Hop's Vanderbilt Game Analysis

The Aggie basketball team suffered a bad loss that hurt their postseason chances when Vanderbilt snuck out of Reed Arena with a 66-55 win. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a closer look at what went wrong on Saturday.

There's no way around this one. If A&M is to finish with a winning record in the SEC, they need to win the home games against lower division teams like Vanderbilt. Now, A&M was one ahead of the pace after the Tennessee road win, but now the Vandy loss puts the Aggies back on the .500 track with two road games ahead. Wednesday is at South Carolina, a team A&M beat at home a couple of weeks ago. If they can beat USC, and then they will certainly lose to Florida, the best scenario coming back to Reed is 4-4 to host Mississippi St. If they lose to South Carolina, they will return in a free fall at 3-5.

OK, enough of bigger picture scenarios. What happened on Saturday? Well, as I've said from the time I watched the Aggies scrimmage in late October, this team will be as good as Jamal Jones. THen when Davonte Fitzgerald started coming on a couple of weeks ago, I added his name to that phrase. This team goes as Jamal Jones and Davonte Fitzgerald goes. On Saturday, they weren't a big factor, and the team lost.

It's easy to say that those two were just off. But I'm not buying that in this game. What I saw in the fist half was an A&M offense that ran through the post and did not try to create Jamal Jones any quality looks. Jones just wasn't given the ball in a position to make a play. The goal was to get the ball to a high post and distribute out of that spot, or feed Kourtney Roberson in the low post and let him create. The problem though, Vandy's strength is in post with Damian Jones. Roberson had some marginal success scoring in the paint, but it didn't put any fear into Vandy's defense.

Jones needs touches....quality touches. He needs the ball at the top of the key and some space to drive the lane. That didn't happen in the first half. With A&M down 12 points with eight minutes to play, Coach Kennedy called a timeout and then put the ball in Jones' hands and cleared everybody out to give him space and opportunity to create. He promptly went to the free throw line and made four free throws and he generated an assist. So four minutes later with this "new" strategy, the Aggies cut the lead to four points.

Uh, so why didn't they feed their best player earlier and create scoring opportunities for him in the first half?

Then you have Fitzgerald. I don't mind him coming off the bench, but he didn't hit the court until the 10-12 minute mark and he never got into the flow of the game. You need him to be one of the first substitutions off the bench at the 15-16 minute mark. He's a streak shooter that needs time on the court to get into a rhythm. At the very least, you find out a lot sooner if Fitzgerald is going to be "on" or "off". Overall, he played only 13 minutes. Yeah he's young and he's inconsistent at times, but he's also your second best athlete and pure shooter. He need at least 20 minutes on the court, if not more.

In fact, Jones and Fitzgerald combined for just 42 minutes on the court and neither player was in serious foul trouble. That number needs to be 55-60 minutes.

You need your best offensive players on the court. Even if they are "off", they serve as a decoy and their reputation attracts defensive attention which means somebody else is open.

Coach Kennedy said after the game that the team must be better on offense and shoot better. I'm sorry, but when the lineup on the court for significant minutes in the first half was Harris, Smith, Green, Space, and Roberson...that group isn't scoring. There is not one player that garners defensive respect like double teams or overplaying positions that opens up opportunities for the other four.

The other issue I had on Saturday was the inability to read and react to Vandy's post screens in the paint. Vandy posts flashed open for easy layups and short push shots coming off low post screens. The defense gave up WAY too many easy baskets under the goal because the A&M players were not recognizing what Vandy was doing with the screens. Again, that's a tactical error from the bench.

Sure, the players missed some easy shots and Caruso continues to struggle. He did not have an assist yesterday which is rare for his game. He has troubles finishing at the rim.

Finally, Fabyon Harris has always had a "funky" outside shot. But last year, after all of the herky jerky mechanics, he released the ball square to the basket and he ended up in a good position despite it taking much longer than your average shooter. But this year, his mechanics are a mess. He has this exaggerated two-pump thing going on and his release point is under his chin like a 9-year-old trying to use his body for enough power to get the ball to the rim. Harris was wild yesterday. Last year, the issue was getting his shot off because his release is so slow...but once he got it off he was accurate. He was one of the best 3-point shooters in the SEC by percentage. He could barely hit the rim yesterday because the mechanics are crazy.

So yeah, I'm a little disappointed in this team, and I was disappointed in some of the strategic moves from the bench as well. Now, the team must find a way to get another SEC road win or they are staring at a five-game losing streak.

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