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Vanderbilt 71, South Carolina 62: If only this team had started the year well

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Vanderbilt’s 2016-17 season has been a disappointment, but not in the way you think.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

I admit to being a fan of the RPI Wizard tool at RPIforecast.com, because it gives you a sense of alternate realities to the season.

In the early part of the season, Vanderbilt dropped close games to Bucknell and Minnesota. If you just flipped those two results, the Commodores would be 16-11 with an RPI of 33 with four wins over RPI top 50 teams, three of them away from home. That’s a pretty solid resume. Turn a narrow loss at Dayton into a win, and it’s 17-10 with an RPI of 28 and five top 50 wins.

Basically, 12 points over three games in November and December is the difference between a team that’s fighting for an NIT bid and a team that’s probably about a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament. And yes, I realize this is cherry-picking numbers (you could also point to narrow wins over Chattanooga and Florida if you want to make the opposite case), but the disappointing part about this season’s team is that it really took about a month and a half for them to figure themselves out. I firmly believe that if the team that showed up against South Carolina last night — or, really, just about any of the team’s last nine games except for the Missouri game and the last six minutes of the Arkansas game — had been playing in the early season, this team would be solidly in the tournament.

Of course, things don’t exactly work that way. Luke Kornet wasn’t completely healthy early in the season and the team’s (relative) hot stretch has roughly coincided with the proverbial light bulb coming on for Joe Toye. Heck, even Djery Baptiste and Clevon Brown are starting to come around in limited minutes. This really isn’t the same team we saw in November.

Individual Games

Player MIN FG FGA 3FG 3FGA FT FTA ORB DRB REB PF PTS AST TO BLK STL AdjGS GS/Min
Matthew Fisher-Davis 22 5 11 3 8 4 4 1 4 5 0 17 0 4 0 1 14.7 0.67
Nolan Cressler 26 5 9 1 3 2 3 0 4 4 2 13 1 0 0 0 13.5 0.52
Luke Kornet 32 2 5 2 5 3 4 1 6 7 4 9 0 0 2 1 13.2 0.41
Riley LaChance 30 4 9 3 6 3 3 0 3 3 2 14 4 3 0 0 13.2 0.44
Jeff Roberson 25 0 1 0 1 6 8 0 3 3 3 6 2 1 1 2 10.5 0.42
Joe Toye 31 2 5 0 1 3 6 2 2 4 2 7 1 0 0 0 7.2 0.23
Djery Baptiste 8 1 1 0 0 0 1 2 1 3 3 2 0 1 1 0 2.2 0.27
Clevon Brown 13 1 2 0 0 1 3 1 3 4 3 3 0 3 3 0 1.0 0.08
Payton Willis 13 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 2 1 0 -4.6 -0.35
  • This was one of those games where no individual player stood out, but none of the players whom Vanderbilt needs to play well were stinking up the joint. So, that’s a good thing.
  • Matthew Fisher-Davis hasn’t been bad the last few games, but it’s been a while since he’s really had to carry the team, which is good.
  • Who thought going into this season that Nolan Cressler would be an important player for this team? (Looks for hands) Didn’t think so.
  • Hey, Luke Kornet’s jump shot is back!
  • There was probably more reason to think Riley LaChance would be an important player for this team, but it’s good to see it actually happen this season.
  • Like I said in the post intro, the proverbial light is coming on for Joe Toye, and it’s great to see him go from a guy with jaw-dropping athleticism to an actual good basketball player. Since I’m saying it, it probably won’t happen, but I can foresee him having a breakout year as a junior.
  • Speaking of lights coming on, over the last few games Djery Baptiste seems to be figuring out that as unskilled as he is, he can make an impact just by being big and playing with a high energy level.
  • I usually don’t disagree with the Game Score, but I think Clevon Brown played better than his Game Score indicates.
  • Payton Willis, on the other hand, hit the freshman wall, then backed his car up and hit it again.

What’s Next

Wednesday. 5:30 PM Central time. SEC Network. I won’t say who and where but...

THE LIGHT! IT BURNS WHEN IT REFLECTS OFF THE SUNSPHERE!

You have been warned.

Tennessean: Vanderbilt upset of No. 19 South Carolina keeps NCAA hopes alive (lol, Adam Sparks is a bigger sunshine pumper than we are)

The Vanderbilt Hustler: Commodores lock down on defense, knock off No. 21 South Carolina

VUCommodores: Vanderbilt MBB Defeats South Carolina, 71-62

VandySports.com: Defensive stops help Vanderbilt upset No. 21 South Carolina