Baylor and Purdue provide litmus test for ‘Dores

The Black & Gold Standard is an all-new VandyRadio Blog featuring general commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following every Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball game. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage (along with, on occasion, Max Herz and Dan Helinek) will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball throughout the season as the team chases a postseason berth for the first time since 2012. Check out the Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the young ‘Dores fight through the 2014-15 schedule.

Welcome to the first installment of VandyRadio’s new Commodores Basketball blog, The Black & Gold Standard. Vanderbilt headed into finals week with a 66-63 loss to a strong Baylor team and finished up the semester with a dominating 81-71 win over Purdue that has, appropriately, prompted optimism from the Vandy faithful. Here are some notes about those two games, as well as what to look for against Western Carolina tonight at 8 p.m. central time.

–       Baylor came into Memorial Gym sporting a 6-1 record and a KenPom ranking of 14, but were without starting point guard Kenny Chery against Vanderbilt. At times, Vanderbilt looked overmatched in the first half against a Baylor zone defense that emphasizes length and athleticism on the perimeter in a similar way to how Syracuse and Eastern Michigan do. Aside from 5’10” point guard Lester Munford, each of Baylor’s starters ran 6’6” or taller. Predictably, Vandy’s young guards struggled early against the zone, committing 9 first half turnovers.

–       Kevin Stallings’s squad responded admirably in the second half and the Memorial crowd got into the game and turned up the volume despite the fact that the stands looked to be only about 60% full. The environment served as a reminder of how intimidating Memorial can be once attendance starts to increase following more success by this team.

–       Baylor’s backcourt outplayed Vanderbilt’s by a wide margin, but some of that came as a result of numerous contested three pointers that Baylor knocked down throughout the game. Despite this, the Commodores had the ball in their hands with a chance to win it. Baylor had no trouble blowing up Stallings’s play, and it stands to reason that Damian Jones could have come open for three off the pick and pop if Vandy had opted to run said action. The problem then is that it is tough to rely on Jones to hit a three in such a situation considering the three ball simply isn’t a big part of his game at this point.

–       Vanderbilt’s performance against Purdue (8-2 with wins vs NC State and BYU, as well as a loss to North Florida) was similar to what Baylor had done to the Commodores the previous game. Although Riley LaChance’s shooting was the big story, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson also got it going from three. Both had been slumping for much of the season and their strong performances against an above average team such as Purdue hold significance going forward.

–       Vanderbilt’s rotation at the 4 and 5 of Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, and James Siakam has been borderline elite this season, and this trend continued against Baylor and Purdue. The size of Jones and Kornet represents a significant advantage that Vandy will hold over nearly every team on their schedule aside from Kentucky. Vanderbilt’s guard play needs to turn a corner if the team is to approach the NCAA tournament bubble, and the Purdue game was a sign that this could be happening as we speak.

–       Vanderbilt will need to win out heading into SEC play if the team wants to be in position for an at-large bid. A weak nonconference schedule will hold the Commodores’ RPI back, so Vandy cannot afford another bad loss to pair with the disappointment in Brooklyn against a poor Rutgers team. A blowout of Western Carolina tonight is the first step in this process, and a strong defensive performance could help the ‘Dores boost their mediocre KenPom defensive rating.

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