Oh, do I have thoughts on this.
On Tuesday night, Vanderbilt scored 68 points on 64 possessions against Tennessee, the #1 team in the country in defensive efficiency per KenPom. Not only was that Tennessee’s worst defensive performance of the season; in their first fifteen games, a Tennessee opponent had exceeded a point per possession just once (Arizona.) Vanderbilt turned the ball over 8 times against a team that normally forces turnovers on a quarter of opponents’ possessions; Vanderbilt had a 43.1% effective field goal percentage against a team whose opponents normally shoot 38%.
All of that is encouraging. It’s also frustrating, because where the hell was that team in November and December? How does a team that clears a point per possession against the country’s best defense score 48 points against Southern Miss? How does a team that turns it over on an eighth of their possessions against Tennessee cough it up on 30 percent of their possessions against Grambling? The team we saw on Tuesday night coasts to easy wins against the likes of Southern Miss and Grambling and probably closes out against VCU and NC State, too. That team is sitting at 12-4 this season and at the very worst is squarely on the bubble with a good chance to add a quality win to its resume when Arkansas comes to town on Saturday; the actual Vanderbilt basketball team is 8-8 on the season and needs a minor miracle to make the NIT.
What’s more, this is a team with nine players averaging more than ten minutes per game, and eight of those are upperclassmen. Three of them are in their fifth year of college basketball, and two more are in their fourth year. You expect them to be competitive in the SEC; you don’t expect them to chop off their own foot in the nonconference portion of the schedule. It would be one thing if the freshmen were playing (uh, more on that in a minute); this is quite a different matter.
- Strong performances by Liam Robbins and Jordan Wright, though I’m still going to complain about them coming off the bench. As far as the minutes played, at least in Robbins’ case that can be explained by picking up two fouls in the first half; he played 16 minutes in the second half, which is fine.
- The surprise, of course, is Noah Shelby and Lee Dort coming in third and fourth in Game Score, with basically all of that coming in the first half. Dort came in with 7:13 left in the first half, after Robbins picked up his second foul, and Vanderbilt promptly outscored Tennessee 19-9 the rest of the way. And then he basically wasn’t seen in the second half. Figure that out.
- I’ve been beating the Shelby/Dort drum for a while, but their lack of minutes is even less defensible when Trey Thomas and Quentin Millora-Brown are playing like this.
- There really isn’t a whole lot worth writing about with the rest of the team; mostly, they existed while Robbins and Wright (and Shelby and Dort in the first half) were carrying the rest of the team.
Vanderbilt hosts Arkansas on Saturday at 1:00 PM CT on ESPNU; notably, the SEC neglected Vanderbilt’s annual trip to Fayetteville this season, and Saturday’s game at Memorial will be the only time the Commodores see the Razorbacks.