Vanderbilt’s worst losses ( Or, why Wisconsin will have difficulty matching up with the Commodores)

ALBUQUERQUE, NM - MARCH 15: Festus Ezeli #3 of the Vanderbilt Commodores dunks against the Harvard Crimson in the second half of the game during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Pit on March 15, 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Vanderbilt won 79-70 in regulation. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As we get ready for our round of 32 game against Wisconsin, instead of starting with a breakdown of Wisconsin, I figured that I would recap our keys to destruction (not exactly in the same style as TI or KJIV) to provide some insight to the matchup, as opposed to what to expect from Wisconsin.

Vanderbilt Commodores (25-10, #20 AP, #16 Pomeroy Rankings) Worst Losses: Indiana St., Cleveland St., At Arkansas

Other Losses: Mississippi St., UK, at UK, at Florida, at UT, Xavier, at Louisville

We’ve definitely had our ups and downs this season – winning 25 games and beating the consensus #1 team in a very hostile environment but also losing 10 games, many in painful ways that drove the fans up the wall. The Indiana State game probably represents the low point of the season for the team.

One game after getting Festus back, we got shut down by a very mediocre ISU team on our home court, as none of the players bothered to show up except for Jeff Taylor (seems odd that it happened that way). While this was certainly a horrible loss, it was also somewhat of an outlier – this was really the only game all season that we lost solely due to poor shooting – we were actually equal with ISU in turnovers and really limited their second chance shots – we just shot poorly from everywhere finishing with a final line of 38%/27%/61% (2pt/3pt/FT).

It was a game where we went to Festus as if he were the 2011 version, not realizing that his game completely lacked the confidence from a season ago. Festus would go on to sit out the next two games to get his body and head straight, a clear indication that he wasn’t quite ready to return when he did.

It is perhaps much more instructive to look at the 9 other losses to see how teams really went about beating us when we were playing without trying to work a player in mid-season.

In our other 9 losses we see one of two things being our common keys to destruction. We either 1) turned the ball over many more times than our opponents did or 2) got crushed on the offensive glass. Perhaps the only outlier to this was the 2nd UK loss, where we were pretty even in both categories but simply were unable to stop UK from scoring time and time again against our interior defense as Anthony Davis had the game of his life.

For the most part, when we’ve been able to get a shot off, our offense is fantastic – in conference we scored 1.40 PPP when we didn’t turn the ball over, slightly behind UK’s 1.42 number, and UK had by far the best offense in the league this season (because they were much better than we were with ball control). For comparison, Florida’s offense was at 1.33 PPP for non-turnover possessions, and they have an adjusted offensive efficiency rank of #3 nationally (UK is #4).

Likewise, our defense has been very good at forcing teams to miss shots against our base sets, whether man or zone. We have gotten into trouble many times when we give up an excessive amount of second chance shots – and only when we did an excellent job in the SEC tournament were we able to finally break through. Very few teams get hot shooting the ball against us. MTSU was the closest example of a team trying to beat us without turning us over or crashing the offensive glass, and they lost to us by 7 despite a season high allowed 64.9% effective FG%.

Can Wisconsin exploit this weakness of ours? At first glance, it does not appear to be the case, not without dramatically altering their style (which seems very unlikely at this point). Wisconsin is a team that has a total of 7 rotation players who play at least 10 minutes – only one of those players stands taller than 6’-6”, and that player (Jarred Berggren) is the only player who weights more than 222#. In addition, Berggren appears to be in the Matt Freije mold, as he has a relatively low offensive rebounding rate, takes a large % of his shots from behind the arc and has a low FT rate.

As a team Wisconsin rates 222nd in offensive rebounding rate, preferring to prevent opponent’s fast breaks over creating second chance shot opportunities. I cannot argue with this strategy, as it has proved effective over the long run, but like Harvard (who ranked 225th in Oreb%) we should be able to corral their misses. Offensive rebounds can also be the result of being able to break your man down off the dribble and forcing help defender to get out of rebounding position to challenge the shot. Wisconsin’s very low FT rate is somewhat indicative of 1) a lack of an inside game and 2) lack of quick guards beyond Taylor who can draw fouls through their ability to penetrate the defense.

Additionally, Wisconsin is one of the few remaining teams that is significantly worse at creating turnovers than we are, as they rank 276th in opponent TO rate and 237th in steal rate. Their defensive style is very similar to ours – keep your man in front of you and grab the misses (which they are significantly more successful than we have been, ranking 29th overall in Def rebounding %). But they will not gamble on defense and will let you get into your offensive sets.

So now that we see that Wisconsin is not built to exploit our two most glaring weaknesses, what is it they do that will present us with problems? Well, they have a stifling ability to force missed shots from inside and out of the arc. Despite their lack of size they rank 4th in Opp. 2pt FG% and 7th in Opp. 3pt FG%. Combine these two numbers with a defensive rebounding rate of well over 70%, and you see that opponents generally get one (unsuccessful) bite at the apple for each possession. This tenacity results in an adj. defensive efficiency that is 4th nationally despite creating turnovers at a very infrequent rate.

OTOH, we are a legitimately excellent shooting team. We have good sized players on the perimeter who can all knock down shots, and our main problem on the interior is our tendency to get our shots blocked with great frequency (largely due to us having played in the best shotblocking league in the country – one out of every 6 or so of our 2pt shot attempts were blocked within conference play – an amazing number). Fortunately, Wisconsin is an average shot blocking team, ranking 146th in shotblocking rate, and we’ve played 23 games against teams with a higher rate (plus an amazing 8 games against teams in the top 20, 3 of which were against the #1 team). Basically, if you cannot turn us over or alter our shots inside, we will generally score on you, because of the diversity of our offensive abilities.

The bottom line is that if we put forth the effort to take care of the ball and rebound it on the defensive end (as we have shown since the beginning of the SEC-T) Wisconsin will have a much more difficult time beating us, we appear to have a advantage in size at most every position without have a large quickness deficit.

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