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Five thoughts: Vanderbilt beats Belmont for Drew’s first win

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Five thoughts: Vanderbilt beats Belmont for Drew’s first win

The Vanderbilt Commodores defeat the Belmont Bruins in basketball on November 15, 2016.

The Vanderbilt Commodores defeat the Belmont Bruins in basketball on November 15, 2016.

The Vanderbilt Commodores defeat the Belmont Bruins in basketball on November 15, 2016.

The Vanderbilt Commodores defeat the Belmont Bruins in basketball on November 15, 2016.

Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

As Vanderbilt prepared to take on local opponent Belmont, the ‘Dores hoped that their three-point defense would improve from a season-opening loss to Marquette in which they gave up 13 made threes. The three-happy Bruins bombed away like always, but Vanderbilt ultimately came away with a relatively comfortable 80-66 victory. Here are five observations from head coach Bryce Drew’s first win at Vanderbilt.

Three-point defense better

Belmont got a fair amount of good looks from three on Tuesday, but Vanderbilt still had a better showing defensively on the perimeter than against Marquette. The Bruins chucked up a whopping 41 threes but only connected on nine. The length of Vanderbilt players such as Matthew Fisher-Davis, Jeff Roberson and Joe Toye can be hard for opponents to shoot over, and Drew credited his defenders for doing a better job of closing out on shooters than against Marquette. However, it’s inherently easier to close out on shooters who aren’t athletic or dynamic off the dribble like Marquette’s are, so this performance alone doesn’t mean much in terms of Vanderbilt’s long-run defensive trend. Belmont also missed a number of good looks, although the Bruins didn’t get as many open shots as Marquette did last Friday. 

“I thought they had some looks that I’ve seen them make in the past, but I thought that our guys used our length very well, especially Matt and Jeff, recovering to some of their really good shooters,” Drew said. “They really recovered and tried to contest the best that they could, and I think that also helped.”

Kornet still not healthy

News of Kornet’s left knee injury from the preseason is widely known at this point, but the senior center also played Tuesday’s game with a brace on his left wrist and hand. Early in the game, Kornet struggled to finish around the rim and, uncharacteristically, got scored on at the rim multiple times by 6’7” Belmont “big” man Evan Bradds. Kornet also didn’t take a three in the game, and, while he finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, he isn’t playing to his full potential on either end. This is likely due to his multiple injuries rather than anything he’s doing wrong, but Vanderbilt needs him to get healthy before SEC play if it hopes to make the NCAA tournament. 

“Luke is a warrior out there,” Drew said. “You guys all know he’s not playing at 100 percent. He was struggling to do some things out there, but we had to keep him on the floor, and I thought his last five minutes were his best five of the game.”

No Toye story

On a team with mediocre depth and in a game where Drew essentially went with an eight-man rotation, Toye somehow only got 14 minutes of court time. Toye brings a level of athleticism that no one else on the roster can match, and he’s got more potential than anyone on the team. Through two games, he’s been the team’s best defender statistically (ranking in the 98th percentile nationally in points per possession allowed according to Synergy Sports Technology, although in a limited sample size) and doesn’t have any glaring offensive weaknesses that obviously hamper the team with him on the court.

While stats can’t measure qualitative factors in a player’s readiness to play, such as Toye’s understanding of Drew’s new offensive and defensive schemes, it seems curious that Toye couldn’t get more minutes in this game. Vanderbilt’s upcoming trip to Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Invitational represents the next opportunity to find out if Toye isn’t in line for as large a role as many thought this year or if his 14 minutes against the Bruins were simply due to matchup issues.

Parade to the foul line

Through two games, Vanderbilt has shot 57 free throws, an enormous number. The ‘Dores have shot an above average 73.7 percent from the line, and they rank 55th nationally in free-throw rate, the ratio of a team’s free-throw attempts to field goal attempts, according to KenPom.com. The SEC has ranked in the top 10 among the 32 Division I conferences in free-throw rate each of the past three seasons, so there’s reason to believe that Vanderbilt can sustain this trend over the long haul. With the team’s weakness at point guard, it could help the half-court offense if multiple Commodores continue to draw so many fouls. Additionally, getting opposing players in foul trouble can help negate the depth advantages many SEC teams will have over the Commodores.

RPI boost

Playing teams such as Belmont at home instead of cupcakes like Norfolk State this Friday poses much more risk of a loss, but Vanderbilt’s win will provide a slight RPI advantage compared to if the Commodores had opted to beat up on an overmatched opponent. The NCAA selection committee has a long history of punishing teams for poor non-conference schedules (such as South Carolina last year), and putting games such as this on the schedule helps avoid drawing the committee’s ire. While Vanderbilt’s decision to play at Belmont next year as part of a home-and-home series may not make much sense (Belmont has finished around 100th in RPI and below 100 in KenPom ratings the last two years) there’s no reason the Commodores shouldn’t try to schedule a home game against Belmont every season if the Bruins are amenable to it.

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