The Misery Index is an economic metric developed to measure how the average citizen is doing economically.
If a numbers guru developed a basketball equivalent, Vanderbilt’s misery index rating would dwarf any other Power Five school.
The Commodores fell to 0-5 in SEC play on Saturday night after a 71-55 blowout loss at the hands of the Mississippi State. But unlike Vanderbilt’s previous four SEC losses, Vanderbilt was the inferior team from the start.
They never held a lead, and the game was tied for just the first 51 seconds of the game.
All of this took place just a few days after Vanderbilt coughed up a lead in the final minutes at home against South Carolina and lost. Following that game, the players held a meeting amongst themselves, and according to sophomore guard Saben Lee, he felt a lot better about the direction the team was headed.
Clearly, it didn’t translate to the court on Saturday night.
However, that doesn’t mean head coach Bryce Drew isn’t making sure his team knows his expectations.
“We’re trying to lay a bottom for these guys of non-negotiables, of things that we want our program to be as we move forward,” Drew said. “That’s why you saw certain people start the second half that didn’t start the game. We’re going to build that bottom and so we at least know that bottom isn’t going to fall out. We might miss shots, we might miss free throws, but the bottom of what we’re building here will not fall out. That was a big thing of who we started in the second half.”
While both Lee and freshman Aaron Nesmith started the game and started the second half, the other three slots were changed at the start of the second half. Matt Ryan, Joe Toye and Simi Shittu were swapped out for Matthew Moyer, Yanni Wetzell and Maxwell Evans.
While Drew might be hesitant to directly name what that “bottom” is that he is setting, there’s no doubt that rebounding and general effort played some role. Shittu had just five rebounds and Toye and Ryan each had one. In addition, Shittu struggled to find his offensive rhythm and did not score a point until the final five minutes of the game.
And it’s not as if Vanderbilt struggled to find space on offense. Once again, the Commodores found open looks and looks they want, but could not capitalize. For a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience to draw upon, those misses weigh even more on their confidence.
The missing confidence showed throughout the game, as the Commodores continually passed up three-point shots and other open looks. Some possessions looked more like a game of hot potato than basketball.
“There’s nothing that breeds more confidence than seeing the ball go through the hole,” Drew said. “Even if you have an open shot or you make a great move and you miss a layup, there’s no greater thing that builds confidence than it going through the hole. We’ll be back at it Monday and see the ball go through the hole and we’ll go through free throws and see it go through the basket. Hopefully, especially the free throws, hopefully we’ll eventually start shooting better.”
Overall, Vanderbilt shot 36.7% from the field and 26.3% from beyond the arc. If making shots breeds confidence, then all those misses are just breeding more misery for this young Vanderbilt team.
That creates a conundrum for Drew and his staff: how do you give players experience to draw on to get through tough shooting stretches when most of them haven’t played more than two full college basketball seasons?
“Unfortunately, I can’t create any drills or anything in practice that equals experience,” Drew said. “A lot of the times, we do it well in practice and you get into the game and it’s usually underclassmen that just don’t make the simple play we practiced.”
One way that might happen is through veteran leadership, but with only one senior on the team, even sophomore players like Saben Lee have to grow up faster than expected. He has to be the guy to talk in the huddles and in practice about how to manage the game and its many ebbs and flows.
“I’m definitely trying to talk to the guys and make sure that they stay positive and just realize that it’s the little things,” Lee said. “The SEC is a tough conference and just keep things in perspective.”
So, Vanderbilt is a team that lacks confidence but has neither the experience to draw upon to mitigate that, nor do they have the veterans to encourage the younger players and share wisdom on how to get through rough stretches.
Much like the band Paramore, the Commodores have found themselves in the business of misery.
That misery might continue in a big way on Wednesday when the Tennessee Volunteers, who might be ranked #1 in the country by then, come to town. With even more ranked matchups to follow, the pit of misery looks bottomless.
On the other hand, Vanderbilt Baseball starts their season next month. So that’s something to look forward to.