It's been quite a roller-coaster ride for the Commodores (and their fans) this season. Vanderbilt enters the NCAA Tournament as a #4 seed in the West Regional with a date this Thursday against #13 seed Murray State. We'll give a full preview of the game tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought a retrospective on the year so far was worth it.
Given the fact that Vanderbilt played the 25th toughest schedule according to RealTimeRPI.com, those 24 wins are that much more impressive. Let's look at these wins.
Vanderbilt was 14-2 at Memorial Gym this year, a disappointing number when you consider the heartbreaking fashion of the two losses to Kentucky and South Carolina. Despite the much vaunted "analysis" by some moron named Bobby, Vanderbilt is, statistically speaking, a better team at home then thy are on the road. The Commodores margin of victory is 14.4 points a game (6 points higher than overall average), they are shooting 49.4% from the field (compared to 47% overall), and 36.3% from downtown (actually a worse percentage then their season average).
These statistics are someone exaggerated by the lopsided victories over Mercer, Manhattan, Southern Miss, and MTSU heading into conference play. The reality is that this Vanderbilt team does not rely on their home-court advantage the way previous teams have.
On the Road
The Commodores played 10 true road games, of which they won 7. The losses, all double digits, were disappointing for different reasons. The Illinois lose early in the year was frustrating because of the team's lack of intensity. In fairness, the Illini shot the ball lights out, connecting on 59% of shots from the floor, and 53% from downtown.
Vanderbilt's trip to Georgia was probably the most disappoint game of the season. Vanderbilt lead in the second half, but ended up losing the game by 14. The Commodores were out-rebounded by 15, shot just 32% from the field, and failed to get any offensive production from their front court. Georgia was another hot-shooting home team, hitting 53% from the floor, and connecting on 46% of their 3's. It was a terrible game all around.
Then there was our trip to Lexington. Vanderbilt lost at Rupp 85-72 in a game where, statistically, the Cats were unbeatable. Calipari's team shot 44% from the field, hit 53% from downtown (12 3's in all), and out-rebounded the Commodores by 19. Still, the Commodores had a chance to cut the lead to 10 and tighten the game around the 6 minute mark when Jeffery Taylor missed a reserve dunk that Vanderbilt fans are still lamenting.
Now for the good news...Vanderbilt won 7 road games, including victories over 3 NCAA tournament teams in their own gym (St. Mary's, Tennessee, and Florida). The Commodores were 6-2 in the SEC, an impressive record given how difficult it is to win in a conference opponent's house. But most impressive of all as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that Vanderbilt won 4 road games that were decided by 4 points or less.
Like with the home games, the statistics in road games can be deceiving. Overall, Vanderbilt is shooting just 1.4% better than their opponents on the road (46.4% vs. 45%), is getting out-gunned from 3 (although only by .5%), and dominated on the boards (-33 or -3.3 boards a game). The shooting statistics aren't that aberrant in wins or loses, however where you really see a difference is on the boards. Vanderbilt's road opponents grabbed 33 more rebounds than they did overall. Georgia, Kentucky, and Illinois grabbed 39 more rebounds then the Commodores did. There's your margin. Over the next few days, you'll probably hear people question Vanderbilt's ability to rebound away from Memorial. Hit'em with that stat and they'll be sure to think twice about spewing Commodore hate.
The Commodores were just 3-3 in neutral court match-ups, perhaps the most discouraging stat cited so far. Vanderbilt's neutral court games were really a mixed bag. Cincinnati and Western Kentucky were two terrible games. The Mississippi State game also wasn't that encouraging, but given the stakes for the Bulldogs, the Commodores performance (might) be forgivable.
On the other hand, Vanderbilt looked great against Arizona and Georgia (Chaminade really isn't worth rehashing).
Some encouraging stats are the fact that Vanderbilt is shooting 10% better from 3 on a neutral court (36% vs. 26%), attempted 10 more free throws, and is out-scoring their opponents by 33 points (opponents are out-scoring Vanderbilt by 8 in the first half). Add this fact, with the fact that Vanderbilt out-scored road opponents by 20 in the second half of road games bodes well for the Commodores going forward. Basically, that Vanderbilt is capable of coming from behind away from home, a key in the NCAA Tournament. When you hear experts talk about the Commodores being a team built to succeed away from home, this is the reason why.
Vanderbilt has only lost back-to-back games once this season (@ Illinois and vs. Western Kentucky). I think we can all agree that even if the team hasn't played it's best basketball as of late, they are much improved from the team as it existed in December. Given the diversity and strength of the schedule Kevin Stallings put together, there is very little this team hasn't seen over their first 32 games. This team's depth, experience, athleticism, and ability to get scoring from a host of options certainly lends itself to succeeding in March.
For a complete statistical breakdown, check out Vanderbilt's page at Kempom.com .
Look for our game preview Wednesday, and be sure to join the VSL Tournament Challenge (Group Name: VSL Challenge, Group Password).