Defensive basketball is ugly to watch, particularly when one's been spoiled by a team with a top offensive efficiency over the last two season. I thought Vanderbilt did a great job of matching the intensity of Louisville's vaunted, third-ranked-in-effieciency defense. The improvement in defensive effort from the starters is an encouraging sign. Losing another game to a top ten ranked team after holding a nine point second-half lead? Not as encouraging. Despite the frustration that everyone feels, this team is making progress right now.
The return of Festus Ezeli is quickly becoming more and more of a watershed moment for this team. Certainly we're all growing weary of the "wait until Festus returns" excuses, but the fact of the matter is that Festus led this team last season in adjusted plus/minus. He led this team in percentage of possessions, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, block percentage (by over a 5:1 ratio over our next closest player, Steve Tchiengang), fouls drawn per 40 minutes, free throw rate (by about 30% over Lance), free throw attempts (by 50) and made two point field goals (by 20). Having Festus on the court fundamentally changes how defenses guard the team. If teams double team Jenkins, they pay. If teams double team Jeff, they pay. If teams try to press our ball handler at the half court line, they pay. If teams push their defenses out past the three point line to take away our perimeter movement or passes, they pay. Without Festus, we're getting minimal scoring out of our five man (a problem that was exacerbated by the newly announced injury to Josh Henderson). Even more importantly, without Festus, we do not have the margin for error to allow our young freshman the minutes to get acclimated to live college basketball action. The freshmen are going to make mistakes. Without minutes, they are not going to develop as quickly.
At the same time, as painful as the two losses to top ten(ish) programs are, the problems that plagued this team last season, namely poor perimeter defense and careless turnovers, are extremely glaring right now. But there are signs of progress that could pay dividends once this team finally gets 20+ minutes per game from its true starting lineup.
This season, particularly the early going, shares a lot of similarities to the 2006-2007 season. That season reminded us that it's not necessarily how the season starts, it's how it ends. I'll take that season's poor start and fantastic finish over the excellent starts to 2007-08, 2009-10, and 2010-11 ten times out of ten.
During the pregame radio show, Stallings mentioned that Ezeli's progress is encouraging, and if things go well, he could see a few minutes of action against Davidson. Whenever it is that he finally returns, let's pray that Ezeli is physically ready to play, and that we aren't rushing him back in response to these painful early losses.
|Points Per Possession||0.92||0.92|
Periscope prediction: "Prediction: Vanderbilt wins eFG%, and FTRate. Louisville wins TO% and OReb%." Result: Perfect 4/4.
*** Each game, AOG's army of statistics monkeys laboriously pore over the box score and play-by-play to calculate the mysterious plus/minus game statistics. These are those statistics. Please share your observations via the comments. Note: these are only the stats from the last five games. Click here to view the entire 2012 season.***
Plus/Minus Adjusted Per 40 Minutes