This was a very different game from the first game against Tennessee back on January 14. Actually, this has been a very different team over the last five games.
In Vanderbilt’s first ten SEC games, the Commodore defense allowed 1.09 points per possession. Over the last five games, the Commodores have allowed just 0.97 points per possession. Now, granted, the offense has fallen off a bit too, but (a) that’s mostly related to the offense laying an egg at Missouri, and (b) the offense hasn’t fallen off as much as the defense has caught up; Vanderbilt has gone from playing teams to a tie on a per-possession basis to a +0.05 efficiency margin. That’s good, because a month ago, if Vanderbilt had a 43.9% effective FG, they were probably getting run out of the gym.
There can always be all sorts of factors at play, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Joe Toye moved into the starting lineup five games ago and also saw his minutes increase from about 18 minutes a night to 27. Sometimes, a coach gets to look like a genius for having a move more or less forced on him that manages to work out. I guess it’s on Drew for resisting the temptation to put Matthew Fisher-Davis back in the starting lineup, but why change something that’s clearly working? More subtly, Clevon Brown has also seen his minutes increase over the last five games and that’s mostly come at Jeff Roberson’s expense. Brown is a work in progress on the offensive end, but he can already affect the game on defense: his 6.9% block rate would rank 9th in the SEC (per KenPom) if he had enough minutes to qualify, and he’s just behind Luke Kornet in block rate. (And he can coexist with Luke on the floor, too.) From the looks of it, Drew initially moved Joe Toye into the starting lineup because he had to, but the lineup is working so well that he’s sticking with it.
And Vanderbilt might make the tournament because of this shift.
- (That said, it’s a little odd that I wrote all that when Toye didn’t have a good game, at least box score-wise. On the other hand, Tennessee scored 56 points in 67 possessions.)
- Luke Kornet: the guy who’s valuable while shooting 4-of-13 from the floor.
- Jeff Roberson has 15 and 8 like it’s another day at the office.
- Another factor in Vanderbilt’s improvement is that Matthew Fisher-Davis seems to be thriving in the sixth man role. Playing reduced minutes, Fisher-Davis’s defensive liabilities are less of an issue and he can stick to the thing he’s good at.
- Oh, and Riley “Not A True Point Guard” LaChance had seven assists.
- And again, who thought Nolan Cressler would be an important player for this team?
- The bench (aside from Fisher-Davis), collectively, didn’t do a whole lot, but the lack of bodies mean that these guys are going to have to get some token minutes every night.
Mississippi State comes to town on Saturday; tipoff will be at 3 PM CT on ESPNU. Importantly, if Vanderbilt wins, they’ll clinch at least a .500 record for the season (both overall and in SEC play.) That would at least guarantee the Commodores would be considered for the NIT.