Monday, November 22, 2010

Commodores Top UNC to take Third in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Leave with a Productive Trip

Vanderbilt advanced to 3-1 with a 72-65 win over North Carolina last night. This was a great win for the 'Dores as they left Puerto Rico with a productive tournament performance. Make no mistake, your early season performance matters, and you could make a good argument that this team is ahead of last year's squad, who struggled in the Maui Invitational.

The general consensus seems to be that UNC is overrated, and that may be true, but you can't take away Vanderbilt's play in this game. They did a great job defensively, which overcame what I would argue was an average offensive performance. Despite being outrebounded on the offensive glass and in the game, they had huge performances when it counted from Lance Goulbourne and Festus Ezeli, who really owned the post in the last 10 minutes of the games. Taylor was great against freshman phenom Harrison Barnes and made several tremendous plays on transition defense taking away point blank shots for UNC. Perhaps most encouraging was the way we moved the ball. We had 14 assists from 6 different guys in this game.

What's being ignored in the discussion is the fact that Vandy hasn't even come close to it's offensive peak yet. Vandy never shot over 50% from the field the entire tournament, and John Jenkins wasn't his usual lights-out self except for the second half of the West Virginia game. Also, Taylor showed flashes of why he can be a legitimate SEC Player of the Year, but hasn't put it all together yet. Concerns about his outside shot should be alleviated, as he is shooting .583 from three this season. The only thing left for Taylor is to realize just how difficult to guard he truly is. Finally, Vandy did not do a good job finishing around the basket on some easy put backs and drives in this tournament. I fully expect that a lot of those point blank shots will start falling as the season progresses and the team gets into the flow of season play. The same goes with Jenkins three point shooting.

But for the completely fixable issues on offense, the defense was quite solid for the whole tournament. Some of this has to do with the lack of outside presence (aside from Casey Mitchell of West Virginia), but there's no doubt that we are a difficult match-up, particularly against average perimeter teams that rely on their big men (our 2-3 zone was fantastic all tournament). If we can put together 40 minutes on the glass, we'll really frustrate a lot of the offenses in the SEC.

From Vandy's perspective, perhaps the most pleasant surprise was the play of Festus Ezeli in the post. Big Fez is light years improved, doing a great job defensively in the post and asserting his will against a solid big man in Tyler Zeller. Fez still has some trouble with his body control at times and racks up a few fouls, but his footwork is so much more efficient and crisp underneath. Additionally, he showed how effective he can be offensively in that UNC game. He was an incredibly efficient 5-7 from the field, not to mention he shot 5-7 from the free throw line. That kind of production will absolutely help us to avoid a drop-off from A.J.

We also found out that we are much deeper than last year. While the players remained the same, Goulbourne and Stevie Thunder are vastly improved, and Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom are ahead of most freshman we've had in the past. I was particularly impressed by Fuller and Odom in this tournament, and feel quite confident that they can contribute significant minutes without much drop off.

Consistency is still a concern with this squad. From game to game you kind of wonder which team you're going to get, but with such a small sample size it's hard to tell whether that will plague us for the entire season. But when we're clicking on all cylinders, you'd be hard pressed to find a more balanced and experienced team in the SEC, perhaps even in the country. With that said, if these Commodores continue to improve as is the trademark of many Stallings squads, and avoid the late season drop off that has been plaguing us the past 3 years, this could be our best squad yet.


Bobby O'Shea said...

As always, Stanimal brings the heat.

I would agree 100% with your assessment about the team, its potential, and the fact they have room to grow. I do think there is a glaring omission from the recap: turnovers. Vanderbilt had 22 turnovers yesterday, and struggled to take care of the ball in the 1st half against WVU (committing 9 of their 13 in the first frame).

Brad Tinsely has been bothered by pressure and the result is errant passes, an inability to get into our half-court offense, bad shots, or turnovers. Any coach watching game film against the Commodores knows after what he saw in Puerto Rico that Vanderbilt gets flustered by aggressive on-the-ball defense once Brad gets over mid-court. As far as I'm concerned, the thing the Commodores need to work on the most is effectively handling pressure and using a team's aggressive defense against them.

macpfled said...

I complete agree Bobby. 22 turnovers is not accepatable even against an athletic defense. For me this is my players assessment
- Fez is the man, he played really well but if he could just play with arms a little bit lower he will get whistled for less little fouls (like illegal screens) the way whoever taught him be to shoot free throws is unbelievable, has anybody seen a turnaround for any player in any area as drastic as this..i mean he could shoot %50 better this year from the line!
-Taylor was outstanding with his shooting, defense, and rebounding and it is not his fault the refs didn't want him to play against WVU.
-Jenkins is clearly a huge asset especially his ability to be automatic from the line but he could improve BIG TIME. He is a big liability at times on defense and he had a lot of unforced turnovers.
-Tinsley...ahh! I want to love him, and sometimes he does great things but at this point is there any sign he is going to shoot over 30% from three (he was 28 last season and so far about the same this season), is less acceptable? I expected to see a improved player after hearing about the triple double but wasn't his A/T ration in the tourney around 1:1. Whats up with him throwing the ball way out of bounds on 3-4 fast breaks?
-Walker...glue man, nuff said. Can't tell you how much I appreciate a player who consistently does way more good things than bad things.
-Goulbourne played so well in that 2nd half vs. UNC but I still haven't forgiven him for the 2 missed layups vs. WVU. I just don't know if I am ever going to be comfortable with the ball in his hands, but if he can limit his clumsy offensive possessions he is an absolute monster defender/rebounder which is extremely valuable.
-Stevie Thunder has always been my favorite player and still is. Seems like he always comes up with clutch plays. Like to see him get 25 min/game.
-Fuller...I don't think I have ever been so impressed with two stat lines of 10 min/2 points/ 2 TO's...but seriously I think Fuller is going to be a star. He looks extremely comfortable at point and plays amazing perimeter defense (been missing a quick guard since red gordon). I think he has a good dose of cocky after seeing him in that memorial hall music video. Confidence goes a long way.
-Odom..great for a freshman, keep giving him 15-20min.

In the end I think the biggest thing this season will be figuring out if Tinsley and Jenkins make a good guard combo. Against decent competition they are really skilled and can look awesome, but like UNC showed put some athletic guards in their jock strap and their athletic deficiency comes out. I think this will be a huge challenge for Stallings..and personally I think there might be games where Fuller should be getting 30-35 minutes.

Memorial Magic said...

Katz thinks Vanderbilt should be ranked in the Top 25:

Also, his final thoughts from Puerto Rico:

Owen said...

andre is a glue guy but i think he has a lot more to him than he's brought to the team this year and last year. i wonder if he would be a more effective player as the 6th man. when they switched to andre bringing up the ball on offensive, things did change. he is a very reliable ball handler which is nice but i'm wondering if maybe lance started in place of walker and then walker was the first one off the bench that he would provide a spark. he does not seem to look for his shot...ever.

macpfled said...

well i do agree walker could improve, but overall i think he is just a great team player. lance to me seems more like a spark guy and is really prone to turnovers and bad shots. walker has earned his spot and i dont see any reason to take him out of the starting lineup. i am a little annoyed at the concept of players looking for "their shot", i think coaches all over the country would take a Walker any day who is constantly looking to do the little things and not to score. play smart and quick and unselfish and shots create themselves. im a little concerned about how everybody seems to want jenkins and taylor to shoot every time they touch it. i think our team could be at its best when we have 9 guys with over 6 points. sure jenkins could drop 25 if teams are leaving him open but no reason to force 15 shots just b/c that is supposed to be his quota.