The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Film Room: Out of the zone

Recent defensive woes suggest Vanderbilt lacks an identity on both sides of the ball.
Tyrin Lawrence and Trey Thomas share the court against Grambling State on Dec. 9th, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/ Makayla Donald)

The most consistent quality of Vanderbilt basketball’s game-by-game performance this season has been inconsistency. After defeating Alabama A&M (Kenpom no. 330) to improve to 6-6, the Commodores are back to .500 on the season. Although the team has managed victories against respectable opponents like Pitt and Temple, they’ve surrendered far too many expected wins to call the early portion of the season a success. The lack of a go-to scorer remains the team’s biggest impediment to developing a cohesive offensive identity. 

There have been undeniable bright spots this season. Myles Stute has solidified his reputation as one of the nation’s premier sharpshooters, drilling 48.4% of his 3-pt attempts (13th in the nation). His true shooting percentage of 61.7% and effective field goal percentage of 61.5% are both the highest of any Commodore this season by a wide margin. But Stute’s floor-spacing ability doesn’t mean he’s a flawless offensive player. Stute’s possession rate of 18.8% qualifies as a “role player” according to Kenpom, suggesting he needs to be more involved in the offense. When he does have possession, Stute turns the ball over on 21.1% of the time, which suggests that he might be best suited for a catch-and-shoot role after all. 

The improvement of Tyrin Lawrence has been another positive development this season. After averaging just 3.8 points per game in a limited role last season, Lawrence has evolved into a vital piece for the Commodores. He’s currently averaging 10.7 ppg on 49.7% shooting from the field, and chipped in 2 clutch free throws to seal the victory against Pitt. Although his 1.7:2 assist to turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired, Lawrence has shown flashes of drive-and-dish playmaking ability, something Vanderbilt is sorely missing.

The lack of a bona fide first option on offense isn’t the only issue limiting Vanderbilt’s consistency on the court. The team’s defensive performances in recent losses to Grambling St. (no. 239) and NC State (no. 52) were abysmal and negated moments of offensive clarity. On the season, the Commodore’s defensive efficiency rating of 99.3 ranks 111th in Division 1 basketball. Injuries and frustrating inefficiency have relegated Jordan Wright to a bench role, sidelining the team’s presumptive top wing defender. Freshmen Malik Dia and Lee Dort have proven capable on the defensive end, but coach Jerry Stackhouse doesn’t seem to trust them with extended minutes. 

Debilitating interior mismatches forced the Commodores to switch from man to a zone defense against Grambling and N.C. State. As impressive as Liam Robbins’ 13.7% block percentage is (5th in the nation), he’s been routinely bodied on the block by bulkier post players. The same can be said for Quentin Millora-Brown, whose meager 2.9% block percentage speaks volumes to his defensive contributions. With that said, successful defense requires complete commitment from all 5 players on the court. Let’s take a look at where the Commodore’s need to improve on that end. 

Zone Liabilities

For 28 minutes, Grambling State’s Carte’are Gordon looked like a man amongst boys in Memorial Gymnasium. As the tape shows, neither Millora-Brown nor Robbins could slow down his post ups while guarding him one-on-one, resulting in easy layups. In the words of Shaquille O’Neal, Vanderbilt’s top bigs looked like “barbecued chicken” trying to stop Gordon from getting to the basket. But when Stackhouse switched to a 3-2 zone, things only got uglier. On the first zone play, Lee Dort shows why his minutes are lagging behind his talent as he loses track of his assignment and gives up several offensive rebounds en route to a basket. 

The Commodore’s shortcomings in zone defense are just as much on the guards and wings as the interior players. With the Commodores trailing by 2 midway through the second half, Trey Thomas left his assignment wide open for an easy corner 3. A few minutes later, Stute gets dusted by a cutter for a wide open layup. When Vanderbilt led by 1 with 1:30 left in the game, Lawrence and Robbins miscommunicated on the inbounds to allow a wide-open dunk that ended up being the game-winning score for Grambling St. 

Against NC State, the Commodores continued to struggle with help defense. While Myles Stute may have mastered his 3-pt stroke, he has a long way to go on the defensive side to be considered a true 3-and-D wing. With the score tied and the first half winding down, Stute leaves his man wide and gives up a momentum-changing 3 to the Wolfpack. When Vanderbilt held its largest lead of the game at 8 points in the second half, Stute missed a cutter on the baseline to give up another wide-open layup. On the final play, the Commodore’s 2-3 zone fails because Robbins fails to shift over and pick up the shooter in the corner. 

In both man and zone defense, the Commodores gave up easy baskets due to lack of discipline and miscommunication. Fortunately, their offense has shown signs of improvement to mask the defensive lapses. 

Offensive Growth

While Vanderbilt still lacks a consistent offensive initiator, Tyrin Lawrence and Ezra Manjon have improved at getting to the basket to create plays. These drives often lead to scoring opportunities for Lawrence or passes to wide open teammates. On the first play, Lawrence breaks down his defender with a clean crossover and takes it to the rack for two. Against Grambling, the Commodores displayed some of their best ball movement of the season to take the lead with around 17 minutes left in the game. Manjon finds Lawrence in the corner, who drives and makes an acrobatic pass to Myles Stute, who makes the extra pass to find Trey Thomas in the corner for a wide-open corner three. 

Manjon (7.3 ppg, 9% 3-pt %) hasn’t had the offensive season many expected after putting up gaudy numbers at UC-Davis last season. However, his strong performance against N.C. State was a huge reason that the Commodores stayed in the game for so long. Manjon had a few impressive drives to the rim, including back-to-back heavily contested layups to give the Commodores the lead with two minutes remaining. 

Colin Smith has emerged as the only rotation regular amongst the freshman, averaging 6 points and 16.4 minutes a game across Vanderbilt’s last five outings. The supersized wing (6’8, 215) has flashed tantalizing skills as a cutter and ball handler, with potential to develop further as a shooter. 

On the subject of freshmen, talented first-year guards Noah Shelby and Paul Lewis remain non-factors in the game plan, combining for only 16 minutes in Vanderbilt’s last five games. Dia and Dort’s involvement has been marginally more consequential. After losing last year’s entire freshman class to the transfer portal, Stackhouse cannot afford to gain a reputation as a coach who can’t develop or incorporate talent. The playing time of the freshman will be a notable storyline to follow as the season progresses. For now, the Commodores will look to tighten up their defense and improve their shooting as they head into their final game before SEC play. 

Vanderbilt will conclude nonconference play at home on Dec. 30 at 6 p.m. CST against Southeastern Louisiana.

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About the Contributor
Brandon Karp
Brandon Karp, Senior Staff Writer
Brandon Karp ('25) is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is studying human and organizational development and political science in Peabody College. You can reach him at [email protected].
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