Awesome, swarming guard defense is what the Commodores will need against Indiana State's small-ball lineup.
Vanderbilt will return from a long absence on Saturday to host Indiana State in what could be another trap game for a 6-3 Commodore squad. The Sycamores will bring a senior-led team to Memorial Gym that has generated some preseason heat as potential Missouri Valley Conference champions. They play a classic mid-major style of basketball, using long, patient possessions and guard-heavy lineups to generate advantages and minimize mistakes. If ISU can suck Vandy into a low-tempo game, it could mean trouble for the 'Dores.
Indiana State uses a balanced small-ball attack, led by seniors Dwayne Lathan, Carl Richard, and Myles Walker. Lathan and Richard provide scoring from the wings for ISU. This season, the pair has combined for 22.2 points per game. Lathan is the bigger threat to get to the rim and draw contact, while Richard is a more reliable threat from long range (11-22 3pt shooting so far this season).
Walker is the only Sycamore over 6'5" who plays more than 13 minutes per game. He's not a great rebounder (4.8 rebounds in 25 minutes per game) but his bulk helps him gain position on opposing post players and alter shots inside. He's occasionally flanked by 6'8" R.J. Mahurin (7.7 points in 12.9 minutes per game) and spelled by 6'8" freshman Justin Gant (1.4 blocks in 11.1 mpg), but Indiana State more often relies on a three or four guard set.
This small-ball lineup is what the Commodores can expect to see on Saturday. ISU has relied on a six-man rotation to handle the bulk of their minutes so far in 2011. With Walker at center and Walker at the wing, Indiana State relies on four guards that stand 6'4" or smaller to fill out the rest of their on-court five. Point guard Jake Odum (6.6 assists per game), along with either Jordan Printy or Steve McWhorter, will see team in State's primary lineup.
Despite the guard-heavy lineup, the Sycamores play at a relatively slow pace. They've averaged 50 field goal attempts per game. The Commodores, while not being an especially high-tempo team, have averaged nearly 58. This is reflected in the team's low-scoring results; Indiana State has scored under 70 points in six of their nine games so far this season.
The Sycamores rank 326th in the country in total rebounds. While part of this is due to the slow pace of their games, their lack of size is the core reason behind this. An 80 percent Festus Ezeli (if his performance against Davidson is any indication), along with Steve Tchiengang and Lance Goulbourne should be able to control the boards against ISU. If Vanderbilt loses the rebounding battle on Saturday, Kevin Stallings will have to take a long look at this team's frontline in practice.
Indiana State will look to slow the game down and take over through the solid play of a network of guards. This strategy will give players like John Jenkins, Kedren Johnson, and Dai-Jon Parker a chance to show off their developing defensive skills. If Vandy lets a single guard get hot - like Rotnei Clarke or Bruce Ellington in 2010 - then the Sycamores will have the chance to pull the upset. If the 'Dores can handle ISU's small ball, then their advantages in the frontcourt should be enough to grind out a solid win.
Saturday's game presents a challenge for a Commodore team that is still gelling together after regaining Ezeli last week. They'll have a marked size advantage but they'll also have to deal with a multifaceted guard attack that will pressure one of this team's weaknesses - on the ball defense in the backcourt. Indiana State will be looking to grind out a big win on Ingraham Court. If Vanderbilt can brush this off and play their own game, they can record a momentum-building win Saturday evening.