Vanderbilt takes on Oregon State in the championship game of the Legends Classic tournament tonight at 9 EST/8 CST. The game is watchable on ESPN3.
Vandy has won its past two contests since dropping a big fat egg against Cleveland State last weekend. Honestly, there hasn't been much to write about since that game. While we've seen some very promising performances on the offensive side of the ball, our defense across the board has been woefully absent. This leads many Vandy fans, media pundits, and yours truly, to be skeptical about the team's abilities moving forward.
Look, teams aren't going to shoot 50% on us all season. Scoring around the basket will be much more difficult when Festus gets healthy. But the reason I've been losing sleep, eating less, feeling lethargic, etc. (just kidding.....seriously....maybe) is because our perimeter defense, believe it or not, is WORSE than last year.
Now before I go all Dan Wolken* on y'all and poo-poo the team's chances to realize the lofty expectations I brought forth two weeks ago, I will say that our defense will improve over the course of the season. For one, Festus does make a difference. We haven't run zone hardly at all because we just can't do it without him in the middle. Second, we have backcourt guys who are still developing. Dai-Jon Parker is presently only playing 9 minutes a game, and a large part of that is because, heaven forbid, he's a freshman 4 games into his playing career. Kyle Fuller, who is a massive pest of a defender, is too soul-crushing on offense to warrant extended playing time. Kedren Johnson has been the best surprise for the 'Dores, but again, he is 4 games into his first season. I know in this era of one-and-done phenom worship we all expect a lot out of the freshman, but it's going to take time for them, and for CKS, to find their roles and manage their minutes. That being said.
CKS is absolutely right when he says that "[i]f [the team] is sitting around waiting for Festus, we've got problems." I particularly love the statement, "[w]e're not going to sit around and *expletive* and complain, and we don't have this, and we don't have that. We have what we have. And we have to play better defensively."
While this group of seniors has certainly given me every reason in the world to doubt that they can play a lick of perimeter D, I STILL believe that they can improve in that department. Are they going to be a shutdown defensive team? No. Are they going to go all 40 minutes of hell and lead the SEC in turnovers forced? No. But they CAN hold teams to under 35% from 3-point range (they did it last year at 31%), and they CERTAINLY can hold teams to under 49% from the field (they did it last year at 41%). But being able to do something and actually doing it are two different things.
So for right now, Vanderbilt needs to focus on getting back to where it was before that gut-punch last second three against Richmond. When they can find the best way to get Parker and Fuller in to the lineup without sacrificing every semblance of offensive ability, they'll do even better than those numbers last year. But honestly, Vanderbilt doesn't need to be a world-beater defensively to win basketball games, not with the kind of offensive talent they have. Heck their rebounding margin is already 4 rpg better than it was last season, and they haven't lost the battle on the offensive glass once yet this year. They've been behind in double digits on attempts only once, to NC State. Point is, they've IMPROVED in key areas. Of course it doesn't mean a lick if they're letting teams hit on every 2nd shot.
ALSO MAKE YOUR DOGGONE FREE THROWS!!!!!!!!!
Oh yeah, about Oregon State. Well, President Obama's brother-in-law is their coach and they beat Texas in overtime. They have one guy, Jared Cunningham, who averages 26 points per game. Sadly he is a guard, which leaves reason for worry. They have a 6'7" forward who averages 16 ppg in Devon Collier, and another 6'7" forward who averages 10 ppg in Joe Burton. Burton is the only one who can shoot threes. They have some guys who can score off the bench consistently. They are not a great rebounding team and play mostly with undersized guys. They turn the ball over a decent amount and don't force a lot of turnovers. Full analysis? A Vanderbilt team that is playing reasonably on defense and well on offense should beat these guys by 10. Will we get that? I guess we'll wait and see.
*All in good fun to Dan Wolken. Lord knows we've given him no reason to change his opinion.