I Just Called to Tell You That I Hope You’re Doin’ Fine

Drive-By Truckers, “Feb. 14”

Four weeks ago I wrote a very depressed, whiny post about how I was no longer enjoying this specific season in Tennessee history. I would say this is the pull quote of choice:

There’s still two months left of basketball to fix how this feels. The problem is that a healthy amount of people who follow me online see “there’s still two months left of basketball” and are feeling their eyeballs roll back in their heads, because it means you still have to watch this very-flawed team play basketball. I guess I’m still in the “wait until March” camp, but when the head coach has literally the third-most underwhelming NCAA Tournament resume of any active HC, I’m not sure what there is to wait for.

This was indeed whiny. There were indeed two months left in the season, and when you play what looked like the three toughest SEC opponents all in your first five SEC games, it’s not fun to cover loss after loss. But I promise there’s some sort of defense for this. After the Kentucky debacle, Tennessee was still in the KenPom top 15, but their offensive/defensive imbalance felt like its own ravine. Tennessee had the 51st-best offense and the 5th-best defense. Teams with that sort of split have gone far before, but when you have Pomeroy’s own research about how offense matters a bit more in March, some of your own research, and the admitted Barnes March problem…well, it sort of puts a cap on how excited you can get.

That’s how it felt at the time. A month later, things are different. Tennessee has won seven straight SEC games; the only loss is a one-point road loss to Texas, who is no worse than a top 20 team by any metric available. The offense has jumped from 51st to 29th; nearly 75% of Elite Eight teams in the last decade have ranked in the top 30 offensively. The defense, despite Vanderbilt hitting what I would politely call Garbage Shots, is still ranked 6th-best. Tennessee had a pretty bad shooting night on Saturday and rose in the advanced rankings because they got fouled so much and rebounded so well.

This is all adjusted for schedule, by the way. Tennessee now has five wins over Tier A (Pomeroy’s equivalent of Quadrant 1) this season; they had six at this time in the magical 2018-19 season and five in 2017-18. This is a very, very good basketball team that is poised to stand with some of Tennessee’s best in the history of the program. It’s alright if you allow yourself to like them. Forgiveness is a good thing, as is grace. The Tennessee of January 15 doesn’t seem to be the Tennessee of February 13. They have two huge opportunities in the week ahead: home Kentucky, road Arkansas. If they even go 1-1 in those, that’s a success. That’s what one of the 10-15 best teams in the sport would likely do.

I feel like it’s coming. The difference between the squad of a year ago and this particular edition is that even on nights where things aren’t firing on all cylinders, there are hustle plays. There are millions of deflections. There are more rebounds than at any point since the Cuonzo/Tyndall eras. There’s players willing to step up and take key shots at key moments.

Putting all objectivity aside, which I think I lost the capacity to possess a while ago, this is on pace to be no worse than one of the three most lovable Tennessee teams of my lifetime. In March, the only strength of schedule you can control is the very first game you play; everything after is up to the hands of fate. I’m ready for the dice roll.


The immediate devastation of the Olivier Nkamhoua injury was more human than athlete to me. Nkamhoua is here from Finland; as an international athlete, the NCAA has found one last piggish act in preventing Nkamhoua, Santiago Vescovi, and other international athletes from profiting off their name, image, and likeness. As we all know, because I hear it every day online and offline, the greatest crime you can commit is being born in a country that is not the United States of America.

So Nkamhoua already has that going against him, and that’s pretty bad. Think about everything else that goes with it. This is a young man that moved from Finland to the United States in his teens to attempt to follow his basketball dreams. Said dreams lead him to Maryland, where he becomes a late-blooming prospect that appears on Tennessee’s radar. Tennessee takes him in, and a local writer makes a Grant Williams comparison that gets brought up every week for the next two-plus years.

Nkamhoua struggles his first year and second; frankly, watching him play basketball most resembled the SpongeBob episode where the titular character is being blindly informed over a radio how to drive a car. But this offseason, seemingly all of those complaints disappeared. If you read the tea leaves, all you heard about was how Nkamhoua was the most improved player on the roster. I would ask around about it and hear back “sure, but we need to see it in real games,” which was entirely fair. I mean, you hear a player get compared to a first-round draft pick, come out and very much look not like that, and you become wary of any and all praise.

The season starts. Nkamhoua looks much improved indeed, but he still disappears for games, even weeks, at a time. From January 8 (LSU) to January 29 (Texas), he fails to crack double-digits even once. He begins losing playing time, and it feels like you’re not really back at Square One but you’re starting to see it in the distance after you thought you’d driven far away.

Then he reappears. The Texas A&M game presents a 15 point, 7 rebound, 3 block performance that is his best against anyone in a month and seems to restart his season and his drive. He starts well against South Carolina, too: in 17 minutes of play, he puts up 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. I guess that doesn’t look great when written out, but if you extrapolate that to his 27 minutes against A&M, that’s the equivalent of 11/8/3 in an SEC road game. Pretty darn good.

Nkamhoua goes up for a layup that looks normal until it doesn’t. Play continues without him on the other end. He can’t put any pressure on the ankle; the last we see of him in a Tennessee uniform in 2021-22 is him throwing his headband against a wall in frustration. He comes back to the bench by the end of that game, and briefly, you think “alright, maybe he just misses a few games and comes back.” That’s not the case. Rick Barnes announces the season-ending injury two days later, conveniently right after you hit publish on a weekly recap.

Right then and there, it would’ve been reasonable for this season to begin a small spiral. Nkamhoua is no greater than Tennessee’s fourth option offensively, but he was the centerpiece for what I had begun to write about as the March Lineup: Chandler, Zeigler, Vescovi, James, and Nkamhoua. Four legitimate shooters and a fifth that can shoot when needed and protects the rim extremely well. Over the course of the season, it had been Nkamhoua who had assumed the vacant Pons role, which none of us really saw coming. Without him, Tennessee’s defense would suffer, and I simply guessed that the offensive gains might not make up for it.

We have all of two games of data to work with. Both of them are nine-point wins. One felt better than the other, but frankly, the other in this data set could’ve easily been a 15-20 point win on a normal shooting night. Both games provided a few lineup frustrations, but all you can ask for is this: Tennessee was expected to win about 1.3-1.4 games this week and went 2-0. That’s a successful week. It makes writing the recaps easier.

