As Vanderbilt’s unpredictable season continues, the Commodores must now bounce back from a disappointing home loss to Ole Miss that pushed them back below .500 on the year at 11-12. Head coach Bryce Drew’s squad gets a chance at redemption Tuesday at Arkansas, but first here are five thoughts on the somewhat surprising loss to the Rebels on Saturday.
Rebels couldn’t (Ole) Miss after halftime
Sometimes one team simply shoots the lights out from behind the three-point line, and there isn’t much the defense can do. Ole Miss had one of those stretches in the second half, as the Rebels started out seven for eight from three en route to a 54-point period. While Vanderbilt’s defense could have been better, no one can defend seven for eight. On the season, Ole Miss is shooting a below average 34.6 percent from three, while Synergy Sports Technology pegs Vanderbilt in the 61st percentile nationally in defending spot-ups. The second-half explosion was more about what Ole Miss did than what Vanderbilt didn’t do.
“I thought they got really hot,” Drew said of the Rebels. “Some of those threes were not on the three-point line, and we had a hand in their face. You gotta credit them for making some tough shots.”
No offensive versatility
When Vanderbilt’s outside shooting goes cold, it doesn’t have many consistent ways to score. The Commodores’ decent 14-for-39 three-point shooting mark against Ole Miss was misleading. They struggled against the Rebels’ zone for much of the game before getting hot once the game was more or less out of reach. Vanderbilt didn’t do a good job of getting to the rim, and its few post-up attempts fell relatively flat. For perspective, the ‘Dores got only six layup attempts all game, while Ole Miss got 15. This has been an issue all year, and it may take the arrival of explosive guards Saben Lee and Maxwell Evans next season to turn give Vanderbilt any other avenue to create offense outside the jump shot.
“This is what these guys do: We shoot threes,” Drew said. “We would rather take an uncontested three than a contested two. How they were doing their defense and in transition, we were getting a lot of looks. Unfortunately we didn’t make quite enough to give us a chance to win tonight.”
Too many fouls
Ole Miss’ biggest strength on offense is its ability to get to the line and convert. The Rebels rank ninth in the country in the ratio of free-throw attempts to field-goal attempts, according to KenPom.com, and they shoot a strong 74.5 percent from the line. Vanderbilt needed to force Ole Miss to find points elsewhere, but instead the Rebels shot 33 free throws and made 24 of them. The Commodores committed a combined 21 fouls in recent wins over Iowa State and Texas A&M, but they gave 24 of them alone against Ole Miss.
“We got to the foul line. I think we’re like third in the league [in free-throw percentage],” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We actually shot below our standard today, … but we made ‘em when we needed to.”
Drew doesn’t have the personnel to force other teams into turnovers, and Ole Miss only had eight giveaways all game. At the end of the game, down three and in need of a steal with the shot clock off, the Commodores tried to pressure Ole Miss in hopes of a steal but failed and had to foul. The lack of an ability to force turnovers has hamstrung Vanderbilt’s defense all year — the ‘Dores rank 331st out of 351 Division I teams in the percent of time they force opponents into a turnover — and puts more pressure on the team’s half-court defense. Similarly, fewer turnovers means there are fewer fastbreak opportunities for Vanderbilt’s offense. Drew will be hard pressed to build a top SEC defense without improving the team’s athleticism through recruiting in an effort to force other teams to cough up the ball more often.
“If you go through the year, we don’t go into games thinking we need to force so many turnovers to win,” Drew said. “… Defensively, we want to make them earn points. We’re not gonna turn a lot of teams over.”
Roberson on a roll
Junior forward Jeff Roberson put up his fourth straight quality outing Saturday, contributing 21 points and seven rebounds on five-of-six shooting from the field. Roberson also made eight of his nine free throws and committed only one turnover. The Vanderbilt power forward’s season-long slump appears to be over, and he’ll have another good opportunity Tuesday against an Arkansas team that’s slightly lacking in quality power forward options. Roberson continues to lead Vanderbilt in rebounding, an impressive feat for a 6’6” combo forward who isn’t an explosive athlete.
“He’s been playing very well for us. He played excellent at Texas A&M,” Drew said of Roberson. “The great thing about Jeff is he’s very consistent in his play. He’s showed up pretty much every night for us, and you know he’s gonna rebound the ball and he’s gonna play tough defense. If he can shoot the ball like this, it’s gonna help us for the rest of the stretch here.”