Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee: Who Will Show Up?

Tennessee and Vanderbilt square off in Memorial Gym tonight at 7:00 EST/6:00 CST. Both teams come into the game with questions remaining about their identity, and both are looking to provide evidence that the issues that have plagued them are things of the past.

As with the Vanderbilt-Mississippi State game, both teams appear to have reversed course on their goals to show they are overcoming their prior woes. This time, Vanderbilt is not on the positive end of that conversation. I'm not ready to declare these Commodores as "the same old same old" like some outlets, but I'd also like to not end up with egg on my face as my shameless homerism destroys my objectivity. Losing at home to Mississippi State is not a bad loss, much less a shameful loss, but the manner in which the game was lost was a serious blow to the notion that this team has solved it's consistency issues. While I was willing to chalk the exceptionally poor play at the end of the Alabama game up as getting complacent in garbage time, you simply cannot ignore the glaring fact that this team will have at least 5 minutes a game where they get careless with the ball and then panic and force shots. Vandy had 7 turnovers the entire first half of the MSU game, and obtained 4 in a matter of four minutes in the second. MSU got hot and confident and started to hit threes. Vandy tried to counter with threes rather than attacking the rim, and got killed on the boards, thus allowing MSU to have all the momentum. In a matter of five minutes, Vandy saw its KenPom win probability drop from a little over 90% to just under 50%. Even an AVERAGE performance by the 'Dores over that five minutes means that we likely win the game.

Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off a great win at home against Connecticut. Tennessee has been very difficult to handle at home, but that has not translated as well on the road, where they have yet to record a single win. I defer to Train Island at Anchor of Gold for a fantastic write-up about how KenPom says we are the better team and should win. The general gist of that is that in terms of adjusted efficiency, Vanderbilt is better than Tennessee in both offensive and defensive categories. More specifically, Vanderbilt is A LOT better on offense (1.10 ppp) than Tennessee is (1.02 ppp), and modestly better on defense (.926 to .947). Thanks to the MSU game, however, Tennessee took over the top spot in the conference for defensive efficiency in conference play, dropping Vandy to #2. The hated Vols have a lot to prove in this game, and will be hoping to show that they are a much better and dangerous team with Jarnell Stokes than without.

As for Vandy, I continue to believe that turnovers are cureable. They are not giving me reason to think that of late, as we are the second worst team in the SEC in terms of turnover %. If Stallings wants to instill the "turnovers are either careless or selfish" mentality in these guys, he really needs to do it like NOW. I'm hopeful that will be the case. But we'll see....

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