What makes things actually enjoyable is seeing images like Grant Ramey shared, presumably from a team video, where the team is calling Nkamhoua to check in:

Or this one, also via Grant, but from a very different scenario:

I have no clue how travel works with regards to injured players. At least in the NBA, there’s a set limit on how many bodies you’re allowed to have on the bench, and injured players sometimes makes the numbers not work, so they stay home. That being said, I hope we keep seeing Nkamhoua. I hope he feels supported in this time. I look at that image of Barnes FaceTiming Nkamhoua – which, raise your hand if you’re at least a little surprised Rick Barnes knows how to use FaceTime – and feel like you simply have to embrace this team, flaws and warts and all. They are becoming a joy to watch. They’re bringing those who can’t travel with them in person along with them in spirit.

The love these players have for each other feels very real. That image from 2020-21 about “culture,” when the four standing Tennessee players picked up the one from the floor, simply seems a lot more accurate for the 2021-22 edition. Whether you want to credit Zakai Zeigler, Kennedy Chandler, Nkamhoua, Barnes, Mike Schwartz, Smokey, or Kellen Hiser for that, it’s up to you. I just know that I like watching this team and I like them as people and I like them as players. It’s a nice feeling to watch a basketball team and realize that even the lineups you don’t like have players you like as people.


This is the notes section of Other Stuff That Didn’t Fit:

  • The midseason turnover issue seems to have ebbed. Well, it’s three games, but Tennessee’s won the turnover battle in three straight games. At one point, they’d turned it over on 20% or more of possessions in seven of nine games. I actually think the key part of this isn’t the backcourt but rather the big guys. Fulkerson and Plavsic have a combined two TOs since the A&M game.
  • The Chandler/Zeigler combo is questionably Tennessee’s secret sauce. I’m saying “questionably” because there are other factors. BUT: Tennessee’s offense, over the course of the season, is 5 points better per 100 when both are on the court versus one/neither. The biggest impact isn’t shooting but rather shot quality; Tennessee has a better rim-and-threes ratio, more assists, and is slightly better on twos.
  • You got both sides of the officiating coin. Tennessee had 16 fouls to State’s 14. Vanderbilt had 23 to Tennessee’s 16. But the two games felt way different: State had 23 FTAs to Tennessee’s 9 despite Tennessee having the higher two-point attempt rate, while Vanderbilt barely attempted any twos at all yet still managed to get up 20 FTAs. Tennessee got 31 and frankly got a couple of favorable calls. I’m not sure what the message is here, other than I have no idea how anyone could manage to be a professional coach and not want to bite a ref’s head off at least once a game.
  • Speaking of which: The Pippen Problem. I understand that college officiating is fundamentally different than the NBA because they’re fundamentally different games. That’s fine. But to be honest, I’ve felt a little warmer towards the NBA this season because they’ve tried to eliminate what I would charitably call 40% of Scotty Pippen, Jr.’s game: shot-faking, then blindly tossing your body like a grenade into the nearest defender. It works. It gets points. It clearly is something officials will call, unless you’re Kennedy Chandler, I guess. But does anyone actually like this?
  • Keep shooting. Tennessee went 11-for-37 on everything that wasn’t a layup or dunk against Vanderbilt. Whatever. Keep shooting. Considering Tennessee went 19-for-72 on non-layup/dunks against Vandy this year and has a much better percentage against basically every other opponent (including the one they’ll play Tuesday), forget about it and move on.

Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Vanderbilt, Part Two

GAME INFORMATION
OPPONENT Vanderbilt
13-10, 5-6 SEC, #81 KenPom
9-16, 3-13 SEC 2020-21
LOCATION Thompson-Boling Arena
Knoxville, TN
TIME Saturday, February 12
6 PM ET
CHANNEL SEC Network
ANNOUNCERS Not listed at the time of publishing. (shrug)
SPREAD KenPom: Tennessee -13
Torvik: Tennessee -11

At home this time! Tennessee has now won six of seven since the Kentucky debacle and pulled off a genuinely impressive road win – their first Quadrant 1 road win, mind you – on Wednesday at Mississippi State. They’re now up to 10th in NET and look to be on pace for somewhere between a 3 and 5 seed. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is better in Year 3 of Jerry Stackhouse but still has a ways to go to be Tournament-level competitive. If they can squeak out a .500 record (7-11 in SEC play), that’s probably an NIT bid.

I am legally required to mention that they have lost nine in a row to Tennessee, which is pretty funny.


Vanderbilt’s offense

Tennessee played this team all of 25 days ago, so shockingly, not a lot has changed. The main difference right now is Rodney Chatman suddenly being available more often than not. (Minnesota transfer Liam Robbins has finally begun to play as well, but he’s only touched the court for 11 and 13 minutes so far.) Chatman provides more of interest on defense than offense, so we’ll get to him in that section. The rest of this is mostly repurposed from the first preview.

One of the few general positives of the Jerry Stackhouse Era has been Scotty Pippen, Jr. This year is no different; Pippen is responsible for 39% of Vandy’s points this season through both his shots and his assists, per Synergy.

For a guy who gets the headlines as a ball-dominant guard, Pippen’s passing acumen is genuinely fairly good.

The problem comes when Pippen has to pass the basketball. Pippen still draws fouls like crazy (7.4 fouls drawn per 40, 6th-most nationally), but no one else comes close. Pippen is the only guard on the team that can get to the rim. Pippen is the only guy that can regularly create his own shot from deep. That’s why this Vandy offense has genuinely been pretty disappointing. Pippen is capable of spectacular things when the ball is in his hands.

Unfortunately, you can’t spend the entire game with the ball in your hands. Pippen leaves the floor for about a 3-minute break in each half, usually near the midway point. When that happens, Vanderbilt’s already just-okay offense becomes dust. Vandy’s offense goes from performing like a top-90 unit with Pippen on to a top-320 unit when he’s off. Pippen is only really allowed to take about five minutes off in a close game; any more and Vandy’s simply accepting a loss.

