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THE CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
LUKE WINN (with additional research by David Hess)
November 14, 2011
For a sport awash in stats, accurate measurements of defensive prowess are hard to come by. So SI did its own possession-by-possession study of five title contenders, graded every player and every play—and came to some surprising conclusions
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November 14, 2011

The Case For The Defense

For a sport awash in stats, accurate measurements of defensive prowess are hard to come by. So SI did its own possession-by-possession study of five title contenders, graded every player and every play—and came to some surprising conclusions

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Visitors to the Louvre still debate whether the Mona Lisa is a beautiful woman or an ugly one, or if she's starting to smile or becoming upset. But they all tend to agree on the power of Da Vinci's technique.

UCONN

ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE RATING: 89.4

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

*Departed player

Minimum: 10 minutes per game

VANDERBILT

For the Commodores to have a breakthrough season, they'll have to break some bad habits. "There were times last year," says senior center Festus Ezeli, "that we came out just hoping to outscore people." They often succeeded, earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament with the country's 13th-most-efficient offense, but the strategy was unsustainable; Richmond upset Vanderbilt on the first Thursday of the tournament. The reason: the Commodores were the least efficient defensive team from a major conference in the 2011 bracket. Pollsters are suggesting that Vanderbilt, which has three potential NBA players in Ezeli, shooting guard John Jenkins and small forward Jeffery Taylor, have the potential to reach their first Final Four—a prediction that would seem far more likely if the Commodores can first diagnose, and correct, their defensive maladies.

To start, coach Kevin Stallings, who plays man-to-man about 70% of the time and a 2-3 zone the rest, is sorely in need of turnover creators and defensive rebounders. Vanderbilt ranked 308th nationally in turnover percentage last season (17.5), and 168th at protecting the defensive glass (67.9 defensive rebound percentage). Taylor, an athletic, 6'7" Swedish-American, was their lone representative on the SEC's All-Defensive Team. Yet SI discovered that Taylor had only the team's fourth-best DRating, due to minimal impact on the boards (a defensive rebounding percentage of 12.9) and a team-worst opponent field goal percentage (53.5). Film study suggests that he's less overrated than overextended, forced into a confounding role that might as well be a tongue-twister: Taylor guarded guards because Vandy's guards couldn't guard guards.

In the Commodores' eight-man rotation, floor general Brad Tinsley had the fifth-best defensive rating (98.5), while Jenkins was seventh (99.1). Their offensive prowess (10.6 and 19.5 points per game, respectively) kept them on the floor, but they had to be shifted into lower-pressure defensive roles or better-of-two-evils mismatches while Taylor took on the responsibility of shadowing scoring point guards such as Erving Walker (Florida), Brandon Knight (Kentucky) and Chris Warren (Ole Miss). Stallings says Tinsley and Jenkins focused extensively on defense this summer, and it's vital that they become more competent ball hawks. "I'd like to have Jeff covering his position this year," Stallings says, "instead of having him always trying to plug holes."

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