Vandy shows fight, but sent home by Stanford in NIT quarters

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.

Vanderbilt men’s basketball’s 2014-15 season came to an end Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the NIT with a 78-75 loss at Stanford. While the Commodores will not advance to the tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden, VU finished with a 21-14 record in what can only be considered to be a very successful season, as well as a big step in the right direction for this program.

–       Time and time again, Vandy fell behind Stanford in this game, and time and time again the ‘Dores fought their way back in. The defense was lacking at times, and the shot selection vacillated between decent and poor. To me, however, this wasn’t a big deal. The Commodores came out and matched Stanford’s energy and effort in this game, but the Cardinal utilized its superior strength all over the floor to its advantage. Stanford won this game because it was the more physical team (as indicated by VU’s 11-32 shooting from 2), but not for a lack of trying on Vandy’s part. The Commodore freshmen and sophomores simply have to get in the weight room this offseason to assure they will be better prepared next year for the physical challenges of playing in the SEC, as well as against the best competition next year in March. You never know who you can draw in an NCAA Tournament game, and VU has to be prepared for a team that wants to slow the pace and play bully ball. The loss to Stanford serves as a good reminder of such. This group of Commodores, however, showed the willingness to fight, and I believe a number of players need to help themselves by putting on some additional pounds. This is normal for any young team, and the overall effort tonight assuaged some of my apprehensions about the loss of James Siakam’s leadership, energy, and toughness.

–       Much of Stanford’s roster contributed to last season’s Sweet Sixteen run, and it showed. Stanford consistently outfoxed Vandy at the defensive end and forced VU to play through guys like Shelton Mitchell, Luke Kornet, and Matthew Fisher-Davis more than they wanted to. All three were forced to attack off the dribble more in this game than they might normally, particularly in the first half. Stanford clearly wanted to take Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones out of the equation as much as they could, and this showed as VU’s two best players combined for only 12 shot attempts. Baldwin’s usage rate for the game came in at just 12% (8% below his season average), while Jones’s usage rate finished at 22% (4.5% below his season average).

–       The two flagrant fouls in this game indicated how physical of a contest it was. Luke Kornet took a huge elbow to the face courtesy of Stanford’s Anthony Brown, and left the game with a very nasty concussion. Fisher-Davis got called for a flagrant as well, although it was much closer to a flop on the Stanford defender’s part than a big hit. Brown gave Vandy trouble all game, as the 6’7” senior wing got to the rim at will, routinely overpowering defenders. Again, Vanderbilt will see guys like Brown in the NCAA Tournament next year (yes, I think it’s a sure thing that they make the tournament) and this loss gave them a chance to see where they need to adjust. There weren’t a whole lot of NBA prospects in SEC backcourts this season, so VU really hadn’t seen anyone like Brown since Baylor’s Taurean Prince all the way back in December.

–       Incoming freshman D’Jery Baptiste had better be ready to step in immediately next season as an effective interior defender and rim protector. Stanford had their way in the paint whenever Damian Jones went to the bench, and obviously Vandy loses its best rebounder in James Siakam to graduation. If Baptiste is good enough so that the defense doesn’t drop off a cliff when Damian isn’t in the game, then his freshman year will be a success regardless of how much the big Haitian can contribute on offense.

–       Speaking of Damian Jones, the sophomore center played as hard as I’ve ever seen him play after Kornet left the game with his head injury. Damian showed that all the supposed weak points in his game that scouts have pointed to are fixable; Jones battled on every possession, rebounded the ball, blocked a couple of shots out of nowhere, and fought for post position against the bigger Stefan Nastic on both offense and defense. In my opinion, Damian should return to Vanderbilt for another year before potentially entering the NBA Draft. I could, however, see Jones entering this year’s draft without an agent, which would allow him to withdraw after receiving an evaluation as well as a projection of his potential draft range. Ultimately, I think Damian will be back to anchor the Commodore interior for 2015-16. We’ll have much more on this situation in the coming days.

–       There is no doubt that Vanderbilt took a big step forward this year as a program. The ‘Dores were picked to be toward the bottom of the SEC, but ended up finishing in the top half of the league. VU won 20 games against Division I competition and will likely finish with a top-40 Ken Pomeroy ranking. Most of all, it’s clear that Vandy’s young backcourt is full of budding stars. Great guard play wins in college basketball, and if Kevin Stallings and his staff can craft a top 40 defense, the ‘Dores will win a lot of games over the next few years.

–       It’s been a great inaugural season at The Black & Gold Standard, but we’re not done. Stay tuned throughout the spring and summer for a number of Vandy hoops related pieces, including a wrap-up of the 2014-15 season coming soon. As always, Anchor Down, Commodore fans. Next year is going to be a lot of fun.

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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