Pippen’s only main help is Jordan Wright, a 6’6″ wing that can drive to the basket but isn’t as efficient a scorer at the rim (53.1% vs. 57.4%) or in mid-range (30.9% vs. 38%). Wright is an alright deep shooter, but he’s reliant on Pippen to help create opportunities. (Lineups with Wright on and Pippen off are scoring just 0.858 PPP.) Still, Wright is a pretty dangerous catch-and-shoot scorer, and he’s hitting 52% on unguarded threes. (He did go 0-for-2 against Tennessee on these, at least.) Don’t let him get loose.

There’s a few other intriguing parts if you squint. Myles Stute is mostly Just A Shooter (8.5 PPG, 77% of all shots threes) who’s been terrific from deep (42%). Trey Thomas is Pippen’s backup PG and also mostly Just A Shooter (78% of all shots from deep), but less efficient. Chatman is mostly a role guy that takes more threes than twos (42% on 31 attempts), yet has turnover issues. Liam Robbins has barely any data to speak of, but three years of Minnesota data show a below-average jump shooter that’s good on twos. Excellent beat writer Aria Gerson claims that Vanderbilt is a lot better with Quentin Millora-Brown on the court and I completely believe it; even with luck-adjusted numbers, Vanderbilt is an astounding 25.3 points better per 100 with him on the court. (He mostly just hangs out in the post and sets screens.)

Still: when your entire system is built around one guy and you fail to give him much to work with, I guess it’s not a mystery that the offense is a disappointment. If they were as good as projected in preseason (#61 nationally, per KenPom), this team would be ranked in the top 50 nationally and be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Unlucky.

CHART! The official Chart Guide is now as follows:

Yes: “Be afraid.” 😬
Somewhat: “They can hit this but not very efficiently.” 🤔
No: “Either never attempts this shot or is atrocious at making it.” 🥳

Vanderbilt’s defense

THE GRAPHIC IS WRONG IN ONE SPECIFIC SENSE: Vandy ranks 308th in Rim FG% allowed, not 51st. I obviously mis-sorted that in an Excel sheet, so that’s on me.

The most interesting thing here isn’t that Vandy has suddenly started in working in some zone defense (though they do include a zone about 5-8 times per game) or that they’re forcing more jumpers than ever before. We’ll get to that. First, it’s worth noting that Vandy has changed up its ball-screen coverage. This year, the Commodores are doing a little of what Arizona did: different coverages based on different personnel.

If Quentin Millora-Brown is the big involved in the pick-and-roll, you can expect him to drop and force a shot or a floater over the top of the defense:

If it’s…well, just about anyone else, you’ll see more of a hedge/double coverage that runs the ball-handler out of the screen and forces him to give the ball up.

Providing multiple things to watch for on defense rather than just one or the other has led Vandy’s ball-screen defense to improve quite a bit, up to the 94th-percentile this year from the 70th-percentile in 2020-21. It’s not that different from what Stackhouse and company did before, but working in more quirks like this have forced jumpers on 56.4% of Vandy half-court defensive possessions, one of the highest rates among Big Six teams in America. Adding in Liam Robbins to this mix is also of genuine interest. Again: barely any Vandy data at all to speak of, but across three seasons at Minnesota, he blocked 12% of opponent two-point attempts when he was on the court, an absurdly good rate.

Like any defense, though, it has holes. The main ones Vandy has are deep and two-fold:

  1. A defense that forces lots of jumpers doesn’t force many off-the-dribble ones, instead giving up a shocking amount of open threes (Guarded/Unguarded of 41/59, worst in the SEC);
  2. The actual rim protection scheme still doesn’t have a true rim protector; the best they have is either the fledgling Millora-Brown, who only plays 24 minutes a game, or possibly Robbins, who has committed 6 fouls in 24 total minutes played.

The first is easier to decipher. Vandy does a lot of good in forcing opponents to shoot over the top of them, but they’ve had a hard time actually guarding said shots. They’ve been remarkably lucky that opponents are shooting just 28% on those unguarded threes; I would be surprised if that number isn’t worse by March. You can’t give up 10-11 wide-open threes a game and expect to survive it every time out.

In that clip, Vandy simply sinks way too deeply on Jaylin Williams of Arkansas; when he throws the ball to the corner, he’s being triple-teamed. The aggression has helped Vanderbilt immensely in forcing buckets of turnovers (22.1% TO%, 30th-best) and in ending possessions prematurely for the opponent. The new twist here is that, when Chatman is on the court, Vanderbilt has seemed to fix this issue somewhat. Lineups with Chatman on force 8% more non-rim twos than those without him, per Hoop-Explorer. Chatman had a reputation at Dayton as a significantly better defender than offensive player, so that’s not a surprise. 

Unfortunately, even with Chatman, the aggression leaves Vanderbilt open to loads of basket cuts. The average Division 1 team gives up a cut to the basket on about 7.4% of possessions; Vandy is almost at 9%, fourth-worst in the SEC and second-worst among teams that aren’t majority-zone on defense. Opponents are scoring 1.248 PPP on cuts, too, which is horrific.

Last time out, Tennessee shot an astounding 8-for-35 on everything that wasn’t a layup, dunk, or tip. Even on those, they shot 11-for-21; it was a minor miracle they hit 25 of 29 free throw attempts. Considering Tennessee shot 23% on actual shot attempts at Hell Arena, I would be pretty surprised if that didn’t rise by playing in TBA.

How Tennessee matches up

Things will obviously be different in the rematch. Olivier Nkamhoua occupied the court for 22 minutes at Memorial and was responsible for 7 points/7 rebounds, which isn’t much but is indeed a deficit of sorts. The nice(?) thing about the first matchup is that Tennessee actually did a great job of getting the shots they wanted; they simply didn’t go down. If Tennessee wanted to run out a pretty similar gameplan for the rematch, I’d be willing to bet they’d see a significant increase in offensive efficiency. The shots they got are that of a team on pace to score 80, not 68 with help from tons of free throws.

So: keep doing your thing. In the first matchup, Tennessee got off 22 catch-and-shoot threes. 15 were unguarded (i.e., no defender within four feet of the shooter), per Synergy. Would you like to guess Tennessee’s hit rate on those? A nice 3-for-15. The national average on unguarded threes is 37%, and as a team this season, Tennessee’s just a hair under that rate at 36.3%. Even an average day from deep adds ~7 points of expected value to those 15 shots; if Tennessee just had a normal day from downtown at Memorial (admittedly a tall task) we’d be talking about, like, a 15-point beatdown. Kennedy Chandler and Zakai Zeigler did a great job of getting the ball to the right guys in the first game. Verdict: just make shots, bro.

