Record: 25-6 (10-6)
Key Wins: Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State
Key Losses: at Florida, at Mississippi, at Arkansas, at Alabama
Key Stat: 3-Point FG% (.402)
Biggest Strengths: The Commodores play as a team. Sure, they have talented individuals, but they play as a unit. They play the game in a way that would make Coach Norman Dale* proud. They shoot the ball well, space effectively and know when to cut. Most of all they realize the strength in sharing the basketball. On the season they have recorded an assist on 65-percent of their made field goals (555 AST on 849 FG).
Offensively they often resemble a well-oiled machine and their numbers reflect that productivity. They average over 80 points-per-game, shoot 46-percent from the field, 40-percent from three-point-range and 73-percent from the line.
Experience should also be a factor for the Commodores as they enter post-season play. They feature four seniors in their rotation (G Shan Foster, G Alex Gordon, F Ross Neltner, F Alan Metcalfe), all of which who have experienced both the exhalation and the tribulations of tournament play before.
(*Editor’s Note: If by some chance you’ve been living under a rock your entire life and have never seen it, Norman Dale is Gene Hackman’s character in Hoosiers–do yourself a favor and Netflix it before the Tournament begins.)
Biggest Weaknesses: If you look at Vandy’s key wins and key losses listed above, notice that all of their wins are at home and all of their losses are on the road. Memorial Gym is a difficult place to play for opponents with the benches on the baseline and 42 different scoreboards scattered throughout the building. While Memorial Gym’s uniqueness may not be directly correlated to the Commodores success at home, there is no denying that the Commodores are a difficult team to beat on their home floor. This season not a single opponent was up to the task, as they finished undefeated at home.
On the other hand success was difficult to come by away from the friendly confines. The Commodores finished the regular season a sub-par 4-6 on the road.
Should these difficulties be a cause of concern as tournament play approaches? Their recent success in NCAA tournament play and their 2-0 record in neutral court games this year says probably not. Stallings is also quick to reiterate that in two of their losses away from home, one was in overtime and the other was in double-overtime. Also, five of their six road losses are to potential NCAA tournament teams. Still, the Commodores would be much more comfortable entering tournament play if they could have found more success away from Memorial Gym this season.
Most Important Player: Shan Foster. During the last week of the regular season Vanderbilt and Mississippi State competed in an overtime thriller that was eventually won by Vandy, 86-85. Unfortunately, most of the country was not able to tune into this classic, featuring two top-25 teams, because it was not carried nationally.
We missed a good one. Foster, the streakiest of shooters, struggled a little in the first half missing his first six attempts from deep. In the second half he found his stroke. The senior knocked down his final nine attempts from beyond the arc and finished with 42 points, including a 35-footer near the end of regulation and a 30-footer near the end of overtime. Foster’s performance left Kevin Stallings and his teammates speechless. Foster quickly recited a Bible verse when attempting to describe what he had just done on the court.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was asked what his team could have done differently defensively on Foster. “Back off of him. Let him shoot with no one in his face, said Stansbury. You can analyze the game and break it down any way you want, but Foster beat us. He just jumped up and made shots.” This game personified the career of Shan Foster. At 6’6” he has good size, along an uncanny ability to knock down shots with a hand in his face and he is never shy about taking shots. When he is on, which occurs often, he is one of the few players in the country who have the ability to put his team on his back and basically win by himself.
X-Factor: Last season the only thing the Commodores lacked was a legitimate presence underneath. Enter A.J. Ogilvy, the 6-11 freshman out of Australia. Showing an uncanny amount of poise as a rookie, Ogilvy stepped right in and compiled 18 points and nine rebounds in his first collegiate game against Austin Peay. In his first year in Nashville, Ogilvy is averaging 16.7 points-per-game and 6.8 rebounds-per-game. More importantly he has added another dimension to the Vanderbilt offense.
He has great footwork and gets himself in great position under the basket, is very effective in the high-low with fellow front-court mate, Ross Neltner, and he commands help underneath which opens their offense up for all of their dangerous shooters from deep.
Might Lose When: The Commodores lack a true lock down defender and this could come back to haunt them come March if someone pulls a Shan Foster impersonation. Defense has long been the weakness of Kevin Stallings’ squad but the addition of Ogilvy has solidified them defensively underneath. Still, Foster sometimes struggles checking smaller, quicker guards and they really do not have anyone else to step up and contain penetration. In their last regular season game at Alabama we saw how this could affect them in Tournament play as Mykal Riley proved too much for the ‘Dores too handle in the Crimson Tide victory.
Might Surprise You With: Over the past four seasons, Kevin Stallings’ Vanderbilt program has been as successful as any in the country with two Sweet 16 appearances. Last year they were a questionable traveling call away from upsetting Georgetown and advancing to the Elite Eight. The addition of Ogilvy further legitimizes Vandy’s chances and on a given night they have the ability to knock off anyone. If you see this team on your side of the bracket you have to be fearful of Shan Foster and his uncanny ability to get in a grove and knock down everything he throws up, whether there is a hand in his face or not. Rick Stansbury and the Mississippi State Bulldogs would be quick to attest to Foster’s abilities.
Predicted finish in the NCAA’s: Sweet Sixteen
Editor’s Note: I slept on Vandy last year & got burned for it when they were able to knock off Wazzu in that epic second-round game. Without Derrick Byars, Shan Foster is now clearly the go-to player and will be easier for opposing defenses to shut down. But the ‘Dores have added one of the underrated big men in Ogilvy, and Kevin Stallings has long been one of the nation’s underrated coaches, so I think a Sweet 16 prediction is appropriate. Another great year for Vandy.