent and struggling at the free throw line.
Oregon State presents a tough matchup for the Commodores. If the Beavers win, they'll end up in the top 25 rankings next week. However, if Vandy wins, they'll only be rewarded by a modest bump of one or two spots up the ladder. They'll need strong defensive play at the wings to shot down OSU's high-scoring attack, making this a very important game for Dai-Jon Parker in his first season. The Beavers have two players at the 2 and 3 who can exploit Vanderbilt's defensive sets, especially with Jenkins nursing a bad ankle. Look for Parker to be heavily involved and get the chance to show off his disrupting chops tonight.
Otherwise, the 'Dores will have to prove that they can beat another well rounded team tonight. The Beavers are a strongly-balanced team that matches up well with Vanderbilt. All signs point to this game turning into a shootout, and while Vandy has the ability to out-shoot opponents, one cold streak could point to another disappointing loss for Stallings and his crew.