Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bobby's Thoughts on Beating Kentucky

Vanderbilt earned their 81-77 win over Kentucky today, no doubt about it. With the win, the Commodores are now tied with Georgia for 2nd in the SEC East with Georgia (who they'll play Wednesday in Athens) and perhaps Tennessee (who are currently battling Florida). When the Commodores lost to Arkansas at home, and then went down in Gainesville, people were concerned. We said it was imperative that they take advantage of the 3 game home-stand on their schedule if they had any chance of challenging for the SEC crown. They did. By winning 2 highly competitive, physical games within a 40 hour span, this team showed they are capable of great things. Don't discount what they did because the games were at home. They beat 2 NCAA tournament teams (I think Alabama gets in, especially with the field expanded to 68) who played extremely well, in games they had to have. That's not nothing.

As for this game, a few things stood out to me:

1. Coach Stallings earned his paycheck today. I have been critical of some of Stallings' decisions and in-game tactics over the years. With that said, I thought he had a GREAT game today. With Lance and Jeffery in foul trouble, and Andre Walker still nursing his ankle back to health, he had to tinker with his line-up in ways he probably didn't expect (he said as much during his press conference). He did a masterful job with personnel and went with a look that we hadn't seen all year: the twin towers of Festus and Stevie Thunder. I've wondered at times why he didn't utilize this line-up more, and after today's game, I wouldn't be surprised to see it more going forward. I also thought his decision to go to a 2-3 was great.

2. Vanderbilt's 2-3 Zone was Incredibly Effective. Stallings said he went to the 2-3 because he was tired of watching UK score. CKS said they made some adjustments in practice to their zone, and commented that the team played "harder" in the zone then they had in past. Stallings said the key in the zone was Stevie Thunder in the "forward" spot in the zone. Whatever it was, the zone was much more effective. The team was more aggressive in the zone then they've been in the past, and did a great job getting their hands in passing lanes and causing turnovers. For much of the season, Vanderbilt has been passive in the zone. That wasn't the case today, and it might have been the difference.

3. John Freaking Jenking. John Jenkins is a scorer. Pure and simple. Today was the culmination sis development on the offensive side of the ball. Last year, JJ was a spot-up shooter who wasn't able to create his own shot, refused to penetrate, and appeared reluctant to drive the lane and get to the line. That's not the case any more. Jenkins is now able to score from anywhere on the floor. He continues to be a deadly shooter, and has become incredibly adept at freeing himself through constant movement and effectively using screens. Jenkins line was insane: 11-17 from the field, including 6-10 from downtown, and 4-5 from the charity stripe. Jenkins is also working harder his defense (although there is still room for improvement) and rebounding (he grabbed 3 today and was crashing the glass consistently). Overall, he is blossoming. One of my buddies who I sit with at the games said this was the game where Jenkins broke out and joined the ranks of Matt Freiji, Billy McCaffery, and Shan Foster (I added Derrick Byars to that list). He's not wrong...and he's only getting better.

4. Jeffery Taylor. Taylor seems to follow-up good performances with disappointing ones. Today was no different. JT struggled offensively, hitting just 1-7 from the field, including 0-2 from downtown. His sole field goal was a big one, coming with 2:41 left to give Vanderbilt a 4 point lead. Certainly, foul trouble hindered JT, who only played 21 minutes. Still, I didn't think he was pressing on offense like he has in other games where he's struggled. JT's problem right now is an inability to finish around the rim. A large part of this is confidence - something JT clearly struggles with at times. Still, as good and athletic as Taylor is, I think he is now our 2nd or 3rd best offensive option (with JJ or Festus on the block alternating between 1 and 2). This isn't a knock on JT. He is best as a slasher, something that is opened up when you've got a big man scoring from the post, or a sharp-shooter knocking down 3's.

5. Vanderbilt's Depth. The Commodores got a huge lift off the bench. The freshmen have stepped up huge during this 3 game home-stand. Stevie Thunder, out of necessity today, showed he is a viable option to play the 4 as well as the 5. Oh yeah, and Andre Walker is still out. If Walker is able to return this season and be a factor, Vanderbilt has one of the most dynamic teams in America (yes, I said it).

There is reason to be optimistic. Vanderbilt had to sweep this 3 game home-stand and they did. With 6 games left, the Commodores will have to win some games on the road if they are going to have any chance of catching the Gators and winning the SEC. Of their final 6 games, (only 2 are at home. Fortunately, 2 of their 4 road games are to the dregs of the SEC West (LSU and Auburn). The Commodores have a huge game Wednesday night against Georgia. While this isn't a game the "have to win," it is probably necessary if they have any hope to win the SEC East. Still, these last 3 games have shown that this team can win big (close) games. Now they've got to do it on the road. No matter, they can worry about that starting tomorrow. The team has earned at least that.


VandyGold28 said...

With UF beating UT I think the east is already out of reach. Sure, UF has to go to Rupp and to our place, which if they lost both drops them to 4 L's. But I don't see another L on their schedule and we still have to go to Rupp & UGA Wednesday is huge. 2nd is our best option and would be great if we could get a bye in the SEC tourney.

Anonymous said...

VU can run the table - if they really learned from early losses. Maybe this one year in which we don't fizzle down the stretch!