It was more of the same for Vanderbilt basketball on Wednesday night as they fell to a 7-4 Loyola Chicago team by the score of 78-70. The game was played in Phoenix, Arizona, as part of a doubleheader in the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase.
Vanderbilt’s lack of interior depth was put under a microscope with senior forward Clevon Brown out indefinitely with a knee injury. Production on the inside was already an outstanding issue with a healthy Brown, who averages nine points along with a team high six rebounds per game.
Freshman Ejike Obinna received the lion’s share of Brown’s missing minutes playing a season high 28 minutes. The 6-foot-10 Nigerian is considered to be a project by most, but he filled in nicely finishing the night with seven points and seven rebounds.
While Obinna made plays around the rim and showed some of his potential, it was on the defensive end where Brown was sorely missed.
Playing with momentum from a four-game win streak, the Ramblers were able to push Vanderbilt around near the basket, scoring 46 points in the paint. Points in the paint, combined with 17 free throws, equated to 81% of the offense for Loyola-Chicago.
It certainly did not play in Vanderbilt’s favor that the Ramblers’ leading scorer was a 6-foot-9 center, Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig, who came into the contest averaging 16.5 ppg, was able to take advantage of the clear mismatch down low. Playing with intensity, the junior forward was able to do it all and then some, finishing with a 22-points and grabbing his tenth rebound just before the buzzer sounded for a triple-double.
It certainly is head scratching as to why Vandy’s head coach, Jerry Stackhouse, did not make the switch to a zone defense. After all, the Commodores undoubtedly have the length to do so with players like 6-foot-9 freshman Dylan Disu along with Obinna and the speed of guards like Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith.
Another troubling trend that continues to plague Vanderbilt is production outside of Nesmith and Lee. Nesmith went for 23 points and 6 rebounds while Lee dropped 18 and five assists in front of many friends and family who came out to show support in his hometown of Phoenix.
One of the nation’s leading scorers continues to roll.
— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) December 19, 2019
Scottie Pippen Jr. contributed 13 points, but the Commodore bench was nowhere to be found, combining for a whopping six points on the evening. It is no secret that some of the rotational guys Stackhouse relies on to eat up minutes would struggle to find playing time on many other teams across the SEC. But, at some point, somebody has to step up for this top heavy Vanderbilt team.
SEC teams will key on Nesmith and Lee with high level defenders and the duo will not always be able to hang 40 combined points during the rigorous gauntlet that is SEC play.
Vanderbilt has not played badly in the nonconference slate, but time is ticking. The Commodores have just three more out-of-conference games before SEC play begins. It is vital that Vandy closes out the first half of their season on a high note before they embark on their SEC schedule with as much confidence as possible.