After the Mississippi State game a couple of weeks ago, I thought that Vanderbilt might well be about to pack it in for the season. Sitting there at 6-12, 1-5 in the SEC, the team was pretty clearly going nowhere.
Instead, the team has responded to that game by playing its best basketball of the season. They’ve gone 2-2, but both losses have been on the road against Top 25 teams and both were competitive. In truth, this might work out about like the Missouri loss last year, though last year’s team was (a) better and (b) was 12-13 and 5-7 in the SEC after that game; not great but hardly disastrous. But last year’s team responded to that loss by playing its best basketball of the season, and this year’s team seems to be responding to getting drilled at Mississippi State in the same manner.
Say this for Bryce Drew and this Vanderbilt team: there are lots of players who would mail it in over the next month in this situation, and there are lots of coaches in this situation who would spend the next month or two figuring out whose scholarship is going to be cut to make room for Romeo Langford (or somebody less talented than Romeo Langford.) This team is playing better instead.
As far as this specific game goes, I will not come out and say that Vanderbilt should have won this game, because I will never go that far in describing a game at Rupp Arena. If a couple of things had gone differently, Vanderbilt might have won, and I’ll leave it at that. Yes, I am referring to some highly questionable calls down the stretch, and yes, I realize that Kentucky fans and more Vanderbilt fans than I’m comfortable with will point out that there were some questionable calls that went in Vanderbilt’s favor as well. I’m not sure why “the refs were just incompetent in general” is a defense, yet here we are.
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- Since Matthew Fisher-Davis went down (and, well, before that), Vanderbilt has needed Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance to carry the team to have any chance of winning. Roberson was definitely doing that on Tuesday night, but LaChance really wasn’t, thanks in part to foul trouble.
- Still, Vanderbilt was able to come very close to winning thanks to Joe Toye having his best game of the season (no, I’m not going to use nasty words to describe his foul in the waning seconds; if he gets to the ball a split-second earlier, the game is over and Vanderbilt wins.)
- Clevon Brown had an excellent game considering he only scored three points. Five offensive boards and two blocks will do that.
- Aside from Toye and Brown, the supporting players mostly weren’t hurting the team even if they weren’t really helping things. And actually, look at the combined stat lines of Clevon Brown and Ejike Obinna — regardless of how you divide up the minutes between them, if you get that kind of production every night, Vanderbilt is in really good shape (relatively speaking.)
Well, Vanderbilt goes to Auburn on Saturday night at 7:30 PM CT. In most years, this would be a game we’d look at as a road game Vanderbilt can win. This season, however, Auburn is 20-2 and 8-1 in the SEC, and they’re a top 10 team according to KenPom (and just barely outside it according to the pollsters.) Yeah, good luck with that.