There are a lot of similarities between Texas and Vanderbilt. They are both built around a ball-dominant NBA prospect at the PG position and they both start a similar pair of players upfront - a rim-running defensive-minded 5 and a stretch 4. All things being equal, I'd take the trio of Wade Baldwin IV, Luke Kornet and Damian Jones over their Texas counterparts. The good news is that all things aren't and the Longhorns supporting cast is way faster and way more athletic than the guys at Vanderbilt. That was the difference in an impressive 72-58 win on Saturday.
1) Vanderbilt had no answer for the athleticism of the Texas guards
They got overwhelmed at the point of attack in this one. Isaiah Taylor, Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis Jr., Kendal Yancy, Tevin Mack and DeMarcus Holland - all those guys had a distinct athletic edge on Vandy and they kept the pressure on them all game. Javan Felix is the only guy in the perimeter rotation whose not a plus athlete and when his shot isn't falling (which it wasn't in this one) his minutes get scaled back and this team starts to become a real problem on defense. They are starting to look like a Shaka Smart team - they decisively won the TO battle (13-6) and their ability to score going defense to offense kept Vandy from ever getting too close.
2) This one was over once Wade Baldwin IV went down with a leg injury
Baldwin has been up-and-down this season but he's a future NBA player and a lock to be a first-round pick whenever he declares for the draft. He's their best perimeter athlete and the only guard who can consistently create shots for himself and his teammates on the perimeter. If Vandy was going to pull off the upset, it was because Baldwin dominated Taylor on both sides of the ball, controlled the tempo of the game and poured in 20+ points. Without him out there, Vandy just didn't have enough.
3) Kerwin Roach
Roach is a crazy athlete - that's obvious even after watching him for only a few seconds. What's starting to happen now is that he's learning how to change speeds and that sometimes it's better to go 85 and know where you are going then jam the pedal, go to 100 and hope for the best. The game is slowing down for him and that's a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists on 5-10 shooting and he had some absolutely gorgeous passes in the 2nd half. It's still unclear what his NBA position will be but he's starting to look a guy whose going to play at the next level.
4) Lammert at the 5, Mack at the 4
Texas had to play most of the first half without Prince Ibeh, who was sitting with 2 early fouls. Shaka tried a bunch of different combinations and this is the one that blew open the game and intrigued me the most. This is your max floor spacing unit - you are playing 5-out basketball with a stretch 5 and a small-ball 4. Vanderbilt kept their C on Mack rather than having him chase Lammert around on the perimeter and the result was some open looks on the perimeter for Mack. This duo hasn't played a ton of minutes together, but the numbers (courtesy of friend of BC Jeff Haley's hooplens.com) are interesting. They played 70 possessions before this one and the offense was much better (1.29 PPP vs. 1.05) and the defense was only slightly worse (1.06 PPP vs. 0.97 PPP). I've been thinking Mack is the X factor for this team and this might be the best way to unlock his game.
5) Shaka let Damian Jones cook
We got a chance to see what an NBA C looks like up close and personal in this one. Texas made the decision to stay at home on the Vandy shooters and let Jones try to beat them 1-on-1 and Vandy's star C almost did it. He had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists on 10-20 shooting and he was the best player on the floor for most of this one. The good news is that there aren't any C's in the Big 12 anywhere close to as good as Jones and Texas was still able to survive going small against him and another 7'0 in Luke Kornet.
6) Prince Ibeh
There was only so much Prince could do against Jones but he at least held his own despite getting very little help on defense. Maybe the most important plays he made were a series of dunks on off-ball cuts when Vandy tried to go to a 2-3 zone in order to keep the Texas guards in front of them.
7. Progress, progress, progress
The mark of a well-coached team is that they get better as the season goes on, something that wasn't happening all that often in the final years of the Rick Barnes era. Because of how much basketball I have to watch for my day job, I don't get to watch a ton of Texas and I'm only able to drop in on them from time to time. What's nice about that is the absence means it's easier to see the jumps they are making - the level that everyone is playing at and how connected they are on the court between their loss to TCU and this one is night and day. Shaka has all these freshman trending upwards and they are starting to figure out how he wants them to play for him.
This is going to be a dangerous team this season and they are going to be really dangerous next season. If Taylor comes back (which he should unless he suddenly starts knocking down 3's) and they can find a competent two-way big men to complement all their wings, they could be right there with the best teams in the Big 12.