Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings thinks his team is overrated - and its defense is to blame.
The 15th-ranked Commodores hope to shore things up on the defensive end Thursday when they host Rice.
Vanderbilt (13-0) ranks among the highest-scoring teams in the country with 87.4 points per game, but it’s yielding 76.0. All but three of the Commodores’ opponents have shot at least 40 percent, and the last two made 49 percent of their shots.
“Based on how we’re taking care of the ball and how we’re playing defensively, we are the most overrated team in the country,” Stallings said. “Now I didn’t say anything about our ability to score.”
Despite their defensive struggles, the Commodores are off to the best start in school history, surpassing the 2003-04 team that started 12-0 en route to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. They are one of six undefeated Division I teams and set a season high for points Monday, beating Iona 97-73.
“If you aren’t guarding, it’s a good thing to be able to score a lot,” Stallings said. “We’re not going to score 97, maybe ever (in conference games). We better be able to guard, and we will. These guys we have are effort-givers, and we just need to help them.”
Shan Foster and Andrew Ogilvy each scored 20 points for the Commodores, who have two games remaining before opening their SEC schedule against South Carolina on Wednesday.
Foster leads the team with 20.1 points per game, while Ogilvy, named SEC freshman of the week Monday, is averaging 19.2.
Iona, however, scored 41 points in the first half - more than it had in both halves of its previous game, a 67-37 loss at Louisville.
“Their defense wasn’t tough at all,” the Gaels’ Gary Springer said. “We could get any shot we wanted, anytime. We lost because of us, not them.”
Vanderbilt should have a chance to tune up its defensive play against Rice (3-8), which is managing only 58.1 points per game. The Owls are coming off their lowest scoring effort of the season, a 68-41 loss to No. 12 Texas A&M on Monday.
Lawrence Ghoram had 16 points and six rebounds for Rice, which fell 80-54 to then-No. 4 Texas in its only game against a ranked opponent this season. Patrick Britton, who leads the Owls with 11.0 points per game, was slowed by foul trouble and had just eight points, failing to score in double figures for the first time in seven games.
“We were playing really good basketball and we didn’t capitalize,” coach Willis Wilson said. “We had good looks, but didn’t finish them and if anything from that point on we got a little tentative and that tentativeness rolled over into the second half.”
Vanderbilt leads the series with Rice 14-3, including 9-2 in Nashville. The Commodores beat the Owls 74-69 on the road last Jan. 2 in the first meeting since the 1995-96 season.