Head coach Bryce Drew is in his first year at Vanderbilt University and his expectations coming in was to get his team to the NCAA Tournament and eventually beyond but half way through the year, his dream of playing in the tourney with his team didn't look like it could happen.
Well somehow it has happened! After having a record of 9-11 mid-way through the year, Vanderbilt found something that inspired them and things began to click. A road win at Florida might have been the sign that things weren't completely dead yet but it might have been the home win over South Carolina that really made things click into the direction things have gone.
How did Vanderbilt turn things around and make the 2017 NCAA Tournament? DoresDaily gives you five reasons as how and why this has happened.
1. Senior Leadership
- Vanderbilt is a mixed team of veterans sprinkled in with a few youngsters but it was the two seniors who brought this team together and propelled them into postseason play. Luke Kornet and Nolan Cressler really stepped up and took it upon themselves to get this team focused on one common goal. They also got the team to work harder in practice, trying to figure out what would be the best way to win ball games. Kornet has been a force the majority of this season. After dealing with early season injuries, Kornet has become one of the top centers in the country and has started to develop a low post game. His defense is killer though. Opposing coaches would tell you how dominating Kornet is on defense and how hard it is to score on him. Cressler has also been clutch for this team. Stepping up his defense and providing more points on offense, Cressler has really become a leader willing to do whatever it takes on the court to find the win. Both players has really played great ball over the last two months and are big reasons why the Commodores are in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Importance to Defense
- This whole season does not turn out the way it has if Vanderbilt did not make defense a serious issue mid way through the year. Vanderbilt struggled bad early on stopping opposing offenses. The Commodores had a hard time of keeping opposing guards from driving to the basket and either taking it straight to the rim or dish it out for open shots. Defense was seriously hurting the Commodores early on but somehow they were able to figure things out and have now problem one of the top defensive teams in the Southeastern Conference. Over the past month, Vanderbilt is only giving up an average of 65 points per game and that's a drastic difference from earlier this season. Kornet is a big reason why the defense has become so good but the main things that makes the coaches happy is the continued improvement on defense from the likes of Riley LaChance, Joseph Toye, Cressler and others. Having both your offense and defense clicking at the same time is exactly what you want in a postseason playing team but can the defense remain strong as the Dores begin tourney play on Thursday?
3. Adjustments to Offense
- Early this season, Coach Drew tried to incorporate his own teachings and style of basketball and that will continue to happen but taking over a program in the first year along with players who don't know you, can slow the process down a good bit. After noticing things weren't working, Coach Drew went to his players to ask them what they felt comfortable with and he made changes. Coach Drew adjusted his offense to the talents of his players and it has benefited the entire team. Vanderbilt is considered one of the best pure shooting teams in the country, especially from three point line. Coach Drew noticed he had a good shooting team and has now worked around those skills to benefit his players and growth of the program. The adjustments on offense has been beneficial to the players themselves. Confidence has grown all around the team and each player feels comfortable when stepping out on the court and running the offense to perfection. Every player on Vanderbilt's roster except one, can shoot from anywhere on the court and that's a dangerous thing to go up against, especially if you have never seen it before.
4. Growth from returning players
- Nobody really knew what kind of Vanderbilt team we would have this season. Bringing in a new coaching staff, losing two first round draft picks and just the simple unrest as where the Vanderbilt basketball program has gone to, gave plenty of questions to the Commodore fan base. A big thing that helps the transition of a new coach is the development of the players on the current roster. It might have taken a few weeks or months to get things going but several players have really grown up and began to become a true SEC competitive player. LaChance has really grown over the year and gained his confidence that he lost as a sophomore. Toye has become a defensive stopper who's athleticism is starting to become a secondary trait behind his driving abilities and improved three point shooting. Even Jeff Roberson has gotten better, even though he has been the most consistent player on the roster over the past three years. D'Jery Baptiste has even gotten a little better as the season has gone on. Bottom line, Vanderbilt is not in the NCAA Tournament if the players on the rosters didn't take it upon themselves to get better and grow on their on time.
5. Belief in each other
- Nobody believed Vanderbilt would be playing in the NCAA Tournament this season. Starting off so poorly, having a new coach and players you were unsure if they would buy in or not, you had no idea where this season would truly go. A complete buy in of belief from this team in each other and the new coaching staff, has lead them to a 10-8 finish in the SEC and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Vanderbilt doesn't sport a team of players full of NBA talent. They don't have a deep team with multiple players coming off the bench. This team is honestly limited when it comes to numbers, overall talent and other skill sets. Belief in each other and the team is what has the Commodores in postseason play. This is a good sign going forward for the program as well. If Coach Drew and his coaching staff can pull this kind of play from this team, imagine what he can do given time to recruit and incorporate his style and system. That is the future but for the present, this team has been a joy to watch as their belief in each other and this team grew stronger each week and they will need to lean upon their beliefs in each other, so they can advance in the NCAA Tournament.