The other thing is that Tennessee was credited with eight basket cuts in the first game, per Synergy. Again: as a season-long average, Tennessee gets 1.153 PPP off of these, which is right at the national average. I wish that were better, but even so, this is a fine cut offense who’s played a lot of great defenses going against a defense that’s had a terrible time defending cuts. Tennessee only got eight points off of their cuts in the first one; again, if they ran it back, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them score more.

Here’s where I think Tennessee should use a four-guard lineup to create havoc. I have more coming on this in a story in a couple of weeks, but here’s the gist of what you need to know. All numbers adjusted for schedule and 3PT% variance:

  • Lineups with one big on the court: +41.2 Net Rating; 121.6 Offensive Rating, 80.4 Defensive Rating
  • Lineups with two or more bigs: +19.6 Net Rating; 108.6 Offensive Rating, 89.0 Defensive Rating

So: I think the defensive rating for the single-big lineups is a little noisy, because those lineups are giving up a 3% worse hit rate on twos and are nearly entirely dependent on forcing tons of turnovers. But the offensive boost is very real, promise. 83% of Tennessee’s shots in those single-big lineups are either at the rim or from three. It’s the closest thing Tennessee has to a cheat code. Use it early, especially with your speed at guard, to create some havoc on cuts to the rim.

Defensively: stop Pippen. Well, stop Pippen without fouling. In the first game, Pippen only got off 10 shot attempts and ranked third on the team in FGA, but this was because he got to the line 13 times. Considering only one other player on Tennessee’s schedule got more than eight FTAs in a game (Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin), I think Tennessee probably gets a more beneficial whistle in this one. If that’s the case, the path is sort of easy to chart: just make Pippen take a bunch of jumpers.

In half-court offense this year, only 27% of his shots have come at the basket; the rest are jumpers (59%), runners (8%), or post-ups (6%). He’s done well in the post, but he only posts up about once a game, so no real need to fret on it. Instead, focus on the jumpers:

  • Off-the-dribble: 17-for-50 on twos (34%), 18-for-54 on threes (33%)
  • Guarded catch-and-shoot: 8-for-42 on threes (19%)
  • Unguarded catch-and-shoot: 13-for-29 on threes (45%)

Pippen is a good shooter, but a lot of it is context-dependent. If you’re forcing him to take tough shots, he hasn’t shown a consistent ability to hit those this year. Basically: avoid anything that isn’t an open three (this goes team-wide, really) and things will likely feel pretty good come 8:10 PM ET or so.

Onward and upward.

Starters + rotations

Metric explanations: Role is algorithmically-determined by Bart Torvik. MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Three things to watch for

  • Rim points. Tennessee’s in-theory largest advantage in this game is that they’re an above-average efficient offense at scoring at the rim and they’re playing the 308th-best rim defense. Score score score.
  • Foul trouble, both ways. Vanderbilt’s one of the 15 best teams in America at getting to the line; unsurprisingly, most of that is Pippen. If Pippen draws eight fouls or whatever in this one, it’s a bigger issue than last time because you’re down a key body in Nkamhoua.
  • Open threes. Hit them. Tennessee has actually been terrific at this since the Vanderbilt game, but it would be nice to include Vanderbilt in such a sample.

Key matchups

Scotty Pippen Jr. vs. Kennedy Chandler. Same goals as last time: eight or fewer FTAs, ten or more jumpers. If you take away Pippen’s easiest points, Vandy’s path to a victory becomes a lot slimmer. Noting here that I have seen Chandler’s That Dog Rating (TDR) increase the last couple of weeks.

Jordan Wright vs. Santiago Vescovi/Josiah-Jordan James. These two essentially split time at the 3 along with Justin Powell now. Wright can score at all three levels, but I want him taking mid-range jumpers or heavily guarded threes. No need to let him get loose with any frequency.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee trails at the under-12 timeout in the first half and there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth in online chat spaces;
  2. Tennessee wins all Four Factors;
  3. Tennessee 73, Vanderbilt 61.

You Merely Adopted the Mud, We Were Born In It

January 18: #24 Tennessee 68, Vanderbilt 60 (12-5, 3-3 SEC)
January 22: #24 Tennessee 64, #13 LSU 50 (13-5, 4-3 SEC)

Sometime during Tennessee’s wire-to-wire beating of top-15 LSU on Saturday – maybe when it was 42-28 and Tennessee had held LSU to three points across the last 10 minutes of play – I had a realization. For all of the complaining, all the whining about how this offense isn’t terribly good and the product on the court is genuinely unwatchable at times, we are discussing a team that ranks in the top 15 nationally in the advanced metric of your choosing. They are very, very good at several things. The thing they are very best at is taking about 90% of their opponents, turning the heat up on defense, watching as the dirt turns to wet, wet mud, and seeing these overmatched opponents flop around, unable to find stable footing in the Knoxville slop.

This is the genesis of good things for Tennessee. Sure, you get the occasional great shooting nights…sure, Tennessee still has the capacity to do a lot of good inside the perimeter…sure, there are other ways to win. But this – dragging other teams into the mud like little pigs, watching them flounder as you laugh at how uncomfortable they are – this is Tennessee’s identity. And at some point, you have to be alright with that.

I’m there. I’m good with it. If Tennessee has to win games 64-50 and 66-46 and 69-54 and 66-60, good. They’re wins. Three of those are butt-kickings. Tennessee is wholly uncharmed by style points. They simply don’t care if you think it’s pretty or watchable or goody-goody two-shoes happy happy joy stuff. They are winning games by stuffing the opponent in a locker for 40 minutes. Only two teams have managed to escape an opponent-adjusted locker-stuffing this season; they are ranked #6 (Villanova) and #7 (Kentucky) on KenPom as I type.

The most fun Tennessee team of all-time is still 2018-19 Tennessee, the only team of the Rick Barnes era to have a truly good offense. I don’t mind speaking that as a truth, because it is a truth. I like watching great offense a lot more than I do great defense, because I like watching the orange ball go in the net and the crowd going bonkers. It is a good thing and it is supposedly why anyone watches this sport in the first place. Then again, attempting to figure out what Tennessee fans want on a weekly basis has proven difficult.

