Despite Loss, Vanderbilt Can Learn From Maui Experience

Posted by David Changas on November 27th, 2015

After thrashing St. John’s and Wake Forest in its first two games at this week’s Maui Invitational, Vanderbilt was not able to finish the deal against #5 Kansas in the championship game, falling 70-63. The #19 Commodores, a team that generally has no problem scoring but is somewhat prone to struggling on the defensive end, held the Jayhawks in check for the first half, leading 30-26 at the break. However, defensive shortcomings allowed Kansas to ride a 62.5 percent shooting second half en route to the school’s second championship in Maui. The Commodores helped things along with a woeful 6-of-27 (22.2%) performance from three-point range, and there was no way Kevin Stallings’ team was going to leave the islands with a trophy without a better offensive performance.

Damian Jones and Vanderbilt can take a lot of good from Maui (Bosley Jarrett/Vanderbilt Hustler).

Damian Jones and Vanderbilt can take a lot of good from Maui. (Bosley Jarrett/Vanderbilt Hustler)

Despite the disappointment of not becoming the first SEC team to win the Maui Invitational since 1993 (Kentucky), Vanderbilt’s loss to Kansas should provide Stallings some valuable lessons as the season progresses. First of all, it is highly unlikely that the Commodores will again be so futile on the offensive end. The Commodores came into the game shooting over 42 percent from beyond the arc, so it’s doubtful that one cold shooting performance signals a long-term problem. Where the Vanderbilt coach should be concerned, however, is on the defensive end. The Commodores allowed Kansas guard Wayne Selden, Jr., to completely go off on them, as the junior guard matched his career high with 25 points and almost single-handedly kept the Jayhawks in the game in the first half. Fellow guard Devonte’ Graham scored 12 points of his own as the two Jayhawks’ guards combined to go 7-of-11 from deep.

Another area of concern has to be Vanderbilt’s lack of depth, especially in the low post. The front line consisted exclusively of NBA-bound Damian Jones and the much-improved Luke Kornet, but the Commodores had no other size on the floor throughout the game. The Jayhawks outrebounded them by seven and found no success on the offensive glass at all, pulling down only six of their 33 misses. Jeff Roberson, the team’s leading rebounder coming into the game, was a complete non-factor with no points and a single board. In the backcourt, the starting trio of Wade Baldwin, Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis had a very disappointing night, combining for just 18 points and getting completely outplayed by their counterpoints.

While Vanderbilt would have preferred to leave Maui with a championship trophy, Stallings has to be pleased that his team competed with what should be a Final Four contender despite shooting so poorly and getting very little from his reserves. This game should serve as the perfect teaching tool for the 17th-year head coach all year long, and it is a good bet that, because of this loss, the Commodores will be well-prepared to face a team like Kansas when March rolls around. And although Vanderbilt did not leave the islands happy, it showed that it belongs on the big stage with blowout wins over an ACC and Big East team. The media’s preseason belief that the Commodores will finish second in the SEC behind Kentucky certainly appears warranted. Whether Stallings can use this loss to his benefit remains to be seen, but there is no reason the result should serve as a source of any level of program discouragement.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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