Five thoughts: ‘Dores sunk by Marquette in opener

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Five thoughts: ‘Dores sunk by Marquette in opener

Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

The start of the Bryce Drew era at Vanderbilt didn’t go as planned.

Drew’s Commodore squad had a chance to open the 2016-17 season with a splash by earning a quality neutral-site win over Big East foe Marquette Friday night. Instead, the Golden Eagles blew Vanderbilt out of the water at the U.S. Naval Academy, cruising to a 95-71 win.

Here are five observations from a disappointing debut for Drew and the ‘Dores.

Offensive adjustment doesn’t look smooth

One of the biggest differences between Drew and former coach Kevin Stallings lies on the offensive end of the floor. Stallings’ offense relies heavily on set plays, with coaches such as Kansas’ Bill Self suggesting Stallings ran as many as 100 different sets. The Commodores have described Drew’s offense as allowing for more player freedom, but that appeared to work against them against Marquette. Vanderbilt looked disorganized and confused on offense; it doesn’t help that the ‘Dores don’t have a quality, experienced point guard to direct everyone in the halfcourt and take over when things go south. This resulted in 19 turnovers and a whopping 35 points off turnovers for the Golden Eagles. That’s unacceptable.

“Our turnovers led to easy baskets for them,” Drew said. “They did a good job taking advantage of it, making threes and hitting shots in transition during that stretch. We need to do a much better job protecting the ball, so we’re not in those situations where we’re scrambling back.”

Three-point defense ineffective

The Commodores ranked third in all of Division I last year in three-point percentage defense, allowing only 29.4 percent. While Vanderbilt stayed in the game early and actually led at halftime, it only kept things close due to the significant number of open, makeable outside shots Marquette missed in the first half. Unfortunately for the Commodores, the Golden Eagles hit those same shots in the second period. Marquette is expected to be a strong three-point shooting team this year, and leaving its perimeter players open as often as Vanderbilt did Friday isn’t a recipe for success. The result was a strong 13-31 (41.9 percent) three-point shooting performance for Marquette, and that number could have been even worse. Vanderbilt must do a better job of tracking shooters in transition and closing out if it hopes to beat Belmont and its three-heavy attack on Tuesday.

“I thought we should have been up at halftime, and statistically we thought we should be winning,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I really talked about giving them dare-shot threes, and they’re too good of shooters to make those, so they were able to make five threes in the first half. We also fouled way too much. We kept them on the free-throw line. Otherwise, I thought we would have been ahead.”

How long will the starting lineup last?

A surprising move was Drew’s decision to start redshirt senior guard Nolan Cressler over sophomore forward Joe Toye at the 3, thereby fielding a perimeter trio of Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Cressler that is lacking a bit defensively. That group got lit up by Marquette, but, in fairness, nobody on the team seemed to fare well defensively in this one. In Drew’s defense, Fisher-Davis rated in the 89th percentile nationally in individual defensive efficiency last year, according to Synergy Sports, and there wasn’t a statistical drop-off between Cressler (46th percentile) and Toye (41st percentile). Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, however, and the ‘Dores may need Toye and his athleticism in the starting lineup so the team can cover more ground defensively.

Mixed debut for freshmen

True freshmen Payton Willis and Clevon Brown suited up for the Commodores for the first time Friday, while redshirt freshman Djery Baptiste saw his first action for Vanderbilt, as well. Willis struggled badly in missing five of six three throws, although he didn’t turn the ball over in eight minutes despite playing a large role in the offense. Baptiste picked up two fouls within two possessions and never got involved in the game much. Brown had the most encouraging debut of the three, making his only two shots and collecting just one foul in 13 minutes. His screen-setting could use some work, but nothing Brown did suggested he can’t spell Kornet and Baptiste when they deal with foul trouble.

Roberson struggles

Vanderbilt’s Jeff Roberson had one of his worst performances as a Commodore, scoring nine points on 3-11 shooting with five turnovers, although he did grab 10 rebounds. Roberson also had multiple uncharacteristic lapses on defense, despite getting to defend out on the perimeter against Marquette’s Katin Reinhardt. The Vanderbilt junior didn’t have a ton of success defensively against bigger, bulkier power forwards last year but fared well against smaller players, which made this performance a bit odd. Roberson likely just had an off game, but the five turnovers don’t bode well for the increased playmaking responsibilities he shoulders due to Vanderbilt’s lack of a true point guard.

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