The point of this is that Tennessee basketball has an identity. Tennessee basketball is Mountain Wisconsin. Bo Ryan, outside of about two years where he had a top 10 pick on his roster, was entirely unconcerned with making you happy with lovely offensive play. He did not care about how much you liked watching the ball go in the net. He only cared about winning by any means necessary. (Reportedly, he also cared pretty deeply about quitting midseason because ALLEGEDLY an affair was going on. I do not believe that will ever be a concern with Rick Barnes.)

Bo Ryan-era Wisconsin would drag you into the mud and watch you flail around helplessly as the Badgers cruised to wins of 57-50 and 52-45 and 68-56, all over top 15 opponents. You were not born in the slop. You were not raised in the slop. This Tennessee team seems wholly comfortable pulsing your team in the blender for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Nothing about this is terribly pretty. I also am not sure that ‘pretty’ really matters right now when the team is 13th on both KenPom and Torvik and cruising right along towards being a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It is exactly what most of us expected preseason. The route to get there has been choppy, but with Tennessee’s most difficult month out of the way, maybe February is where you get the style points and the capital-F Fun back. Look at this:

And tell me you can’t feel at least a little bit of excitement for the local basketball program. Even taking those games in the 50s as coin-flips, you can pretty easily stare at that and see an 8-2 run in SEC play to the finish with at least two added Quadrant 1 wins. That would be 13-5 in the SEC, or merely tying the second-best SEC effort Tennessee basketball has seen in 14 years. That’s pretty good. The team is pretty good. It’s worth acknowledging, even if they don’t play a style most actively desire.


The other thing that has happened is that Tennessee has sort of kiboshed the idea of Smokey as the team’s mascot. This role is now Uros Plavsic’s to lose.

In the span of three weeks, Plavsic has turned from a guy most fans saw as completely unplayable to arguably the team’s best post player. I’m typing that out now and it still feels unbelievable. I promise you it’s real. These are the conference-only numbers via Bart Torvik’s site:

The last thing we saw prior to SEC play was John Fulkerson dropping 24 points on an Arizona team that looks like, at worst, one of the four or five best college basketball has to offer this year. The last time Uros Plavsic had scored double-digit points was February 1, 2020. His career-high for rebounds in a game: four. This is for a 7-footer who entered college as a low four-star recruit that convinced both Arizona State and Tennessee to take a chance on him.

Plavsic drawing a billion fouls against Alabama is one thing. Plavsic putting up 13 & 7 on the road at Vanderbilt is another thing. But hitting this, the longest shot attempt of his season:

And doing this two minutes later:

Is something entirely new. (I don’t care that the block probably should’ve been goaltending. It looked cool and that counts.)

Uros Plavsic will probably never be a dominant basketball player. The agility may never be there. I obviously would prefer to never see him attempt a jumper because I’m sure that would look as weird as it does in my head. Also, all of the previous three sentences are entirely meaningless. Right now, Uros Plavsic is doing everything he can to make Tennessee the best basketball team it can be. He’s earned his right to start and finish games ahead of John Fulkerson and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. Right now, the team is about 1.5 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court versus when he’s off.

For this man at this time, I couldn’t be happier. I think of all the tweets and online comments he’s seen about how he’s an embarrassment to basketball. How he shouldn’t be a scholarship player at an SEC university. How he somehow tricked 1.5 coaches (sorry, Bobby Hurley isn’t a real coach) into giving him a scholarship. How Rick Barnes was dumb for continuing to give him a chance. You read a quote like this:

And you read this, from Plavsic’s own writing about his basketball career before last season began:

And you remember entirely what it is that makes you care about college sports in the first place. Uros Plavsic doesn’t have to do any of this. It is entirely of his own volition. Never once has Plavsic complained to the media about not playing, about being a team cheerleader, about being a guy who didn’t really contribute much to the team during his first 2.5 seasons in orange. Every single game, whether the guy is on or off the floor, you see the energy Plavsic has that he tries to transfer to everyone else. After every dunk last season, the first person you’d see cheering from the bench was Plavsic. After every block, Plavsic was yelling at the opponent and letting them know precisely what he thought of them.

At this moment, for this time, Plavsic is the Master of Ceremonies. If you want to further the analogy of the first section of this post, Uros Plavsic is the Master of Mud. He has learned how to drag opponents, whether in the Twitter sense of dragging someone or simply lulling them to sleep with his array of hooks and quietly-improving defense. At perhaps the least-likely time of his entire career, he has emerged as a genuinely important and lovable piece of the puzzle at Tennessee.

Rooting for Uros Plavsic to succeed is almost as easy as breathing air. I look forward to continuing to do it, no matter how the rest of his season plays out. He’s earned his moment in the sun; I sincerely hope that, for him, it lasts a very long time. In a season laden with various frustrations, he and Zakai Zeigler have been tethers to fandom in a way I haven’t experienced in a while. It’s nice to see them repaid for their work.


Some various notes of the last week:

  • Tennessee posted a 38.4% eFG% against Vanderbilt and won. Unfortunately, that happened, but it feeds into our pig-slop narrative so hang on with me. Tennessee’s now won five games in the last three seasons where they posted a 40% or worse eFG%; only Texas A&M, among SEC teams, is able to say the same. Obligatory!
  • Tennessee’s now held 15 of 18 opponents below 1 PPP. So, without context, you probably don’t care much about this stat, but I promise it’s pretty important. KenPom rates Tennessee’s schedule so far as the 8th-toughest in America, with nine games in the Tier A (his equivalent of Quadrant 1) grouping. Only three teams – Villanova, LSU, Kentucky – have topped 1 PPP. Consider that last year’s awesome defense allowed nine teams to go >1 PPP, the 2017-18 killers gave up 15 >1 PPP games, and as far as I could find, no Tennessee team in a non-COVID season has allowed fewer than 12 of these games (2009-10). This is on track to be a historically good defense, and they’re a week away from finishing the meat of their schedule. The final ten games feature six against Quadrant 2 or lower competition, or one more than all of December/January combined.
  • Even the LSU slop was actually pretty successful on offense. Tennessee managed 64 points on 65 possessions (0.985 PPP), which looks bad on its face…but is also the highest PPP surrendered by LSU this season by a good margin. Torvik translates this to about a 1.23 PPP performance against an average defense, which is insane.
  • The Jimmy Dykes thing. He reached out Tuesday morning with a request and, thanks to some features I have via Synergy, I provided an answer Wednesday night. He is a good guy that I find myself constantly thankful for.
  • One bad thing: the Fulkerson/Plavsic lineup. Without fail, it seems like this gets anywhere from 3-10 minutes of run each game. It’s perhaps the one thing Barnes does that drives me the nuttiest, because it’s objectively a terrible combination. I would stop doing this immediately and just play one or the other, because it’s an offensive disaster.

