Inside the Numbers: Vandy's Second Half Runs

The second half comeback has been what's defined Vanderbilt this season. It's become a pattern for the Commodores, who have become one of the nation's best teams when it comes to making second half adjustments. Last night, Jermaine Beal's leadership sparked the team to a come-from-behind win at Tennessee, their fourth SEC win where they have trailed at the half. By watching the team you can see the difference - as if the team plays a crisper game with a greater sense of urgency on both ends. But what do the stats say?

The first theory, based purely on observations, was that the offense was the key to these second half surges. As shown last night, the team falls into rhythms where they score in bunches and their shots fall more easily. A quick examination into the game statistics helped clarify this idea. For this analysis, only games against RPI Top 100 teams are included. (Note: PF = Points for, PA = Points against):

 

PF

PA

Difference

Fg% 1st Half

Fg% 2nd Half

Difference

RPI top 50:

 

 

 

 

 

 

#25 Tennessee

54

41

13

44.0%

56.7%

12.7%

#33 St. Mary’s

32

31

1

50.0%

44.8%

-5.2%

#45 Missouri

50

50

0

41.2%

62.5%

21.3%

#49 Cincinnati

34

31

3

30.4%

25.0%

-5.4%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RPI Top 100:

 

 

 

 

 

 

#56 Florida

53

43

10

51.9%

53.1%

1.2%

#58 Arizona

48

31

17

40.6%

69.2%

28.6%

#70 South Carolina

48

44

4

63.0%

59.3%

-3.7%

#74 Illinois 

32

33

-1

44.8%

40.0%

-4.8%

#89 Alabama

37

29

8

36.0%

42.3%

6.3%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Average

43.11

37.00

6.11ppg

44.7%

50.3%

5.7%

 

Without Outliers (Arizona)

         4.75ppg

Without Outliers (Missouri, Arizona)

0.16%

These (purely observational) stats show that the team has been outscoring their opponents in the second half by over six points per game while increasing their FG% by nearly six percent. However, a few numbers stick out here, particularly in the Arizona game, where a first half deficit gave way to a rout. Since the improvements in scoring are so dramatic in that game, they don't fall into the typical pattern Vanderbilt has shown against AP Top 100 teams. This is also a factor with shooting percentage in the Missouri game. If these games are viewed as aberrations, then Vandy's offensive impact takes a hit. While scoring still jumps significantly, FG% increases by just .16% in the second halves of tough games.

This suggests that the team is making more hustle plays and creating more possessions or foul shots to generate these points. However, the impact isn't large enough to explain the second half surges that Vandy fans have seen in 2009-2010.

Let's stick to the idea of offense. Against Auburn we saw A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor come up huge to lead the team to victory. This leads to Theory 2: One or two players are running hot in the second half and willing the team to victory. Given the balance of the squad, it seems unlikely, but worth a shot. To test this, we can look at the team's two leading scorers after halftime and their shooting percentages.

RPI top 50:

Player 1:

Points:

FG%

Player 2:

Points:

FG%

#25 Tennessee

Beal, Jermaine

18

83.0%

Ogilvy, A.J.

10

37.5%

#33 St. Mary’s

Taylor, Jeffery

9

50.0%

Walker, Andre

8

80.0%

#45 Missouri

Ogilvy, A.J.

18

100.0%

Beal/Jenkins

9

 n/a

#49 Cincinnati

Taylor, Jeffery

11

66.6%

Beal, Jermaine

10

40.0%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RPI Top 100:

 

 

 

 

 

 

#56 Florida

Ogilvy, A.J.

16

50.0%

Beal, Jermaine

12

50.0%

#58 Arizona

Ogilvy, A.J.

13

66.0%

Beal, Jermaine

13

66.0%

#70 South Carolina

Ogilvy, A.J.

18

100.0%

Taylor, Jeffery

7

66.0%

#74 Illinois 

Jenkins, John

11

50.0%

Taylor, Jeffery

10

83.0%

#89 Alabama

Taylor, Jeffery

11

50.0%

Jenkins, John

8

50.0%

 

From this we we can see that the second half has been where A.J. Ogilvy has owned games. In Vandy's seven wins, he has been the leading second half scorer in four of them. However, across all games we see more of a balance between Ogilvy, Taylor, Beal, and Jenkins. While A.J. has been a catalyst in wins, the scoring load hasn't always been on his shoulders. Still, this theory holds more weight than the first.

So we've seen a more efficient offense is not the primary cause of these second half bursts - at least from a shooting perspective. Dominant performances in the second half appears to be a little more credible, but don't explain everything we've seen so far this season. If the team is unleashing a balanced attack and shooting at an overall similar rate to a sloppy first half, what's keying them to these comeback victories? Theory 3: the team is coming together on defense to shut down opponents. Let's look at the points allowed and shooting percentages by half against top teams.

RPI top 50:

PA 1st

PA 2nd

Difference

Opp Fg% 1st

Opp Fg% 2nd

Difference

 #25 Tennessee

35

41

-6

42.9%

44.4%

1.5%

#33 St. Mary’s

39

31

8

42.9%

39.4%

-3.5%

#45 Missouri

33

50

-17

38.5%

46.3%

7.8%

#49 Cincinnati

36

31

5

44.4%

34.4%

-10.0%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RPI Top 100:

 

 

 

 

 

 

#56 Florida

44

43

1

53.3%

50.0%

-3.3%

#58 Arizona

41

31

10

45.7%

40.0%

-5.7%

#70 South Carolina

35

44

-9

46.7%

41.2%

-5.5%

#74 Illinois 

46

33

13

61.8%

55.0%

-6.8%

#89 Alabama

35

29

6

57.7%

37.0%

-20.7%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Average

38.22

37.00

1.22

48.2%

43.1%

-5.1%

 

 

 

 

Without Outlier (Alabama)

-3.2%

Defensively, the team has clamped down in the second half. The only games in which they allowed their opponents to improve their FG% from half to half were against Missouri and Tennessee; in these instances the team's offense stepped up (improved FG% and scoring) to secure wins. In some cases (Illinois and Florida) the first half percentage was so high that a drop would be expected, and even with a decline these teams still shot over 50%. This observation may lessen the impact of these statistics, even though the Illinois game led to a loss. However, the Alabama game takes a high first half percentage and then drops it dramatically, which argues in favor of the defensive impact winning games in the second half.

Based on what the numbers say, defense really does win games, even though Vanderbilt's has been mostly unheralded this season. Against Top 100 teams, Vandy has been a much better team in the second half, both observationally and statistically. Part of the reason for that has been dominant performances from key players like A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor. A smaller part may be increased offensive output and a premium on "hustle plays" as a whole. But the backbone appears to be increased defensive intensity and effort.

While these stats are purely observational (and admittedly limited), they do provide some insight into what's driving this team. Can the team win a shootout in the second half? Probably, but that's not how they've been the most successful so far. A look into the books gives a better idea of the team's strengths and weaknesses in the pivotal moments of big games. And while you can't quantify leadership, that's what A.J. and Jermaine have given the team, and it's reflected in the scoring and defensive stats.

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