Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bobby's Thoughts on Vanderbilt Losing to Florida in SEC Tournament

After reviewing the box score and reading over the comments from the post-game thread, I'm going to have to put myself in the "optimistic" camp. As far as I'm concerned, the difference in today's game was 3 point shooting: Florida was lights out, and the Commodores weren't.

The key in the NCAA Tournament is match-ups. Stanimal is working on a post putting this year's team in context of the previous 4 tournament appearances during the Kevin Stallings era. Florida is not a good match-up for us. In fairness, when Florida is 11-21 from 3 with a 5'8 shooting guard playing lights out, there aren't a lot of teams in America who match-up well with them. Without seeing Vanderbilt's draw, I think the doomsday prediction of another 1st round exit is wildly premature.

The VSL Braintrust, like most fans, have been worried about Vanderbilt's ability to rebound and take care of the basketball. The Commodores only turned the ball over 6 times as compared to the Gators' 12. In fairness, Florida committed 1 turnover in the 2nd half, while Vanderbilt turned it over 5 times. If you want to use this state as another indicia of the Commodores inability to close so be it, but I'm not convinced. On the rebounding front, the final box score shows Vanderbilt -11, but again, I think that number is deceiving. The Commodores and the Gators had the same number of offensive rebounds, 13, and more 2nd chance points than Florida, 18-12. Florida had 30 defensive rebounds because Vanderbilt missed 40 shots and only connecting on 36% of their attempts, while the Commodores grabbed 19 rebounds on Florida's 30 misses. The Gators connected on 48.5% of their attempts, including an ungodly 52% from downtown.

A lot has been made about Vanderbilt's perimeter defense. While I recognize that it has been pretty ineffective this season, I frankly wasn't bothered by the way they defended Florida. Both Walker and Boykins hit some deep shots with hands in their face; with the exception of the transition play where the Commodores lost Erving Walker in transition, i don't remember the Gators getting a lot of open looks. I was particularly happy with Jenkins' defense, something I never thought I'd say. He's not the best defender in the world, but he wasn't the liability today that he normally is on the defensive side of the ball. He played with a lot of effort and even made a couple plays.

Which leads me to the story everyone is talking about: John Jenkins' shooting performance. Shooters have off days, and this was certainly that for John. What was frustrating was his selection and general unwillingness to let the game come to him. Jenkins was a paltry 3-15 from the floor, and just 2-12 from downtown. Jenkins ended the game with 10 points, but his last points came at the 9:44 mark on a great feed from Lance. Goulbourne faked a 3, drew the defense in, and fed the ball to an open Jenkins near the top of the arc. That was an example of Jenkins letting the play develop and being part of the offense rather than trying to be the offense. John attempted 3 bad 3's with Gators in his face in between the 6:13 and 3:57 marks. When he attempted his first 3 within this span the Commodores were down 1, after Jenkins miss at 3:57, Walker stroked a 3 from the corner to give the Gators a 7 point advantage. I don't have a problem with Jenkins taking shots, just taking bad shots on an off day. When JJ got clean looks, he knocked most of them down. Credit Florida for not giving him many such opportunities, but Jenkins played right into the Gators' hands by forcing bad shots that could have potentially been taken by other players who weren't struggling as much on the offensive end. Jenkins has gotten used to being the player who has to carry the team on offense. While he is certainly capable of doing so, the SEC Tournament proved that he doesn't necessarily have to. If this tournament showed the Commodores the kind of balance they are capable of having, it will be worth the loss in the semis.

I'd be remiss if I didn't sing the praises of Jeffery Taylor. Jeff showed in these last 3 games the kind of consistent, assertive play we have been hoping to see all season. He played with a fire and determination that has only appeared in bursts. Offensively, Taylor was finishing strong, knocking down jumpers, and generally making plays. That's what you want to see. These past 3 games Jeffery Taylor looked like this team's leader, something I'm not sure you would have said a week ago.

Overall, I think there is reason to be encouraged with the way this team is playing heading into the NCAA Tournament. Like almost every team in the field of 68, Vanderbilt has some weaknesses. If they play a team that does the things well that we don't, we'll be in trouble. But that would be true whether we won or lost today. Call me crazy, but I am unpersuaded by labeling this team "soft" or "same old Vanderbilt" (a phrase, by the way, everyone needs to retire; if you refuse to believe the Commodores can succeed, stop watching them). I can't put my finger on it, but in terms of the "eye test," this Commodore team looks more like the 2006-07 squad than either of the teams that made early round exits in the Tournament. Would I rather be playing tomorrow than simply waiting to see where we'll be seeded tomorrow? Absolutely. But I'm not ready to start talking about next year just yet. There is still reason to think these Commodores have a lot of basketball left to play.


Drew said...

Pretty solid analysis, Bobby. At this point, I've let go of all expectations with this team. They are far too inconsistent to predict. This point is proven by the fact that ESPN analysts have labeled them both potential final four dark horses AND most likely to make an early exit. So, I'll try to sit back and enjoy the ride in the tourney and simply hope for the best.

KarenA said...

Excellent write-up and I'm not giving up at all! I hope Jenkins can get his toe healthy and be back nailing the threes!

BMoreDore said...

I totally agree about Jenkins letting the game come to him, but our perimeter defense has been great this year. I think we led the SEC in 3P% defense. 19th in the country in that regard.

ASpenVU said...

Lots of reasons to be optimistic and it's been a good VU year and fun to watch (nice not to be wondering if we get into the dance.) but this team lacks something in terms of mental toughness - they seem to be ok with moral victories against teams like UF and UK. They stop executing in most phases of the game.

Greg M said...

Let's start pleading for everybody to come back next year. None of these guys need to go pro yet.Unless they win the NCAA Tourny, I won't to hear them talking about coming back for some unfinished business..oh yeah, and a Vanderbilt degree.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see the seeding, and quite frankly think it will be a 6. I've got a feeling similar to the 07-08 season more than the last 2 where we lost in the 1st round. The desire is evident as is the comradrire.

AspenVU said...

If anyone exits this year for the pros they will be playing in Europe - bad move.