Lastly: Game Scores. Bart Torvik has this awesome metric called Game Scores that are essentially telling you on a scale of 0-100 (average being 50) how good or bad your performance was. Basically, if you put up a 95, you’re playing like a team with a Pythag rating of .9500 (which would be top 5 right now). All of this to say that these are the current 95+ Game Score rankings:

Half of Tennessee’s performances have been really, really good. The other half have been somewhere between ‘still good’ and ‘oh God.’ Anyway, while I do think LSU’s are aided by some insane 3PT% luck, this feels like a mostly-fair representation of how good the very best of the SEC is. Auburn is a step ahead of everyone else; LSU gets there on their best nights; Tennessee is capable of crushing an opponent on any given night. The real surprise is seeing that Kentucky’s only uncorked a few truly dominant outings, one of which was obviously against Tennessee. Also, this should help you understand why Texas A&M isn’t even a top 60 KenPom team despite being 15-4: they have no results of any significance and are almost never dominating.

Thanks for reading. For more Tennessee basketball content and whatever else, head to @statsbywill on Twitter. If you would like to reach out privately: statsbywill at gmail.

Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Vanderbilt, Part One

GAME INFORMATION
OPPONENT Vanderbilt (10-6, 2-2 SEC, #77 KenPom)
(9-16, 3-13 SEC 2020-21)
LOCATION Memorial Omnidirectional Gym
Nashville, TN
TIME Tuesday, January 18
9 PM ET
CHANNEL SEC Network
ANNOUNCERS Tom Hart (PBP)
Dane Bradshaw (analyst)
SPREAD Sinners: Tennessee -6.5 (!)
KenPom: Tennessee -5

Torvik: Tennessee -4.2

Tennessee returns to the court after a game you may have heard about on Saturday to play Epic Reddit University. Aside from all of the other horrors these people have birthed upon the dying embers of this country, they also have a basketball team that is both the most recent SEC program to go 0-18 and also is the only SEC program to play in a gym where the benches are under the basket rather than along the baseline.

The nicest thing I can say about Tennessee’s opponent is that I rewrote this section four times to be less personally vindictive and harsh.


Vanderbilt’s offense

One of the few general positives of the Jerry Stackhouse Era has been Scotty Pippen, Jr. Pippen has allowed Vanderbilt to build a heliocentric offense (not that much unlike what the Mavs did with Luka pre-Jason Kidd) where he’s free to create shots, whether they’re his own or someone else’s. This year is no different; Pippen is responsible for 39% of Vandy’s points this season through both his shots and his assists, per Synergy.

For a guy who gets the headlines as a ball-dominant guard, Pippen’s passing acumen is genuinely fairly good.

The problem comes when Pippen has to pass the basketball. Pippen still draws fouls like crazy (6.8 fouls drawn per 40, 17th-most nationally), but no one else comes close. Pippen is the only guard on the team that can get to the rim. Pippen is the only guy that can regularly create his own shot from deep. That’s why this Vandy offense has genuinely been pretty disappointing. Pippen is capable of spectacular things when the ball is in his hands.

Unfortunately, you can’t spend the entire game with the ball in your hands. Pippen leaves the floor for about a 3-minute break in each half, usually near the midway point. When that happens, Vanderbilt’s already just-okay offense becomes dust. Vandy’s offense goes from performing like a top-80 unit with Pippen on to a top-290 unit when he’s off. Pippen is only really allowed to take about five minutes off in a close game; any more and Vandy’s simply accepting a loss.

Pippen’s only main help is Jordan Wright, a 6’6″ wing that can drive to the basket but isn’t nearly as efficient a scorer at the rim (52.3% vs. 60%) or in mid-range (26.8% vs. 38.9%). Wright is an alright deep shooter, but he’s reliant on Pippen to help create opportunities. (Lineups with Wright on and Pippen off are scoring just 0.876 PPP.) Still, Wright is a pretty dangerous catch-and-shoot scorer, and he’s hitting 58% on unguarded threes. Don’t let him get loose.

There’s a few other intriguing parts if you squint. Myles Stute is mostly Just A Shooter (8.5 PPG, 78% of all shots threes) who’s been terrific from deep (40%). Trey Thomas is Pippen’s backup PG and also mostly Just A Shooter (75% of all shots from deep), but less efficient. Excellent beat writer Aria Gerson claims that Vanderbilt is a lot better with Quentin Millora-Brown on the court and I completely believe it; even with luck-adjusted numbers, Vanderbilt is an astounding 26.5 points better per 100 with him on the court. (He mostly just hangs out in the post and sets screens.)

Still: when your entire system is built around one guy and you fail to give him much to work with, I guess it’s not a mystery that the offense is a disappointment. If they were as good as projected in preseason (#61 nationally, per KenPom), this team would be ranked in the top 50 nationally and be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Unlucky.

CHART! “Yes” means “is efficient at doing so”; “somewhat” means “can, but not efficiently”; “no” means “rarely or never.” SPECIAL NOTE: I’ve included free throw percentages here upon request. The numbers used are a player’s career FT%, not 2021-22.

(Special note here: Might be wise to foul QMB instead of letting him go up uncontested.)

Vanderbilt’s defense

So…this is good! Well, “good.” Technically, Vanderbilt has a below-median SEC defense that’s 8th-best out of 14 in the conference, but when you were projected to be 12th or 13th-best in this department entering the season, it’s cause for mild celebration. Plus, surprisingly, it’s the defense that’s keeping Vandy afloat this year.

