Busting Brackets

Vanderbilt Basketball: Examining Commodores recent struggles in SEC

Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse talks to his team during their game against Mississippi Valley State Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.Vanderbilt 15
Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse talks to his team during their game against Mississippi Valley State Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.Vanderbilt 15 /

Vanderbilt Basketball is struggling. With just a 4-8 record, head coach Jerry Stackhouse is noticeably frustrated, wondering when the pain will end. Unfortunately, it does not look like any time soon.

Vanderbilt’s four wins come from early-season matchups against Valparaiso, Mississippi Valley State, Radford, and Alcorn State. Combined, those four opponents are a measly 18-34. Of Ken Pomeroy’s 357 ranked teams, Mississippi Valley State ranks 357th. Clearly, the Commodores are only securing wins of far inferior competition.

Aside from Valparaiso, Mississippi Valley State, Radford, and Alcorn State all falling into the “unimpressive win” category, they all have something else in common. None of those teams are members of the SEC. It is not like Vanderbilt isn’t squaring against teams in their own conference; they are. The Commodores just cannot beat any of them.

12 games into their season, Vanderbilt is 0-6 in the SEC, resting comfortably in the conference’s basement. Although they have put together three competitive contests, Vanderbilt has also lost three conference games by double digits. Altogether, the Commodores are getting outscored by conference opponents 503-430. Obviously, not a good look for the team from Nashville, Tennessee.

As the only team without a Southeastern Conference win, the Vanderbilt Commodores are quickly turning into the conference’s punching bag. Still, one can’t help but wonder why they are struggling so mightily to capture a conference win?

For a team struggling to produce anything positive, they are not terrible offensively against other SEC teams. In truth, they are very much a middle of the road offensive SEC team. They are seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency, producing 101.9 points per 100 possessions. Also, they register a 49.6 effective field goal percentage, again ranked seventh in the conference. It’s not even like they are an incredibly irresponsible team with the ball. Vanderbilt ranks eighth amongst SEC teams in committed turnovers.

Vanderbilt’s greatest strength lies behind the three-point arc. As a team, the Commodores are shooting 35.4% from three-point range, the third-best percentage in the SEC. With a former NBA player as a coach, it makes sense they follow the NBA model of generating a lot of three-point opportunities. Including free throws, three-pointers count for 36.3% of their offense.

The problem with relying heavily on threes to produce a majority of your offense is you also need to defend well for it to be consistently effective. Unfortunately, the Vanderbilt Commodores are the worst defensive team in the SEC by far.

An average team offensively, Vanderbilt is a bottom of the barrel team defensively. The Commodores allow an average of 119.1 points per 100 possessions in conference games, bad enough for worst in the SEC. Opponents also shoot incredibly well against them, recording an effective field goal percentage of 60%. Again, the worst in the conference.

SEC teams produce from all over the floor against Vanderbilt. The Commodores allow teams to sink 59.4% of their two-pointers and 41% of their shots from behind the arc. For all that they can accomplish on the offensive side of the game, it never truly matters. They always allow SEC opponents to play better.

Vanderbilt also struggles to prevent quality opportunities for opposing teams. They are the worst team in the conference at executing steals. As for blocks, it is not much better. The Commodores are the second-worst block team in the SEC.

Even with their failed attempts at replicating an NBA-style game, there is no way this team can actually go winless in its own conference, right?

Actually, the chances of the Commodores failing to register a single SEC win are quite high. Of the ten SEC games remaining, Vanderbilt will face an uphill battle in all of them. Through his model, Ken Pomeroy actually projects the Commodores losing out the rest of the season. The highest percentage of a chance he gives them to win in a single game is 37% against Texas A&M on February 3rd. The next highest chance is in their Saturday game against South Carolina. In that one, Pomeroy gives them a 34% chance at victory. Two other games fall into that 30% chance of winning range this season.

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Obviously, the rest of this year looks incredibly bleak for Vanderbilt. Even if they manage to sneak away with one conference win, the Commodores will need to do a lot to restore a respectable reputation next season.