Show Me My Opponent: Vanderbilt (#2)

WHAT THEY BRING

Oh no the offense is way, way worse

They made zero of their 25 threes the last time they played Tennessee and are a horror show offensively since losing Aaron Nesmith for the season.

What do you want me to say that’s new. 

Since Nesmith’s injury, only one Vanderbilt game has been a lovely event: the surprise home upset of LSU two weeks back. It broke Vandy’s 27-game losing streak against SEC opponents, and for the first night in a month, Vandy was lights out offensively: 1.302 PPP, 67.2% eFG, 23-of-31 from two, 12-of-30 from three. They couldn’t have played a better game. Unfortunately for the Commodores, it appears that said game is their only good game since Nesmith’s season ended. The LSU win remains Vandy’s only 1+ PPP outing since January 8, and while they’ve at least topped 0.9 PPP in three straight outings, it’s…not much.

Post-Nesmith, the onus falls on one Saben Lee.

You remember Lee from his excellent outing in Vandy’s near upset of then-#1 Tennessee at Memorial Gym last season – 21 points, 7 assists. For…reasons, surely, Lee has spent the season as Vandy’s sixth man until the Nesmith injury forced him into the starting lineup. I guess if you’re desperate to make your second-best player a non-starter, you do it. Whatever.

Anyway, Lee is exceptional from inside the perimeter (30.9% from three) and is ruthless in his attempts to get to the rim. Lee regularly flies off of ball screens to the rim, with Vandy running them pretty frequently. The perimeter shooting…well, the less said about it, the better.

Behind him is the starter at point guard, Scotty Pippen, Jr. Yes, it’s Scottie’s son; no, he’s not nearly as good as Scottie yet. Pippen’s eFG% is just 44%, thanks to missing a bunch of mid-range shots and being a just-okay three-point shooter. He’s probably got the worst shot selection of anyone on Vandy’s roster, but in Nesmith’s absence, he’s basically the only non-Lee player that is well-equipped to usurp some of his shots.

Pippen, like Lee, also loves to run off of screens, whether that’s creating a pull-up opportunity for himself or passing it out to a shooter. 

Others you need to know: Maxwell Evans, who feels as if he’s been on this team for six years, is somehow only a junior. He’s a decent role player, shooting 34.3% from three and 50% from two, taking almost no bad shots.

Vandy likes getting him the ball in spot-up situations wherever possible. Dylan Disu is the starting center, and he’s finally started to go inside (17 rim attempts in last 9 games!). Mostly, he prefers to take threes (36-of-127, 28.3%).

Jordan Wright and Matthew Moyer are a combined 10-of-72 (bad%) from three. Gross!

Ejike Obinna: great rebounder, little else to report on.

Defense: still bad! Surprise!

Well, it’s not as bad as it was at the time they played Tennessee. As a reminder, Vanderbilt ranked 246th in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which was the worst defense among Big Six programs. They’ve improved! Vandy is now all the way up to 219th in this metric, which…ah, never mind – still the worst defense among Big Six programs. They’ve only held an opponent below 0.9 PPP once all season – South Carolina State on November 22, 2019 – but things are…less terrible? I guess? I don’t know, all of LSU/Kentucky/Florida went for 1.18 PPP against this defense and had no issue at all scoring at the rim on them.

The interior defense is struggling big time

At the time of the previous game, I said the only thing Vandy was doing particularly well was blocking shots. That’s no longer the case, as they’ve fallen to 136th in Block Percentage.

They’ve gotten a little bit better at forcing steals, but it’s come at the expense of…(vaguely gesturing at everything else). Vandy’s rim protection when removing post-ups on Synergy ranks in the 25th-percentile nationally.

If you’re curious, they have the same PPP allowed in this stat as Detroit University and Dartmouth. Over 40% of opponent attempts are at the rim, and for good reason; Vandy is somehow no better at defending it in half-court than they are in transition. Pound-for-pound, they’re probably worse.

Perimeter defense has fallen apart

Once you get away from the rim – and really, you shouldn’t – Vandy offers little restraint against shooters. Their Guarded/Unguarded split sits at 51.1%/48.9%, which is below-average, and they’re allowing a 35.7% hit rate from three.

It’s nice that they’re limiting three-point attempts in general, of course, as that’s the stat they rank highest in. That said, they simply don’t do much of anything well in terms of shot defense. Currently, this is the worst SEC defense since 2007-08 Auburn (finished 248th nationally).

I wish this section was longer, sure, but it’s been a long day and I’m tired.

NEXT PAGE: Ranking the D-1 teams in Tennessee right now: 1. ETSU 2. Tennessee 3. Memphis 4. Belmont 5. Chattanooga 6. Austin Peay 7. Vanderbilt 8. Tennessee State 9. Lipscomb 10. MTSU 11. Tennessee-Martin 12. Tennessee Tech

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