Commodore Armageddon: The Aggies come to town

The Black & Gold Standard is a VandyRadio sports blog featuring nuanced commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following Vanderbilt men’s basketball games and throughout the year. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball as the team looks to build on the success of last season’s NIT appearance. Check out The Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the Dores fight through the 2015-16 schedule. All stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

Following Vanderbilt’s sixth road loss of the year, we’ve finally reached a critical mass with respect to the Commodores’ NCAA Tournament hopes. VU owns a debilitating 1-7 record against RPI top-50 opponents, and only four chances against such teams remain before the SEC Tournament gets underway. Texas A&M comes to town Thursday for what amounts to an Armageddon-like scenario for the Commodores. A win, and Vanderbilt heads into a forgiving four-game stretch with a 5-4 SEC record to go with positive momentum. A loss, and the Dores must rely on winning two out of three remaining games against Florida, Kentucky, and A&M while simultaneously avoiding bad losses to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Since Vandy hasn’t shown the ability to put together a sustained stretch of good basketball, it isn’t an exaggeration to say Thursday’s game is Vanderbilt’s season.

  • Texas A&M will take the nation’s second most efficient defense into Memorial Gym according to KenPom.com, but the Aggies’ dirty little secret lies deep within the stats: A&M’s opponents have shot just 63% from the free throw line this season, the sixth-worst mark in Division I. Unless head coach Billy Kennedy has found a new type of black magic that kills opponents’ ability to shoot free throws, I’d venture some good luck is involved here. The rest of A&M’s defensive statistics look mostly good-but-not-great. The Aggies fall just inside the top-50 in two-point and three-point percentage defense, but their block rate falls outside the top-100 while their defensive rebounding ranks only 203rd Freshman center Tyler Davis has flourished as an offensive player in shooting 68% from the field, but he doesn’t bring much athleticism to the table. This shows in Davis’s weak 14.8 defensive rebounding percentage. Davis provides some presence as a shot blocker with his 5.5% block rate, but this figure is no better than ordinary for a starting center in the SEC. Backup big man Tonny Trocha-Morelos is a similarly average interior presence on defense, so Vanderbilt can have some success finishing at the rim if they can get the ball into the paint.
  • The defensive stat that stands out about A&M is its 23.5% turnover rate, sixth nationally. Alex Caruso picks up a ton of steals, and I expect him to draw the primary assignment on Wade Baldwin IV in this game. Wade has posted three or more turnovers in seven of the Commodores’ last eight games for an average of 3.9 per game over that span. That figure simply has to improve if Vandy wants any chance to beat A&M.
  • I’ve been somewhat vocal on VandyRadio about the danger of VU’s overreliance on post-ups, but Damian Jones should have success against Davis and Trocha-Morelos. The problem with post-ups is that they aren’t typically a high-efficiency play, unless you have Jahlil Okafor on your team. Damian is a pretty good post-up player at the college level, but he generally isn’t going to post anywhere near 1.0 points per possession in the post. Considering Vanderbilt averaged 1.1134 ppp last season after adjusting for strength of schedule (and 1.072 this season), throwing the ball to Damian in the post and having him try to score one on one is not a recipe for success. A&M’s sketchy post defense could force the Aggies to double Damian on the catch, in which case it would be a good idea to play through Damian in order to open up opportunities for Vanderbilt’s perimeter shooters.
  • Vanderbilt matches up well with A&M when it comes to defending the Aggies’ attack. The Commodores can hide whoever their starting 2-guard turns out to be (presumably Matthew Fisher-Davis) on A&M’s Anthony Collins, who offers little offensive utility outside of his three point shooting and occasional creativity. The Aggies bring freshmen wings DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder off the bench, and neither represents a huge threat to take Riley LaChance, Camron Justice, or Nolan Cressler (if he plays) off the dribble. Should these guys try to pick on LaChance regardless, the Aggies will be taking the ball out of the hands of its stars Danuel House and Jalen Jones. Vanderbilt tends to struggle most against teams with bulky, athletic big men, and the fact that A&M doesn’t have a frontcourt player with both those traits makes this a good matchup for VU.
  • Danuel House and Jalen Jones will likely be guarded by Jeff Roberson and Damian Jones, respectively. Neither shoots better than 34% from three, so Vandy needs to do its best to force the A&M stars into outside jump shots. This is easier said than done, but the Dores can effectively neuter the Aggies’ offense if they are able to force A&M as a whole into bad shots on the perimeter. The Aggies’ Jones draws 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes of play, so Damian’s foul trouble will probably resurface. From the Commodores’ perspective, a couple of early threes from Fisher-Davis and/or Roberson could go a long way toward building confidence and establishing Vandy’s outside threats from the game’s outset.
  • Hopefully, Memorial will be rocking at 6 p.m. The Dores need all the help they can get right now, and this is a chance for the fans to have as much of an effect as they can in a truly pivotal game.

Check out VandyRadio’s comprehensive Vanderbilt sports blog series. Building the Masonic Tradition covers Commodore football, The Black & Gold Standard covers VU hoops, and Eyes of the Hawk covers Vandy baseball. VandyRadio.com is your home for year-round coverage of your favorite Vanderbilt teams.

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