One of the tests I’ve devised for how a game went that applies to most of the early-season schedule is what I call the “first media timeout of the second half” test. That is, was the game still in doubt at the under-16 timeout in the second half?
The reason I like this test is simple: if you had a bad first half, you have a chance to make halftime adjustments and get a little breathing room in the first four minutes. And if you had a strong first half, this is the test of whether the other team might get back into the game.
For arguably the first time of the season, Vanderbilt passed the test on Tuesday night. The Commodores went on a 21-4 run to end the first half, entering the break with a 47-34 lead, and led 57-43 with 15:23 to go. At that point, per KenPom’s win probability calculator, Vanderbilt had a 92.6% chance of winning. That isn’t quite in the bag, but if you hadn’t watched Vanderbilt play basketball in 2019, you’d have felt really good about your chances of winning at that point. For context, at the same point in the game, Vanderbilt was tied with Southeastern Louisiana, led South Carolina State by 10, led Austin Peay by 4, actually trailed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and led SEMO by 2. In other words, with 15 minutes to go, this was the least in-doubt as any game Vanderbilt has played this season — perhaps a bit less so simply because Buffalo is a better team than any of those, but you get the picture.
And really, the even more encouraging factor last night was that Vanderbilt didn’t even shoot all that well. The Commodores shot 4-of-18 from three and while they shot reasonably well inside the arc, 28-of-51 isn’t spectacular. And Buffalo actually rebounded better than Vanderbilt. The real difference in this game was that Buffalo shot worse, and Vanderbilt made its free throws. That’s how you get a never-really-in-doubt win against a decent team. This was easily the most positive performance we’ve seen this year.
|Scotty Pippen Jr.||22||3||9||0||2||0||0||1||3||4||6||4||5||2||0||0||3.18||0.14||1|
- The first thing I want to point out is the minutes distribution. This was the first time this season that Aaron Nesmith has played less than 30 minutes, and Scotty Pippen Jr. and Maxwell Evans also saw season lows in minutes. Meanwhile, Matthew Moyer played 19 minutes and Jordan Wright played 17, and of course Isaiah Rice saw five minutes of action. Obviously, the foul-happy refs played some role in this, but it also seems that at a certain point Stackhouse didn’t like what he was seeing and said “screw it, I’m throwing Isaiah Rice in there.” (A frequently infuriating feature of the 2018-19 season was that at times when players, not naming names, appeared disinterested, Bryce Drew never thought to let them watch a walk-on play ahead of them.)
- Excellent game from Saben Lee, and while Aaron Nesmith had an off night, it’s encouraging that the team could put up 90 points while he was having an off night.
- Meanwhile, if Clevon Brown and Maxwell Evans were capable of playing like they’ve been playing this season, just what were they doing last year?
- Strong night for Jordan Wright. The Game Score looks good because the Game Score formula likes steals, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Wright’s performance.
- A bit of a rough night for the other two freshmen. Scotty Pippen Jr. was having a “freshman gonna freshman” night, while Dylan Disu couldn’t seem to get into the flow of the game. Both will have games better than this.
- On the other hand, some of that was made up for by Matthew Moyer and Ejike Obinna having good nights.
- Oh, yeah. Isaiah Rice scored the first field goal of his career; meanwhile, Drew Weikert and Jon Jossell got their first action of the season. In a 14-point game. I looked it up, and aside from a single appearance by Phillip McGloin early in the 2016-17 season (in a loss), Bryce Drew never played a walk-on in a game with a margin less than 28 points.
Vanderbilt has 11 days “off” (read: finals break) before hosting Liberty on December 14. Liberty, somehow, is 10-0, though the best team they’ve played this season is Radford.