The Vanderbilt Commodores host the High Point Panthers tonight, and the Commodores enter the game with a 4-4 record — with losses to Marquette, Bucknell, Butler, and Minnesota.
While none of those losses by themselves are truly embarrassing (even Bucknell is actually kinda-sorta decent; they’re 6-3 and ranked #139 in KenPom), so far this season Vanderbilt hasn’t even remotely resembled an NCAA Tournament team — and at times, they haven’t even looked like an NIT team.
What’s wrong with Vanderbilt? And are these problems fixable?
One of the hard parts to answering that question is that in each of the four losses, it’s been something different. Marquette was a clunker on both ends of the floor, but it was the first game of the season. Bucknell simply had a hot shooting night; that happens. Butler got to the foul line 36 times. Against Minnesota, the offense laid an egg.
But let’s take a look at Vanderbilt’s Four Factors and efficiency numbers from last year to this and see if we can get a general sense about what’s different.
|AdjOE||112.6 (40)||107.0 (77)|
|AdjDE||93.8 (23)||98.0 (78)|
|eFG%, Off||52.9 (49)||51.3 (130)|
|eFG%, Def||43.1 (2)||48.2 (115)|
|TO%, Off||16.8 (86)||20.8 (251)|
|TO%, Def||14.2 (345)||16.1 (308)|
|OR%, Off||27.2 (256)||31.1 (140)|
|OR%, Def||29.3 (142)||25.2 (43)|
|FTR, Off||39.8 (94)||38.9 (115)|
|FTR, Def||34.4 (117)||31.5 (110)|
One thing that jumps out to me is that Bryce Drew’s immediate impact can be seen most in rebounding. Even with the loss of Damian Jones, and the addition of nobody who would be having a significant individual effect on rebounding, Vanderbilt is rebounding better on both ends of the floor.
On offense, though, the team is shooting worse and also coughing the ball up more. Some of the latter is cancelled out by better rebounding, but it’s bad right now. At least some of that can be blamed on having a freshman point guard who may not be really a point guard — Payton Willis currently has a 32.1 percent turnover rate on the season and has committed 19 turnovers in 8 games. But that’s not the entirety of it, as Jeff Roberson and Matthew Fisher-Davis have both seen their turnover rates go up this season as well. (Riley LaChance has not.)
To some degree, maybe this can be blamed on both Roberson and Fisher-Davis playing bigger roles, and also playing in a different offense. A quick look at Bryce Drew’s tempo-free history shows that Vanderbilt’s current turnover rate of 20.8 percent is actually the third-best of any team he’s ever coached, so it’s a blind spot with him. In the comments last week, I compared this to a football team risking more turnovers to open up the downfield passing game, whereas a team that’s throwing nothing but bubble screens will probably throw few interceptions (but also fewer 40-yard bombs!)
That said — the payoff’s not there just yet. Vanderbilt’s effective field goal percentage is currently suffering from a 45 percent 2-point percentage (good for 281st in the country); the three-point shooting is actually slightly better than it was last year, and that’s with the Commodores attempting even more threes. But last year Vanderbilt shot 50.1 percent inside the arc... but, well, Damian Jones attempted 309 two-pointers last season and shot 59.5 percent on them, and he’s gone.
And on the defensive end, opponents are shooting a higher percentage than they did last year. That’s... really about it, but also opponents are taking 37.1 percent of their shots behind the arc this year after shooting 30.6 percent last year. And last year’s team was 3rd nationally in 3-point percentage defense; Ken Pomeroy has speculated that opposing 3-point percentage is a matter of luck, though teams do exercise some control over how many threes the opposition attempts. The Commodores have also fallen off from 42.6 percent (10th nationally) on opponents’ 2-point percentage to 47.3 percent (128th nationally) this year. So the defense isn’t working as well either on the perimeter or in the paint.
Got all that? Okay. I think I can sum up what’s wrong with Vanderbilt right now in picture form.
Stop the presses. I think I’ve figured this one out. Vanderbilt’s declined in exactly the areas where you would expect losing Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones would affect them the most.