NIT Madness: Vandy advances to Round 2

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.

Surprise!

Not only is The Black & Gold Standard back for the postseason after Vanderbilt men’s basketball found their way in to the NIT, but 4 seed Vandy’s 75-64 road win over 5 seed Saint Mary’s combined with 8 seed South Dakota State’s road win over 1 seed Colorado State means the ‘Dores get one last home game. With as much action as there’s been around the NIT, as well as the NCAA Tournament, there are all kinds of topics to touch on prior to the Commodores’ Round 2 matchup with the Jackrabbits.

–       I’ll start by going over how Vanderbilt got here in the first place. Vandy’s RPI rank of about 102 following the SEC Tournament loss to Tennessee made it look like the ‘Dores would probably be kept out of the postseason, as teams ranked below 90 in RPI generally don’t get an NIT bid. All precedent was thrown out the window, however, when the NCAA Tournament field was revealed and UCLA had made their way in to the Big Dance. UCLA had a weak profile by traditional measures, but boasted a very respectable Ken Pomeroy ranking of 44. The selection committee used advanced statistical rating systems such as KenPom and BPI more than ever to determine seeding in this year’s tournament, and Vandy’s advanced stats profile was by far the strongest part of their résumé. Based on how the NCAA field had been selected, it stood to reason that VU’s chances of making the NIT were better than many might have originally thought.

–       Later Sunday night, my suspicions were confirmed when Vanderbilt showed up on the NIT bracket as a 5 seed. The pairing with Saint Mary’s wasn’t so troubling in and of itself, but the fact that Vandy likely would have to win three road games out west to make it to Madison Square Garden for the quarterfinals did not bode well for the ‘Dores. At the same time, however, KenPom rated Vandy as the best team in the NIT field, so VU could hardly be considered your average 5 seed.

–       Saint Mary’s came into the first round matchup with just a decent home record, holding a good win over BYU and a strong performance in a close loss to Gonzaga, but also losses to Northern Arizona and Pepperdine. After a sloppy first ten minutes or so, Vandy blitzed the Gaels with a 22-9 run heading into halftime, headlined by strong play from Damian Jones despite some foul trouble for the sophomore big man. Mammoth 6’11” 275 pound Saint Mary’s center Brad Waldow had trouble staying with Jones, as Waldow’s lack of length made it easy on Damian offensively. Quite a bit of those 275 pounds looked like fat, and unsurprisingly Waldow struggled with Jones’s superior quickness and athleticism.

–       The Gaels’ defensive turnover rate of 15.4 ranks 343rd in the NCAA, meaning Saint Mary’s doesn’t turn anyone over. VU has had their issues with turnovers this year, but they took advantage of this matchup by posting 1.15 points per possession despite shooting only 4-17 from three on some unfamiliar rims. This was a great matchup for Vanderbilt’s offense, and South Dakota State presents the ‘Dores with a similar advantage based on its turnover rate that ranks 237th in the country.

–       South Dakota State’s other most notable weakness is its 28.7 offensive rebound rate, a figure that is good for only 259th nationally. The Jackrabbits also are just average at defending the three point line, allowing their opponents to shoot 33.8%, 152nd in the country. The Commodores’ major weaknesses this year have been turnovers, defensive rebounding, and (at times) over-reliance on three pointers even when VU goes cold. South Dakota State’s major weaknesses in these areas suggests that SDSU will struggle to take advantage of Vandy’s flaws, so this could be a huge blowout in favor of the ‘Dores.

–       One significant advantage for SDSU is the Jackrabbits’ 37.9% shooting from three. Vanderbilt struggled to defend the three point line during conference play, so opportunities might be there for South Dakota State and their three high volume, 40% three point shooting trio of George Marshall, Jake Bittle, and Reed Tellinghuisen. If SDSU hits their threes, this will be a closer game than Vandy would like. If the Jackrabbits struggle to find their range at Memorial, then the ‘Dores will probably run them out of town.

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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