The most interesting thing here isn’t that Vandy has suddenly started in working in some zone defense (though they do include a zone about 8-10 times per game) or that they’re forcing more jumpers than ever before. We’ll get to that. First, it’s worth noting that Vandy has changed up its ball-screen coverage. This year, the Commodores are doing a little of what Arizona did: different coverages based on different personnel.

If Quentin Millora-Brown is the big involved in the pick-and-roll, you can expect him to drop and force a shot or a floater over the top of the defense:

If it’s…well, just about anyone else, you’ll see more of a hedge/double coverage that runs the ball-handler out of the screen and forces him to give the ball up.

Providing multiple things to watch for on defense rather than just one or the other has led Vandy’s ball-screen defense to improve quite a bit, up to the 85th-percentile this year from the 70th-percentile in 2020-21. It’s not that different from what Stackhouse and company did before, but working in more quirks like this have forced jumpers on 57% of Vandy half-court defensive possessions, one of the highest rates among Big Six teams in America.

Like any defense, though, it has holes. The main ones Vandy has are deep and two-fold:

  1. A defense that forces lots of jumpers doesn’t force many off-the-dribble ones, instead giving up a shocking amount of open threes (Guarded/Unguarded of 42/58, worst in the SEC);
  2. The actual rim protection scheme still doesn’t have a true rim protector beyond the fledgling Millora-Brown, who only plays 23 minutes a game.

The first is easier to decipher. Vandy does a lot of good in forcing opponents to shoot over the top of them, but they’ve had a hard time actually guarding said shots. They’ve been remarkably lucky that opponents are shooting just 29% on those unguarded threes; I would be surprised if that number isn’t worse by March. You can’t give up 10-11 wide-open threes a game and expect to survive it every time out.

In that clip, Vandy simply sinks way too deeply on Jaylin Williams of Arkansas; when he throws the ball to the corner, he’s being triple-teamed. The aggression has helped Vanderbilt immensely in forcing buckets of turnovers (24% TO%, 19th-best) and in ending possessions prematurely for the opponent. (In particular, Pippen has improved on D and Jamaine Mann has been excellent when on the court.)

Unfortunately, the aggression leaves Vanderbilt open to loads of basket cuts. The average Division 1 team gives up a cut to the basket on about 7.4% of possessions; Vandy is almost at 9%, fourth-worst in the SEC and second-worst among teams that aren’t majority-zone on defense.

This is a good, improved defense that can be beaten by forcing them to collapse inside and making them make a lot of snap decisions. SMU did it to the tune of 1.263 PPP, Kentucky 1.215, Loyola Chicago 1.161. Only one of those teams (Loyola) made more than nine threes. Basically, I like it, but I don’t love it, and as long as you avoid turning it over on 25% or more of your possessions, you’ve got a great chance to win.

How Tennessee matches up

I mean, this is an opponent that forces a butt-ton of jumpers. You’re going to have to take and make some threes in this one. I consider it a good sign that Tennessee just got done posting its first 40% or better performance from three since December 14. Even if Tennessee settles down for some boring games in the 33-37% range, that still easily beats going 6-for-24 or whatever every time out.

Vanderbilt gives up an above-average amount of left corner and left wing threes, which would normally be called a blip if it weren’t pretty consistent throughout the season. The only spot on the court they allow fewer threes than average is the top of the key, which makes sense. Tennessee will be asked to drive to the right pretty frequently, so they better be ready for a lot of ball reversals. The good news is reversing the ball against this extremely-aggressive defense should result in plenty of open looks on the aforementioned left third of the court.

The other thing is that this is a just-fine rim defense – nothing great, nothing terrible, just agreeable. They were able to mostly slow down Loyola Chicago and BYU inside the arc, but SMU/Arkansas/Kentucky/even South Carolina had qualifiable success against the Commodore interior. What I’d like to see is what you saw in that BYU clip: quick, decisive passes that force Vanderbilt to get aggressive. When they push their aggression too far, that’s when one of your various frontcourt options should head to the basket.

Defensively: well…it’s pretty much Pippen, isn’t it? Vanderbilt obviously has other players, but when one guy essentially accounts for 40% of an offense, you build your scouting report around that guy and live with it if a Trey Thomas or Jamaine Mann scores 16 as long as Pippen has to take 18 shots to get 20 points.

The least-good version of Pippen is the one that settles for jumpers and doesn’t allow himself to get to the rim. If Tennessee is able to force Pippen to take seven threes off the dribble and doesn’t let him shake loose in catch-and-shoot or cutting scenarios, they’ll be on track to win this somewhat handily. Tennessee has been terrific in forcing ball-handlers to take ill-advised threes late in the clock in particular; CBB Analytics notes that on possessions lasting 24+ seconds, opponents are shooting 17-for-61 (27.9%) from deep. I’ll take a 0.837 expected PPP every time, even if Pippen hits a couple.

You could easily talk yourself into this game being an embarrassing five-point road loss where Tennessee can’t produce enough points or you could just as easily see Tennessee winning by 14 and you suddenly feel a bit better about Saturday’s game against LSU. I am no oracle; I just write. For the sake of season-long interest, this would be a nice win to pocket against a not-bad opponent.

Starters + rotations

Metric explanations: Role is algorithmically-determined by Bart Torvik. MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Three things to watch for

  • Can Tennessee get Quentin Millora-Brown into foul trouble? This is reductive, but think of it this way: Vanderbilt is 2-4 when QMB commits 3+ fouls. They’re 8-2 when he commits 2 or fewer. He only played 22 minutes against South Carolina in a two-point loss, and those On/Off stats suggest his absence might have been the entire difference.
  • How frequently does Scotty Pippen, Jr. get to the foul line? He draws more fouls than any other SEC player. It’s honestly a huge victory if you can keep him to six or fewer attempts at the line, especially given the career 76.4% hit rate.
  • Can the Predators defeat the Canucks? Vancouver’s 6-3-1 in their last 10 and isn’t outright terrible, but their surge seems a little smoke-and-mirrors. This is the type of game the Preds need to win to keep pace with the Avs/Wild for the Central.

Key matchups

Scotty Pippen, Jr. vs. Kennedy Chandler. Chandler performed well offensively on Saturday, but could use a defensive bounce-back game. Pippen has the capacity to go for 30 on any night; if he goes for 30 here, it’s pretty obviously a loss.

