Monday, November 28, 2011

Xavier 82, Vanderbilt 70 (Overtime)

[recap] [box score]

I was pretty high on Vanderbilt's chances to win the SEC heading into this season. I love their experience compared to Kentucky's youth, and as talented as Florida's guards are, I'm not enamored of their decision-making and think it will be the Gators' ultimate undoing.

When Festus Ezeli went down with a knee injury that would keep him on the shelf until mid-December, I expected some early-season struggles from the Commodores (though not necessarily the loss to Cleveland State). After watching them lose a ten-point second half lead in this one, though, my confidence in their ability to win the SEC is shaken.

Not because they're missing Ezeli. He'll back in time for conference play. No, it's because of their point guard.

By some measures, Brad Tinsley is having a pretty good year so far for Vandy. He came into the game averaging 11.8 points per game, a career-high by a small margin. His assist numbers are down a little bit, but he's never been a high-assist man and he's got more helpers than turnovers.

But watching the Commodores early, I couldn't help but notice that Vanderbilt was having a pretty tough time getting into its offense. I couldn't pinpoint the problem, but then in the second half, I noticed that Tinsley was doing a lot of east-west dribbling 30 feet from the basket. Even when Vandy brought a big man high to set a ball screen to free Tinsley up, it didn't work -- Tinsley wasn't waiting for the screen to be set, and wasn't setting his defender up properly by dribbling the opposite way before changing directions toward the screen.

Finally, in overtime -- once Vanderbilt had blown a lead by going scoreless over the final 4:03 -- Tinsley missed a couple of three-pointers early in possessions.

To be fair, Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are very good perimeter defenders, and Tinsley won't face players of their caliber every night. But he will face them some nights, most notably against their main competition for the conference crown. But to my eye, Tinsley does not do a good job of leading the team in the halfcourt, and he's not a talented enough scorer to give the ball to on must-score possessions. Jeffery Taylor leads the team in assists, and in my view the ball needs to be in his hands more. Late in the game, Vanderbilt might be better off giving the ball to John Jenkins, whose deadly three-point shooting makes him a much more dangerous option than Tinsley.

Xavier notes: You can't really argue with the performances of Holloway and Lyons, especially after halftime. Lyons made a very difficult spinning banker in transition to send the game to overtime, and Holloway hit a couple of deep, tough three-pointers in the extra period to help the Musketeers pull away from the host Commodores. And as mentioned above, they both played excellent defense on the perimeter, harassing the ball and shooting passing lanes. They were basically solely responsible for a 16-5 run in the early part of the second half that turned a 46-36 deficit into a 52-51 lead -- a spurt that got them back in the game when it looked like they were on the verge of getting blown out. But they don't always take good shots. Moreover, there's just something about their attitudes I don't like -- a lot of frustration, a lot of looking to and showing up the officials. As a coach, I'd of course love to have them on my team, but as an observer trying to figure out how far I think X will go in March, I don't have complete faith in them.

Vanderbilt notes: Vandy got absolutely hammered on the offensive glass, giving up 20 offensive rebounds to Xavier. Not having Ezeli is really no excuse, either; Muskies center Kenny Frease was a non-factor on the offensive glass due to foul trouble, and the bulk of the damage was done by Travis Taylor (five) and Dezmine Wells (four), a pair of 6'7" forwards who aren't exactly bruisers ... Lance Goulbourne tied a career-high with 18, and was an early spark on offense ... In addition to Goulbourne, Jenkins had 20 points and Taylor had 18, while no other Commodore had more than four.

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