After only one week at the top of the chart, last week's loss against South Carolina has already been replaced as the season's most painful defeat. Saturday's game in Knoxville had all the makings of a classic heartbreaker. Rivalry game? Check. Blowing a big lead? Check. Murdering a chance to win in the final minute thanks to careless mistakes and sloppy play? Oh, dammit...check.
In the end, it was a game that recharged the Volunteers and gave Kevin Stallings the nightmare fuel that will keep his sleep fighting disorder in check for years. Hell, it even brought some fire back to the Burnt Orange Nation (what, you thought we were going to be nice? No, *you guys* are the jerks!). In Nashville the prognosis is more grim, as a team that had a very real chance to be sitting at 3-0 in league play now sits at the bottom of the SEC East.
So, in the interest of pushing this game deep into my repressed memory banks alongside Pilgrim High School Homecoming '99, about a half-dozen breakups, and my entire pledge process; let's get this breakdown over with. Here's a closer look at how the 'Dores came up short in eastern Tennessee.
1. Ball movement and playmaking rely too much on Brad Tinsley's abilities. This is an area where Andre Walker and his 3.9 assists per game are sorely missed. Unless Brad Tinsley has the ball, this team's passing is limited to swinging the ball around the perimeter and the occasional dump inside to Festus Ezeli. Court vision and ballhandling have emerged as some of this team's major weaknesses in the half court setup.
On Saturday, Tinsley had five assists and two turnovers - a pretty solid ratio. Unfortunately, the rest of the team had just three dimes and 19 turnovers - a goddamn travesty of a statistic. Whether it's finding the open man or just protecting the ball, this team struggles in the half court without Walker. In the team's last four games against major conference opponents, the 'Dores have a 17:10 AST:TO ratio with Walker in the lineup and a 30:46 ratio without him.
2. Our freshman aren't afraid to step up. This can be both good and bad. Both Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller have shown that they want to contribute in a big way down the stretch. While this is something that will pay dividends in the future, it could be a detriment to this team as these players go through SEC growing pains. Odom started strong against Tennessee, but as his confidence grew his ability to hit shots faded - limiting his effectiveness as the game wore on. As a result, the first year player put up shots early in Vandy possessions when the team may have been better served by him either passing out to the perimeter or driving to the basket.
Fuller, on the other hand, has quickly developed into my favorite American-born player on this team. Every time he touches the ball he holds the promise of edge-of-your-seat intensity as well as playground basketball insanity. Against the Vols, his signature play was an out-of-control drive that ended with a circus-shot layup rattling in for two points. It seems like 90% of his attempts come on either drives like that or long threes.
Of course, he misses a big chunk of them, takes too many chances on defense, and turns the ball over too much, but damn is he fun to watch. If you aren't swearing at Kyle Fuller - or something Kyle Fuller did - at least once a game, you aren't watching closely enough. Fuller can help this team in small doses, but too much of his reckless play can be detrimental. Still, his court vision and playmaking ability are legitimate, and Vandy fans should hold out hope that Kevin Stallings can mold him into the next Alex "F-ing" Gordon.
3. Vanderbilt STILL has no composure at the end of a game; is Andre Walker the key? As BrianSWard remarked, Vandy is 1-4 in close games. In three of those losses, Andre Walker didn't play at all. In the one win, he made the game winning lay-up. Walker isn't a superstar, but the words "glue guy" can't be thrown around enough when talking about the stability and leadership he brings the Commodores. Hurry back, Bruce-Lucius.
So there's your recap. Now, let us never speak of that loss again.