Vanderbilt opened the highly anticipated 2018-19 season with a 92-79 win over Winthrop. Here are a few takeaways from the Commodores season opener:
– Sitting next to Chris Lee who covers Vandy for Rivals he told me that he’s been coming to games at Memorial Gym since the 70’s and has never seen a Vanderbilt team with the type of athleticism that was on display tonight. To give you a glimpse of the aliens Bryce Drew has recruited look no further than Saban Lee’s dunk attempt within seconds of the game starting. Lee was known for the spectacular last season (Hello, John Fulkerson) and was looking to, um, send a message to start the 2018-19 campaign. Last year he was alone in those potential posterization moments, well not anymore. Enter Simi Shittu. Shittu is everything you want out of today’s big man. He’s long, can handle the ball in transition, high motor on both ends, shooting is still TBD. Essentially, the man is a problem. Shittu led a fast break finishing it with a euro-step into a dunk. Saben alley from Brentwood product Darius Garland also flashes off his unfair talent when he crossed a defender to set up an alley-oop to, yes, Saben Lee, a.k.a. the other point guard on the team. How is that fair?
– Immediate observation from this game was sophomore guard Saben Lee starting at the 1 (point guard spot) while five-star freshman Darius Garland was playing off the ball at the 2 (shooting guard position). Garland is a natural point guard but in today’s positionless basketball is more than capable of being a threat at any spot on the court. When Lee was out of the game Garland shifted back over to the point. In the second half, Garland started out at the 1 shifting Lee over to the 2. Garland assumed the majority of the time at that position with Lee on the bench saddled in foul trouble. In his postgame press conference, Drew noted how he likes having both on the floor because of their playmaking ability. Garland also added that he has developed a great rapport with Lee early into his Commodore career. It’ll be interesting to observe how Drew mixes the two throughout the season.
– CBS college basketball analyst and Twitter robot Jon Rothstein loves to use the term ‘palpable buzz’ to describe anything and everything in and around college basketball. Well, at risk of being cliche, in terms of tonight’s season opener at Memorial Gym that is absolutely the appropriate way to describe this Vanderbilt basketball team. 8,387 filled the gym on Tuesday night, including a sizeable student contingent.
– Until they figure out Drew’s half court offensive principles this team is going to be best in transition. Given the ability of Shittu to steal the ball on the defensive end and lead a break combined with Lee and Garland’s natural playmaking abilities there’s not going to be too many teams in America better on the run than the Dores.
– Replacing the three-point shooting of Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson, both 40+ percent shooter from long range, will be an interesting storyline. Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan joined the program with the reputation of a long-range bomber. He showed it off in the first half connecting on three consecutive deep balls in as many possessions, the last of which came from close to 30 feet, to ignite the Memorial Gym crowd.
– In 2017-18, Vanderbilt finished at 219th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating, which is very bad. How this team performs defensively shouldn’t be overlooked despite their ability to score in bunches on the offensive end. Vanderbilt allowed 79 points, which is above last year average of 72.4 opponent points per game. The Eagles shot 43 percent, on par with the 17-18 figure.
– Two areas of concern from tonight, bench scoring and rebounding. Winthrop’s reserves soundly outscored the Commodores subs 27-10, while the Eagles also saw an advantage on the boards, 40-35. Winthrop also held a 12-6 advantage of the offensive glass. The bench scoring is a slight concern but nothing to freak out about after Game 1. Although, a negative rebounding margin against a mid-major team that doesn’t present great size should be something to monitor as the Dores face power conference opponents in the non-conference. Garland admitted that these were the two weaknesses for the team. When asked about how far away his team was from picking up his defensive philosophy, Drew said it would be “a work in progress” throughout the season.
– Following the game, Bryce Drew announced that sophomore forward Ejeke Obinna would be redshirting this season. Obinna played in 25 games, starting 14, in 2017-18, averaging 2.7 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game.
– Lastly, this iteration of Vanderbilt basketball is fun. I don’t know how good they’re going to be this season. Whenever you rely on a team led by underclassmen there are going to be growing pains. Bryce Drew knew what he was getting himself into when he brought in a Top 10 class highlighted by one-and-done types. Forget all of that, sit back and appreciate the hell out of this team.
Darius Garland – 24 points, 9-15 FG, 3-7 3PFG
Simisola Shittu – 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists
Matt Ryan – 16 points, 4-11 3PFG
Saben Lee – 12 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Joe Toye – 12 points, 6 rebounds
54% from the field; 10-30 from three