Dores falter late, still looking for first quality win

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.

We’ve seen this movie before. Vanderbilt blew a 13-point second half lead and faltered down the stretch in a 69-67 loss at No. 25 Baylor, as a top-25 win continues to allude the Dores. There was a lot to unpack from this game, so let’s get to it.

  • Obviously, rebounding was a problem. Vandy had seemingly fixed their offensive rebounding problems with strong play on the boards this year (4 percent increase in DR% for Damian, 6% for Luke), which surprised me. Those problems, however, popped back up as Baylor obliterated VU on the offensive glass. The Bears grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in total, and Rico Gathers, Sr. had eight by himself. Vandy’s strategy of switching on pick and rolls has really screwed some other teams up this year, but these switches left the Commodores vulnerable on the inside tonight. Additionally, Vandy defenders got beat off the bounce more times than I can count. Taurean Prince was able to catch the ball over the top for two layups with Matthew Fisher-Davis defending him. The Dores were either overmatched physically or lacked toughness, and I’m not quite sure which (could have even been both). This could be a big problem against Purdue in a couple weeks, as the frontcourt trio of Isaac Haas (7’2”, 282), Caleb Swanigan (6’9” 250), and A.J. Hammons (7’ 250) is the best interior group in the entire country, in my opinion. This was the first time all year that Damian and Luke couldn’t put their stamp on the game, however, so let’s at least see how thing evolve from here.
  • Too many turnovers, and they came from everywhere as six Commodores had two or more. The 17 turnovers were the most this year, as was the 27.4% turnover rate (for context, Vandy’s TO% last year was 20 and this year was around 12-13 prior to this game). I’m willing to mostly chalk this up to playing against a zone, and my eyes told me that a number of VU’s turnovers came in situations where the Dores looked sloppy while trying to break down an unfamiliar defense. Baylor is one of the best teams at forcing turnovers that Vanderbilt has played this year, however, so the Bears probably had more to do with the turnovers than Vandy would like to admit.
  • That last point about Baylor’s impact on VU’s turnovers serves as a reminder that BU is a very good team. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Bears tonight, but I think they realistically didn’t play their best as leading scorer Al Freeman was nearly silent. Vandy also played far from its best, and a bad game against a good team that results in a road loss isn’t a big deal in a vacuum. This game certainly was a missed opportunity, but in my mind the problems lie more in the trends that popped up again (losing a close game to a good team, pushed around a bit) rather than in the actual result.
  • Wade Baldwin IV has been Vanderbilt’s best player this year, and at this point I’m expecting him to enter the NBA Draft after this season. Thankfully, Riley LaChance looks pretty good playing point guard, so VU won’t be without a good alternative for next year if Wade does indeed enter the Draft. For large stretches, Wade looked like the only Dore who could break down the Baylor defense. Adam Sparks suggested on Twitter that Vandy missed Wade on its final possession after he fouled out, and I absolutely agree with him. VU looked disorganized and ended up with two bad shots, whereas Wade had been getting to the rim all night long in shooting 4-5 from two point range.
  • I was okay with Coach Stallings not calling timeout on the last possession. Giving Baylor a chance to set its defense and confer with coach Scott Drew likely would have resulted in Vandy having to inbound the ball farther away from its basket than it would have liked, therefore leading to a difficult shot. At the same time, I certainly understand the argument that drawing up a play could have helped produce a good shot compared to what Vandy was likely to get with Wade Baldwin not on the floor.
  • Vandy opted to go small for large portions of the second half, partly due to foul trouble for Luke Kornet and partly due to preference. While this seems like a decent option, it’s concerning that Jeff Roberson has had by far his three worst games of the season against Kansas, Baylor, and Stony Brook, VU’s three best opponents by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Roberson’s personal offensive rating (an estimate of the points scored per possession when Roberson makes the team’s final move) against Gardner-Webb, St. John’s, Wake, and Detroit is an off-the-charts 155.3, while is offensive rating in VU’s three closest games is an extremely weak 54. Jeff hasn’t produced this year against top competition, and that’s concerning.
  • Taurean Prince went off for the second year in a row against Vandy, as he “did it for the Big 12” with 30 points, five rebounds, and three steals in 37 minutes. Prince and Kansas’s Wayne Selden, another big wing who’s a dangerous three point shooter, have both torched the Dores, although both also made some difficult shots. Opponents, however, are really looking to attack Riley LaChance (and to a lesser degree, Nolan Cressler and MFD), and VU doesn’t have a whole lot of ways to hide those guys defensively. It can be tough when there’s only one above average perimeter defender left who actually plays on the perimeter, and it doesn’t help that Camron Justice is now out, as I thought he competed surprisingly well on defense. Dayton’s Charles Cooke doesn’t have the same bulk as Prince or Selden, but he’s somewhere between 6’5” and 6’6”, is athletic, shoots 39% from three, and draws fouls while still limiting turnovers. Cooke leads UD in scoring with 16 points per game and if the performances of Selden and Prince are any indication, he’s going to pose problems for Vandy on Wednesday.

From now on, I’ll be posting my personal Top 25 after Vandy’s weekend game rather than mid-week. My rankings are a bit different from traditional rankings, and will diverge even more as the year goes on as they will be heavily based upon teams’ respective résumés. Ranking teams by NCAA selection committee-style criteria would get pretty weird this early in the season, so I’m adding a heavy dose of traditional power ranking type reasoning. Here’s my latest batch, with Wednesday’s opponent hot on #25’s heels:

1 Michigan State

2 Kansas

3 North Carolina (very close between UNC and KU)

4 Purdue

5 Villanova

6 Xavier

7 Kentucky

8 Duke

9 Maryland

10 Virginia

11 Iowa State

12 Oklahoma

13 Arizona

14 West Virginia

15 Providence

16 Vanderbilt

17 Baylor

18 Gonzaga

19 UConn

20 George Washington

21 Utah

22 Miami

23 Butler

24 Cincinnati

25 Wisconsin

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