Let me paint a picture for you. Thursday, November 20th, 2008. Illinois enters Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt leads by 5 with 10 minutes to play. Demetri McCamey and Trent Meachem combine for 9 threes. Illinois hands Vanderbilt it's first loss of the season.
The Illinois game serves as a pretty good nutshell of the Commodores 2009 season. In a year when Vandy had 5 freshmen average significant minutes (2 being starters), they couldn't handle adversity and often withered down the stretch.
What a difference a year makes. The 2010 Vanderbilt team seems to thrive when facing adversity. Though they still haven't put together a complete game offensively, they are winning in the trenches.
The Illini 2010 stats are fairly impressive, until you really start to look at their schedule. The toughest team they've played so far has been Clemson, a game they won in which Clemson shamefully gave away its 23 point lead. Clemson and Vandy are pretty similar in terms of offensive and defensive efficiencies. According to Ken Pomeroy, Clemson's offensive efficiency is 110.9. Vanderbilt's is 111.9. Clemson's defensive efficiency is 87.3. Vanderbilt's is 88.9. Clemson is the only team Illinois has faced thus far with an offensive efficiency above 110. Vandy has already faced St. Mary's (OffEff 117.1 - @ McKeon Pavilion no less) and Missouri (OffEff 114.6). The Illini's offensive efficiency is 110.9. In fact, excluding Chaminade (game doesn't count in these numbers) Vandy has yet to face a team with an offensive efficiency below 100. Illinois has faced three below 90.
Despite the weak offensive opponents, the Illini defensive efficiency is a mediocre 97.1. On the other hand, Vanderbilt's defensive efficiency is a stout 88.9, especially when you take into consideration the solid offensive teams Vanderbilt has faced.
Looking at the defenses each team has faced, half of Illinois' opponents have defensive efficiencies above 100 (not good - this is a measure of points scored per 100 possessions). Vanderbilt has only faced 1 team with a defensive efficiency over 100. Considering the stringent defenses, Vanderbilt's offense efficiency is all the more impressive.
Here is the breakdown of all these numbers (all taken from Ken Pomeroy):
Strong defense has been key to Illinois' success thus far, as the team has been able to limit opponents to 65.6 ppg on 40.6 percent shooting from the field. The Illini are also outrebounding foes by nearly seven boards per contest, and they are racking up 79.2 ppg. Mike Davis is one of five double- digit scorers for Illinois, as he is generating 13.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg. Demetri McCamey provides 12.6 ppg, and Brandon Paul checks in with 12.3 ppg. Mike Tisdale (10.9 ppg) and D.J. Richardson (10.6 ppg) round out the balanced Illinois attack. In Saturday's triumph over Boise State, all five starters reached double figures in scoring, paced by McCamey's 23-point outburst. The Illini shot 59.3 percent from the floor in the second half to hold off the Broncos.
In what figures to be a close game from start to finish, give a narrow edge to the home team. The balance of the Illini at the offensive end will be the difference.
Come to Play - Two weeks ago after Vandy was first ranked in the polls, they laid an egg against Cincinnati. For whatever reason, they didn't bring the effort and intensity that you need to win when you have a target on your back. As the team hopefully learned, you have to take advantage of the extra coverage and media attention that a Top 25 ranking affords.
Limit Turnovers - The team is clearly very good at scoring the ball when they don't turn it over. Although they may not be scoring "pretty", opposing teams are having lots of trouble stopping Vandy from putting the ball through the hoop. You don't win on the road in a hostile environment without taking care of the ball. It stands to reason that Coach Weber has probably been focusing on team defense in practices lately. The last thing the Commodores want is to help build the Illini's defensive confidence by giving up a bunch of early, careless turnovers.
Rebound Like You Want It - When this team puts forth a full effort on the boards, they've been absolutely dominating. They were a good rebounding team last season, so I'm hopeful that the poor numbers early in the season were a reflection of A.J. Ogilvy still working his way back from the concussion and from lack of focus. Limiting second chance points from offensive boards is particularly important. I want to see this team continue to win the offensive rebounding margin.
"I grew up bilingual," Taylor said. "And usually if you live in Europe you learn the neighboring languages, so I know Danish and Norwegian. They're kind of similar. "Then I know a little Bosnian, Yugoslavian, Serbian … and bits and pieces of other languages I picked up along the way. I have a lot of Bosnian friends in Sweden that were refugees from the war down there." Taylor was even able to surprise Lipscomb junior Adnan Hodzic, a Bosnian native, with a conversion in his native language before their Nov. 16 game at Memorial Gym.
Ogilvy had team-highs of 13 points and seven rebounds last season against Illinois, a game the Commodores lost 69-63. "They’re good, and they’re extremely well-coached," Stallings said of Illinois. "… They’ve got good players, and they have three guys we played a lot against last year with a couple freshmen who are outstanding players. "… We’ll have to be real solid and real tight if we want to get done there what we want to get done."
A man out of position here, a misguided steal attempt there and a team that still is trying to jell after losing its defensive leader from a year ago. Put it all together and you get a defensive output like the one Illinois had in its closer-than-it-should-have-been 84-77 victory Saturday night over Boise State.
Check out Hail to the Orange for their take on this important Big Ten/SEC Matchup.