At least Vandy doesn't have to worry about the paint when Ezeli is on the floor: The 6'11" Nigerian is its defensive rock. He had their best defensive rating (95.6), lowest opponent field goal percentage (31.0) and engaged in the highest percentage of possessions (27.5) of any player in the study—partly because he alters so many shots, and partly because opponents had so little difficultly breaching the outer layer of the Commodores' D and driving the ball to the rim.
The downside is that Ezeli averaged only 25.2 minutes because of foul trouble and endurance issues, and is expected to be sidelined until mid-December after spraining ligaments in his right knee during a preseason practice. Opponents shot 14 percentage points better (44.4) against his backup, 6'9" senior Steve Tchiengang, who also fouls at a high rate and grabs defensive boards as often as does the 6'3" Tinsley (about 3.5 per 40 minutes played).
Senior forward Lance Goulbourne had Vandy's second-best DRating in large part because he's the team's only elite defensive rebounder (pulling down 8.8 per 40 minutes), but he also had the lowest rate of turnovers created. Backup guard Kyle Fuller was the team's best turnover creator (OppTO% of 21.6), but he was too offensively challenged (shooting just 30.8%) to supplant Jenkins or Tinsley in the starting lineup. For every good thing about Vandy's defense there seemed to be a flaw, which made this team fascinating to study. The Commodores lost five games, including their first-rounder to Richmond, by three or fewer points in 2010--11. "Some harsh lessons were learned," says Stallings. "We were good, but we weren't where we wanted to be because of our defense." If they had altered a few more shots or forced a few more turnovers during the regular season, the Commodores could have been a third seed in the Big Dance, facing a No. 14 team, rather than a fifth seed drawing a No. 12—and who knows what might have happened in a tournament as wide-open as last year's? Instead, Vandy underwent an awakening, and spent the off-season in search of a better formula for defensive stops.
ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE RATING: 98.9
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