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.
Vanderbilt’s drought against ranked opponents continues, as the Commodores fell 70-63 to the #5 Kansas Jayhawks Wednesday in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. This was a really interesting game to watch, and we learned a little bit about the Dores from this game. What does the loss, and the entire Maui performance mean for the team?
– Kevin Stallings indicated that his team missed plenty of shots they would normally make, and that he would get a better idea of whether KU’s athletic perimeter defenders really made that much of a difference after watching the tape. I thought it was some of both, although it will be interesting to see what Coach ends up thinking. Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance missed some makeable shots from three, but a few Vandy shots also seemed to be rushed due to the threat of the Jayhawks’ quick closeouts and a short shot clock. Vanderbilt’s guards have something to prove the next time they face a team with guards that athletic, as does Jeff Roberson, who obviously didn’t have a good game. I think VU’s guards are certainly good enough for the team to get a high NCAA Tournament seed, but aside from Wade Baldwin I don’t think they’ll be the driving forces behind the team’s success.
– Those driving forces will come in the form of Damian Jones and Luke Kornet. Kansas doesn’t have the best group of centers in the world (particularly without Cheick Diallo, who was suspended by the NCAA for this game and returns next week), but Damian and Luke dominated for large stretches of the game. Really, the two dominated for large stretches of the entire tournament, which speaks to the pair’s consistency. Vandy may have the best big man tandem in the entire country; it’s certainly up there with the likes of Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer as well as Purdue’s AJ Hammons/Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. This huge advantage shows on both offense and defense, which represents a huge bonus for Kevin Stallings: he doesn’t have to worry about one end of the floor or the other with these two. Vanderbilt will make a living off of scaring opposing teams with their size and length, as they did in the first half against KU on Wednesday.
– Stallings wasn’t happy with the perimeter defense, as “we felt like we had to take away the three point line from them today in order to win the game, and we were not able to do that.” Specifically, Stallings pointed to consistent overhelping on defense that left Wayne Selden open for three again and again. Luckily, not a lot of SEC teams have enough great guards (and specifically, good shooters) to take advantage of this if the Dores can’t get this problem fixed. Texas A&M, however, could do so with its plethora of scoring wings.
– Speaking of Texas A&M, they’ve made a compelling case early on to be considered the favorite for the second spot in the SEC over Vanderbilt. The Aggies have neutral site wins over Texas and Gonzaga, while Vandy’s best wins are home against Stony Brook and a Maui win over Wake. This leads to another question I have: have the Commodores really proved that much? Fans won’t like my answer, as I say VU really hasn’t accomplished a whole lot in the way of quality wins. Wake was missing multiple key players, and Stony Brook is a game a top 25 team should win at home. It’s impossible to deny that the Commodores have played great in four of their six games, but the reality is that none of their wins are going to be near the top of a team’s resume come March, at least for any team that aspires to be a top four or five seed. Vanderbilt really hasn’t done anything to prove it’s a top 15 or certainly a top 10 team, although they’ll have great chances to do so in upcoming road games against Baylor and Purdue. The way they’ve played, I feel fairly confident that the Dores can win one of those two games, but we have no evidence that the team has beaten anyone all that good yet. While playing great basketball is always a plus, evidence of said great basketball in the form of great wins is what matters for a team’s NCAA Tournament seed. Until one of those wins comes, I’m keeping my expectations right where they were to start the season: a five seed in the NCAA Tournament with 21-22 pre-SEC Tournament wins.
– So as to not finish talking about the implications of Vandy’s Maui performance on a bad note, I’d like to add that the Dores seem to like how they played overall. It stands to reason that if they continue to play this way, then they will soon add some of those high quality wins that I don’t feel they’ve gotten yet. “I thought we did a pretty good job,” Luke Kornet said. “I thought defensively, especially, we made a lot of strides. I think that’s something that we’ll try to carry on throughout the year.”
– One other development from the KU game that we saw in the Stony Brook win as well is that VU may not be particularly deep in practice. Theoretically, Vanderbilt can play 10 guys or more with Josh Henderson and Joe Toye eating up some solid minutes. The rotation has really tightened up, however, in the Dores’ two close games, as Henderson and Toye haven’t seen much action. I don’t think this is a bad thing by any means, I’m simply noting that the team’s minutes are being spread around a little less than I anticipated during close games.
– An interesting and positive statistical note, since this is supposed to be a blog focused on advanced stats: Vanderbilt ranks 14th nationally in offensive turnover percent at 13.0, compared to 20.0 last year. This is an incredible improvement, and Vanderbilt’s guards deserve a lot of credit for this, as do Jeff Roberson and Luke Kornet, who have drastically cut down on their turnovers as well.
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