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Why 2015-16 Has Been A Lost Season For Riley LaChance

In the span of a year, Riley LaChance has gone from making the SEC All-Freshman team to being a bench player on an underachieving Vanderbilt squad. Diagnosing what's wrong is tough, but we'll make an attempt.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014-15, Riley LaChance put together one of the best freshman seasons in Vanderbilt history.  His 429 points on the season ranked only below A.J. Ogilvy and Mike Rhodes, the latter of whom finished his career as Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer (though he has since been passed.)  His 12.3 points per game average ranked eighth all-time among Vanderbilt freshmen.

Everything about this sounds good, right?  Except as a sophomore, his scoring average has dropped to 7.5 ppg -- and he's averaging a paltry 6.5 ppg in SEC play.  His shooting percentages are down across the board, as well.

2014-15 49.4% 38.2% 87.3%
2015-16 36.2% 36.4% 77.4%

The 3-point and free throw percentages have fallen off, but they're still fairly acceptable.  But his shooting percentage on two-pointers has dropped like a rock.

Just what the hell is going on?  As an amateur basketball writer, here's where I try to guess what's going on with him.

His Shooting Form is Off

The first clip is from his freshman year; the second is from this year.  Spotting the difference is not terribly difficult.  In the first shot, he elevates vertically and extends his arm almost perpendicular to the ground.  That's pretty close to an ideal shooting form.  But the second shot looks much less pretty.  Riley doesn't elevate off the ground very much, and his followthrough is much closer to a 45-degree angle to the ground.  This shooting form looks very hurried, and it results in a lot of low-arcing, line-drive shots that (a) don't get the so-called "shooter's bounce" very often, and (b) are typically more difficult for offensive players to rebound as they carom off the rim faster.  Some players can get away with this kind of shooting form, but most will see a drop in accuracy when they shoot in this manner.

He's Getting to the Basket Less

While LaChance is stereotyped as a jump-shooter, in his freshman season he could at least get into the lane some and pad his numbers with layups and short jumpers.

This is much more difficult to prove, but as a sophomore a greater percentage of his 2-point attempts have been of the 18-foot jumper variety rather than layups.  You can see some of this in the fact that he's getting to the foul line less often -- 2.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes as a freshman, compared with 1.7 this year.  Attempting more 18-footers and fewer layups is one easy way to lower your shooting percentages, though.  And it doesn't help that Riley has become less adept at making layups, as well.

He's Lost His Confidence

Go back to the clip from the Texas A&M game above.  Does that look like a guy who's confident that his shot is going to fall?  Armchair psychology is, of course, not real psychology, but over the course of the season Riley has appeared to be less and less confident in his shot -- which, with that form, why would you be?  His shot attempts more and more often appear to be hurried attempts to see if he can get something to fall in order to get his confidence back, rather than shots within the flow of the game.

And these things all interplay with each other.  As Riley drives the lane less and less often, defenders feel more comfortable guarding him closely to prevent his jump shots.  As he loses confidence in his shot, opposing coaches (Ben Howland) feel comfortable putting him at the foul line in a close game.  Intentionally fouling LaChance when Damian Jones is on the floor is something that would have never happened in LaChance's freshman season; this year, though, Howland was more than happy to let LaChance go to the free throw line.

While some have criticized him for this, I think Kevin Stallings' handling of the situation has been about as good as you could have hoped for: try to let him ride it out based on what you've seen before, but once the slump became so extended (and once his attempts to break out of it started hurting the team), start giving the bench minutes to Camron Justice.  Riley looks like he may need an offseason to fix what's wrong with his game.