‘Dores collapse in SEC Tournament, drop opener to UT

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.

Vandy headed down the street full of hope prior to facing Tennessee at Bridgestone Arena in the 2015 SEC Tournament, having won 8 of their last 10.  In a game mostly dominated by the Commodores, VU faltered late in the second half to fall 67-61 to UT in what could be the last game of the season for Vandy.

–       The storyline on offense was exactly the same as it was during the first two meetings between the teams, as Vandy got as many open looks from three as they wanted. The difference, however, was that the ‘Dores went cold this time. Matthew Fisher-Davis shot 2-9, Riley LaChance went 1-5, and Wade Baldwin went 2-6. Vanderbilt held a 12-point second half lead and looked to be in total control against a Vols squad that, realistically, can’t match the Commodores’ talent. It’s obvious, however, that UT has VU’s number right now. Vandy was favored by 3.5 points, and I thought the line should have been significantly higher. That, plus the big lead, underscores how shocking a loss this was for the ‘Dores. Coach Kevin Stallings summed it up after the game, saying, “We played pretty well for 33 minutes and just couldn’t buy a shot at the end. We got tentative; we allowed them to become the aggressor.”

–       Vanderbilt did a reasonably good job containing Josh Richardson early in the game, but VU got put in a bad spot late in the game once Baldwin picked up his fourth foul. Jeff Roberson has a reputation as a lock-down defender, but Richardson had his way with the freshman on this occasion. Baldwin had more success against Richardson; the problem was that Stallings simply couldn’t afford to put him back on Richardson due to the risk of Vandy’s only effective point guard on the night fouling out in a crucial game. At this point, it was obvious how much trouble Vanderbilt was in.

–       A point of interest for many in attendance was the Commodores’ inability to get Damian Jones the ball late in the game. Jones had a career night, posting 18 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a dominating performance. Stallings concurred, suggesting that “we may not have done as good of a job getting (the ball) in to Damian.” Vanderbilt’s guards have had trouble entering the ball into the post all year long, and Tennessee’s zone may have made this even more difficult. Over the three games against Tennessee, Vandy has intermittently struggled to get into their offensive sets and find their comfort zone, and this happened again in the second half. The ‘Dores will have to come back next year showing improvement at getting into the lane and to the basket, because the freshman backcourt has struggled with this at times.

–       This game caps a season in which VU struggled to close out games and took more than a few bad losses. These shortcomings made for a frustrating season for Vandy fans, but I’ve seen many inexperienced (yet talented) teams follow up similarly disappointing seasons with equally fun ones. Vandy should be one of the top three or four teams in the SEC next year, and surely the expectation will be that the ‘Dores make the NCAA tournament and advance past the first round. I see this as a reasonable and also likely scenario, especially considering how the team has improved throughout the latter part of this season.

–       There’s no doubt that the Commodores will be sweating out the NIT selection show on Sunday night. VU’s RPI plummeted from around 90 to 100 with the loss, and last year’s lowest-ranked NIT at-large team in RPI was #88 West Virginia. Vandy has some good wins and a decent record against the RPI top-100, but quite a few regular season champs in one-bid leagues fell in their respective conference tournaments this week, cutting the number of NIT at-large bids available. It’s hard to say how the NIT will view Vanderbilt, as this committee can be a bit more liberal with their selection criteria than the NCAA committee due to the smaller spotlight. Very few people will complain if a power conference team like Vandy gets in over a mid-major squad with a gaudier record. Even with this advantage, however, I expect Vanderbilt to be left out of the NIT, and that the 2014-15 season is over for the Commodores.

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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