Vanderbilt once again dropped a home game last night, this time against Atlantic 10 powerhouse Xavier in Memorial Gym. The question for the Big Blue Nation this morning -- is Festus Ezeli the difference between 5-2 and 7-0? In order to answer that question, let's examine where Vandy is having problems.
Based on the stats of Vandy's games, there are two areas that are really exposing them so far: Rebounding and ballhandling. Vandy is turning it over at a 21.3% clip this year, and last night against the Xaiver Musketeers, they were again whipped on the glass, 51%-24%. The combination of a bit OR% disparity combined with high turnovers works against their high shooting percentage.
But worse than that, Vandy just isn't a good defensive team. Their defensive efficiency is currently ranked well over 100, and they are having trouble defending teams mostly in the painted area. Ezeli will address those concerns somewhat on both ends of the floor, giving Vandy a post presence that they so desperately need and a defensive presence that will make it harder for opponents to score inside.
But the biggest problem the Commodores are facing at the moment is ballhandling, and not just turnovers. Turnovers are a big problem, the second biggest factor statistically impacting a given game after shooting percentage. Vanderbilt isn't just turning the ball over, but their assist percentage is horrible, in the lower third of college basketball teams. That means they are getting most of their shots from the perimeter off picks or one-on-one moves. Their point guard play has been anything but solid, and Brad Tinsley's turnover% is even higher than Marquis Teague, and his assist % similar.
Kentucky can afford to have spotty point guard play because of their extremely skilled players, but in order for Vanderbilt to be a top team, they must have good team play, particularly at the point. Even getting Ezeli back will not solve Vandy's woes as long as they keep turning it over and executing their offense at random.
Florida is a team on the rise, and their improvement continues to be solid. Freshman Bradley Beal has really given the Gators extra scoring punch, as if they really needed it, and when the Gators go small with three guards, which they can do in a variety of ways with Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, they are tough to handle. The problem in evaluating the Gators is their extremely soft schedule so far, but gets a lot tougher in short order.
You would think the Gators' thin and small front court would be a major concern, and it may be against tougher competition (although it wasn't against the Ohio St. Buckeyes earlier this year), and if you throw out the OSU game, they have taken fantastic care of the basketball this year, among the best in the nation.
Florida still has flaws that are likely to be exposed against tougher competition, like lack of depth inside and a tendency to take bad shots at inopportune times. But it looks like the Gators deserve their current lofty ranking, and are a major offensive powerhouse with the addition of Beal and Rosario, and the improved Patric Young.
The Alabama Crimson Tide just keep on rolling, and those of you who read me a lot know that I love Anthony Grant and the way he gets his players to play. There is no better defensive coach in all of college basketball than Grant, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the Crimson Tide's outstanding defensive efficiency numbers, currently 7th in the nation.
But what makes this year's version of the Tide more dangerous than last year's is the fact that this team can put up points, currently the 47th best offensive efficiency in the nation. Even though that's not exactly stellar when compared to teams like Duke, Kentucky, or even Florida, when combined with their defense, it is really good.
The Tide still have issues from the 3-point arc that are holding their offense back but with, and with JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell cleaning the glass for them, and their stellar defense all over the court, this team can challenge Kentucky for the top overall spot in the conference if they start shooting better from the perimeter.