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SMU 92, Vanderbilt 81: Another blown lead late

Ugh. Let’s have this talk.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Four Factors

Four Factors Vanderbilt SMU
Four Factors Vanderbilt SMU
eFG% 54.62% 63.93%
OR% 24.40% 34.50%
TO% 16.00% 20.00%
FT Rate 24.62% 32.79%

I’m going to go ahead and start with this disclaimer: I do not blame Jerry Stackhouse at all for the current state of the Vanderbilt basketball program, or for the loss last night. Now. Let’s talk about the current state of the Vanderbilt basketball program.

Last night against SMU, Vanderbilt held a 72-57 lead with 6:28 left in the game. At that time, Ken Pomeroy’s win probability said that Vanderbilt had a 98 percent chance of winning the game. A fluke, right? Not so fast.

  • Against Loyola-Chicago, Vanderbilt had a 65.1 percent chance of winning when it led 20-14 with 7:12 left in the first half.
  • Against Liberty, Vanderbilt had a 73 percent chance of winning when it led 35-27 with 19:28 left in the game.
  • Against Tulsa, Vanderbilt had a 77.3 percent chance of winning when it led 24-18 with 7:25 left in the first half.
  • Against Richmond, Vanderbilt had a 77.7 percent chance of winning when it led 66-59 with 7:03 left in regulation.

So: in all five of Vanderbilt’s losses this season, at some point in the game the Commodores had at least a 65 percent chance of winning the game. Granted, two of those were when they had a six-point lead in the first half; on the other hand, against Liberty and Richmond, Vanderbilt held not-insignificant leads in the second half.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Consider:

  • Against Tennessee last season, Vanderbilt held a 76-70 lead with 1:32 left in the game; Vanderbilt had an 89.3 percent chance of winning at that point. (Tennessee was helped, of course, by a controversial Flagrant-1 call against Clevon Brown.)
  • Vanderbilt also had a 50-38 lead and a 94.2 percent chance of winning against South Carolina last January 16. Even with under two minutes left, Vanderbilt had a five-point lead and a 92.3 percent chance of winning. (South Carolina was helped in its comeback by an extremely stupid technical foul by Saben Lee.)
  • In last season’s SEC opener, Vanderbilt held a 53-47 lead with 14:05 left and had a 79.9 percent chance of winning at that point. (It’s often forgotten that early along in last year’s SEC run, it didn’t look like Vanderbilt was that bad of a team.)
  • On January 30, 2018, in Rupp Arena, Vanderbilt held a 70-65 lead with 40 seconds left and had a 91.5 percent chance of winning; Vanderbilt lost in overtime. (This was the game where Joe Toye got whistled for running into a Kentucky player while going for a rebound in the closing seconds of regulation. Vanderbilt also led this game by as much as 14 early in the second half.)
  • Early in the 2017-18 season, Vanderbilt blew a 10-point second half lead against USC (86.9 percent chance of winning at that point) and lost in overtime.
  • The NCAA Tournament game against Northwestern in 2017. I’ll just leave it at that.
  • On February 28, 2017, Vanderbilt jumped out to a 25-6 lead in Rupp Arena and still had a 13-point lead with 13:36 left, and lost by six.
  • On January 24, 2017, Vanderbilt held a 15-point lead on Arkansas at home with 6:02 left, and had a 98.5 percent chance of winning; Vanderbilt lost this game. (This is the most recent example of one on the level of last night’s game.)
  • Earlier in that same month, Vanderbilt had a 14-point lead on Alabama with 14:01 left in the game and a 88.8 percent chance of winning. I bet you know what happened after that.
  • Early in the 2016-17 season, Vanderbilt held a 78.8 percent chance of winning and a six-point lead with 6:02 left against Minnesota, and lost.
  • In November 2016, Vanderbilt had a 34-23 lead and a 94.5 percent chance of beating Bucknell with 5:46 left in the first half. Yep.
  • Hell, this goes all the way back to Stallings’ last year, when Vanderbilt lost five games it led by double digits at one point. In two of those (Dayton and Mississippi State), Vanderbilt’s win probability exceeded 97 percent at one point in the game.

And this doesn’t even include a whole bunch of smaller leads whittled away, or even just random bed-wettings against inferior opponents other than some of those already listed. And I’m not even mentioning the Davidson game on Monday, in which Vanderbilt did its very best to blow a 20-point second-half lead.

What makes it super frustrating is that you can almost always see the raw talent in building the leads. When Vanderbilt came back from an early deficit last night and built a 15-point lead in the second half, SMU certainly didn’t look like a better team than Vanderbilt. In fact, when SMU jumped out to a 20-8 lead in the first half, SMU looked like it was playing over its head and making everything and Vanderbilt would eventually get back into it, which they did.

