The Black & Gold Standard is a VandyRadio sports blog featuring nuanced commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following every Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball game 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.
Six games into the year, Vanderbilt holds a 5-1 record while having played some really good basketball. The Commodores’ trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational was earmarked before the season as one of the team’s most challenging stretches of the year, yet ironically Vandy may just now be heading into its toughest section of the season to date. As the Dores prepare to butt heads with the likes of Baylor, Dayton, and Purdue, let’s take a look at some of the early statistical trends that have emerged this season.
- Buried within the depths of KenPom.com lies a stat that I didn’t necessarily expect to see: Vanderbilt’s opponents have scored just 20.6% of their points against the Dores from three point range. This ranks as the 330th largest proportion in Division I, and when you couple this with the fact that VU is allowing just 24.3% shooting from three, you can see why teams might be avoiding the three point line against Vandy. The Commodores struggled last year at defending the three point line (opponents shot 34%, a figure that ranked 162nd nationally for the Vandy defense); VU’s guards often lost opposing guards off the ball and appeared to have some difficulty maintaining defensive focus. Part of head coach Kevin Stallings’ emphasis this season on committing to defense comes as a result of this weakness the team had last year, and the Dores appear to have responded with much improved defensive play on the perimeter.
- Coach Stallings has said that he believes good perimeter defense has a lot to do with good interior defense, and Pomeroy himself alluded to this in a blog post this summer, describing how offenses can simply “(choose) to take low-percentage 3’s over low-percentage 2’s.” Vanderbilt’s strong interior defense courtesy of the dynamic duo of Damian Jones and Luke Kornet unsurprisingly ranks in the top 30 nationally in two point percentage defense and block rate. Will the Dores’ incredible three point defense numbers continue? I certainly expect the improvement will continue to show itself throughout the season, but Pomeroy’s research does suggest that offenses hold 83% of the responsibility for their three point percentage and VU’s five wins came over teams that have shot poorly all season. So while the Commodores definitely look better at defending the three point line, facing good shooting teams like Baylor and Texas A&M will undoubtedly force the number up from 24.3%.
- Pomeroy’s summer research found turnovers to be equally a result of offense and defense, and Vanderbilt has been elite at taking care of the ball early on. The Dores turned the ball over on a whopping 20% of their possessions last year (237th in the country), but have cut that number down to just 13% through six games (ninth in the country). Jeff Roberson and Luke Kornet have shown the most improvement, reducing their individual turnover rates by 14 and 13 percent, respectively. I figured that Vandy would show major improvements at avoiding turnovers, but they’ve far exceeded my expectations to date. To me, this change backs up coaches’ statements about how coachable this group is, as turnovers are seen as an aspect of basketball that can be eliminated quickly as players gain experience. VU hasn’t faced a team that commits to forcing turnovers yet, so this improvement will be tested a bit more against teams like Kentucky, Texas, and Arkansas, all of which are interested in making their opponents turn the ball over.
- Wade Baldwin is 20-39 from two point range and has had multiple strong finishes at the rim this year. After shooting only 41.9% from two last year, this was an area in which Wade needed to improve. If Wade’s assist rate (the percent of teammates’ made shots while Wade is on the court that he assists on) gets back up closer to the 31.3% he posted last year (it’s at 19.2% right now) then he could be off to the NBA after this season as a mid to late first round pick.
- Opposing teams have assisted on only 30.7% of their made shots this year against Vanderbilt, indicating the Dores have done well with their defensive rotations and have closed out to shooters well. Interestingly, Stallings indicated the team did a really poor job with both of these aspects against Kansas, and that this was the main reason KU shot 8-16 from three. It’s possible that the Dores’ use of switching on ball screens leads to more iso-ball on the part of opponents’ guards and that this is the reason for the low assist rate. This might make sense, as a lot of Vandy’s defensive possessions do seem to end in another team’s guard trying to take Damian or Luke off the dribble.
- One interesting note from Stallings’ media availability Tuesday included Coach’s conclusion on how much KU’s athleticism made Vandy uncomfortable, and what the results were. “We had 11 wide open threes that we missed, and we don’t usually miss 11 wide open threes,” Stallings said. “We’ll miss some, but we don’t miss 11. I knew their speed would affect us, but I really think as much as anything else our defensive play ended up being negatively affected by the fact that we continued to miss shots, and we never were able to gain any energy from our offense. Which is actually a fallacy in our approach because we need to gain energy from our defense not from our offense, but we’re a team that gets energy from our offense. We’re trying to change that mindset, but I felt like ultimately our defense let down because we kept missing shots that we’re accustomed to making.” I thought this was a very cool look inside the psychology of basketball, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this for the rest of the year.
- Including the loss to Kansas, Vandy faces a stretch of four likely NCAA at-large opponents in six games. If VU can knock off two of the Baylor-Dayton-Purdue trio, it would go a long way toward establishing a solid résumé, as these would realistically represent the Dores’ first true quality wins of the young season.
Black & Gold Standard Power Poll, December 2. Based on a combination of résumé quality and simply how good I think the teams are:
2 Michigan State
4 North Carolina
11 Iowa State
15 Texas A&M
16 West Virginia
20 Miami FL
22 George Washington
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