Quentin Millora-Brown vs. John Fulkerson. QMB is a weird one: one of the lowest-usage starters Tennessee will face, yet hugely important to Vandy on both ends of the court. Fulkerson, meanwhile, either needs to show up or sit out.

Jordan Wright vs. Justin Powell or Josiah-Jordan James. Doesn’t really matter which one starts. Wright is the secondary scorer and the main goal is to restrict him to tough jumpers. It would be ideal if the Powell/JJJ combo hit 3+ threes.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee wins three of the Four Factors;
  2. Vanderbilt picks off at least one Tier 1 victory (Alabama on February 22?) before the end of the season, but not this one;
  3. Tennessee 69, Vanderbilt 64.

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#2)

9 PM Eastern tip…playing the second-worst (per KenPom) team in the SEC…limited fan attendance…neither team is fully healthy…yeah, hard to really get up for this one if I’m being honest.

Vanderbilt has lost 38 of their last 43 SEC games, which is one of the worst stretches of losing in conference history if not the absolute worst. They haven’t beaten a team that ranks higher than 70th in KenPom (Mississippi State in a very random 72-51 victory) and, as such, are 0-7 against the KenPom Top 50 teams they’ve faced. I know this hasn’t been a Tennessee team that’s lived up to expectations by any means, but they are absolutely above even having this game be close.

But…it’s Vanderbilt. While Tennessee has defeated the Commodores seven times in a row and have had the far, far superior roster for four straight seasons, four of the seven wins have been by eight points or fewer. In fact, Tennessee hasn’t pulled off multiple double-digit wins against Vanderbilt in the same season since 2008-09. Again, that’s despite winning seven in a row, nine of ten, and 15 of 20 against Peabody University.

Tennessee should be 15+ points better than Vanderbilt in this game. For some reason – call it history! – I am sure that this game will somehow be within single-digits at night’s end.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10).
  • THE TIME: 9 PM Eastern.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Mike Morgan (PBP) and Debbie Antonelli (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -8.

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NEXT PAGE: Remember when Grant Williams dropped 43 points on Vandy in an overtime win? 🙂

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#1)

Could this be the first of multiple games? Could it be the only time Tennessee actually plays Vanderbilt? Could they play Vanderbilt four times while not playing South Carolina once? Pretty much anything is on the table in the silliest season in college basketball history.

As a heads-up, this is the exact preview I wrote for Tuesday’s fixture, which was cancelled about eight hours before tip-off, much to the chagrin of the person writing this post. All I’ve changed is the final score prediction, given that the game is now in Knoxville and not Nashville. I am begging both of these schools to simply ensure the game gets completed, lest I lose my mind.

A quick note here as well: Vanderbilt hasn’t really announced who in the program tested positive or if anyone has to sit out for contact tracing purposes, so if a player is mentioned in this post and they don’t play, that’s probably why.

Game information section:

  • THE OPPONENT: Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-3).
  • THE TIME: 6 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -18.

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Show Me My Opponent: Vanderbilt (#2)

Look: when a team like Tennessee, whose NCAA Tournament prospects are quite slim, plays a team like Vanderbilt, who is 1-30 over their last 31 games against SEC competition, it is very, very hard to get excited for the game. Couple this with a 6:30 PM Eastern start time and, well, yeah. I’m already bored. Why don’t we talk about the history of Vanderbilt basketball?

For a significant portion of my life, it has felt like Vanderbilt was ahead of Tennessee in the sport of college basketball. This probably was reinforced by one specific run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004, right in the midst of Tennessee’s Buzz Peterson error. The ‘Dores weren’t particularly great that year – they’d get demolished in the Sweet Sixteen by eventual champions Connecticut – but getting there in the first place is a good accomplishment. I think about how exciting it was at the time that a team from Tennessee could make it quite far in the sport’s biggest tournament and I get a little nostalgic.

This was before I learned to despise Vandy, obviously. At the same time as the peak Bruce Pearl years, Kevin Stallings took Vandy to relatively new heights: five NCAA Tournaments in six years, though none of their runs progressed past the Sweet Sixteen. I would estimate that my peak of despising Vanderbilt University wasn’t reached until a couple of years after this peak, but I did relish in picking against Vanderbilt in the 2008, 2010, and 2011 NCAA Tournaments. It was an aggressively mundane, nice experience.

I think there are different experiences you can have with Vanderbilt based on your age. For instance, maybe you have particularly strong feelings about the Eddie Fogler era, which ended after four seasons at Vanderbilt with a 28-6 team that lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Maybe you are a C.M. Newton truther. Perhaps you remember Roy Skinner. Now, none of those memories feel quite so close; all that’s left is the worst program in the SEC playing very bad basketball that’s more reminiscent of a mid-level SoCon squad.

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Show Me My Opponent: Vanderbilt I

If you squint just enough and lose all built-in filters to your brain, you can pinpoint the day that both Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s seasons to a massive swing to the negative:

The difference here is that Vandy was pretty much always going to be this bad. Since their somewhat miraculous NCAA Tournament run in 2016-17 – which wasn’t all that impressive, considering they finished with a 19-16 record – the ‘Dores are 29-51 since, 6-33 in conference play. They’re in the midst of a 21-game conference losing streak, which is the longest streak in SEC basketball history by six full games. It’s a terrible time to be a Vanderbilt basketball fan, and this was before All-SEC lock Aaron Nesmith went down with a foot injury.

Per KenPom, this Vandy program is an underdog in all 15 of their remaining games. Given that teams rarely win every game they’re favored in or lose every game they’re not, the likelihood of a second-straight winless SEC season is just 1.2%. Pomeroy says they’ll win about 3.67 of these games; undoubtedly, 3-15 or 4-14 in the SEC would represent improvement of some sort.

My point is this: rarely, if ever, do we see programs stay this bad for multiple seasons in the SEC. It’s easier to dig out of the bottom in basketball than football, and I like thinking of LSU, who ranked 172nd in KenPom in 2016-17 but 66th the next season. It’s not all that hard to at least get out of the basement. And yet: this is like watching Kim Anderson Missouri teams all over again. In that sense, Vanderbilt basketball is probably worth your time.

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