It largely hasn’t been a talent problem over the long-term. Keep in mind: starting with the 2009-10 season, Vanderbilt has a 191-156 record (that’s about a 55 percent winning percentage) and a 1-5 NCAA Tournament record, and it’s a neat trick that Vanderbilt was no more than one seed line lower than the other team in all of those losses; also, during that time span, Vanderbilt has had five players drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft (granted, Darius Garland only played in four games), plus the first pick of the second round in the 2012 draft, plus a first-team All-SEC player who’s started 19 NBA games in spite of going undrafted, and the highest-rated recruit in program history according to Rivals (who’s also not any of those guys I just listed.) And they’ve been spaced out over the course of the decade that only the 2012-13 and 2017-18 teams didn’t have any of those players on them, and the 2017-18 team had three seniors who were all 1,000-point scorers at Vanderbilt. Hell, this year’s team probably has a first-round draft pick on it.

I mean, you’d expect better than winning 55 percent of your games and a 1-5 NCAA Tournament record under these circumstances, right? Come on, Nash, give me the TL;DR of all this:

Yeah. Pretty much. Meanwhile, Aaron Nesmith’s college career — assuming he goes pro after this season, which he probably will because we’re in a day and age where guys who aren’t projected to go in the first round leave early — will be completely wasted.

It reminds me a bit of the middle of Bobby Johnson’s Vanderbilt tenure on the gridiron (the Earl Bennett years, roughly), where the team had clearly improved its talent level to where it at least resembled an SEC team at some spots, and it played hard and kept games competitive and yet always seemed to find a way to lose. There was the blocked field goal against MTSU in 2005; there was the missed field goal against Arkansas in 2006; there was the late fumble to set up a game-winning field goal against Georgia in 2007; the less said about the 2007 game in Knoxville, the better. There was the 2005 team started 4-0 and finishing 1-6; there was the 2007 team sitting at 5-3 and finding a way to miss a bowl game. Hell, the 2008 team started 5-0 and then lost four straight (including a loss to a 4-8 Duke team) before finally righting the ship in time to sneak into the Music City Bowl.

The point is, right now, the problems with the Vanderbilt basketball program seem to be much more mental than anything to do with talent or coaching, and it’s a problem that’s persisted since at least the tail end of the Kevin Stallings era. If not before that. I remember watching the 2006-07 team drill Florida at home, going for the kill shot instead of trying to chew clock and letting Florida back in the game, and I remember the Siena loss in 2008. It definitely feels like Vanderbilt hasn’t been the same since then.

Individual stats

Aaron Nesmith 43 9 19 8 13 3 3 1 2 3 29 5 3 1 0 0 30.86 0.72 -9
Scotty Pippen Jr. 37 5 13 2 7 3 6 0 4 4 15 3 6 3 0 0 12.38 0.33 -18
Maxwell Evans 22 3 5 1 2 1 3 0 2 2 8 1 0 0 0 2 11.12 0.51 -4
Ejike Obinna 25 2 5 0 0 2 2 3 3 6 6 1 0 0 1 0 10.34 0.41 1
Saben Lee 34 3 8 1 4 0 0 2 5 7 7 1 5 4 0 0 7.21 0.21 -15
Matthew Moyer 15 2 3 1 2 0 0 0 2 2 5 4 1 0 1 0 6.42 0.43 8
Dylan Disu 32 3 8 2 5 1 2 1 1 2 9 1 0 2 0 0 4.39 0.14 -12
Braelee Albert 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 1
Jordan Wright 15 1 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 1 1 0 -1.72 -0.11 -7
  • Great game by Aaron Nesmith, obviously, but Vanderbilt probably can’t afford for Saben Lee to be as much of a nonfactor as he was Saturday, particularly with Clevon Brown out.
  • Scotty Pippen Jr. shows up as the second-most valuable player, though saying that he had an up and down game would be an understatement.
  • Good game by Maxwell Evans (according to the box score, he drew six fouls), and this was one of the better games I’ve seen from Ejike Obinna in a while. Let’s just say that Vanderbilt needs Obinna to keep playing like this while Clevon Brown is out.
  • Matthew Moyer made a three-pointer! Praise Vocokyteps! OO!
  • Rough night all around for the freshman class; in addition to Pippen, Dylan Disu was just sort of there and Jordan Wright posted a negative Game Score. (And Oton Jankovic got another DNP. Why the hell didn’t they just redshirt him?)

What’s Next

Vanderbilt travels to Auburn on Wednesday night; game time is at 8:00 PM CT on the SEC Network. Auburn has not lost a game this season, and I don’t predict they’re going to on Wednesday, either. Stranger things have happened, I guess.