Welcome to the debut edition of the Vanderbilt Basketball Mail Bag. We’ve gotten plenty of questions; if yours wasn’t answered, I may try to do another one soon.
Question from VandyImport:
Given that last year this was the worst team in the modern era of Vanderbilt basketball, by far, how will we know if it’s getting any better? Is the schedule soft enough to at least put 10 wins on the board? And how long will it be before we can start talking about how many years we are from being tournament-capable?
Tom Stephenson: One of the worst features of the Bryce Drew era is that they usually told you in November how the season was going to go, we just didn’t want to believe it. The 2017-18 team dicked around in a 19-point win over Austin Peay, lost at Belmont, and tried its best to lose to UNC Asheville at home, and nobody cared because he signed Darius Garland. Last year’s team delivered a New Year’s Eve performance against Asheville that had me thinking they’d go 0-18 in the SEC, which they did.
So here’s how November breaks down. Any decent power conference team beats the group of Southeast Missouri State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and South Carolina State by 30 or more; if we’re not, that’s a bad sign. For Austin Peay and Southeastern Louisiana, apply the “first media timeout of the second half” test. These teams are decent enough that they might keep things interesting for a half, either because they’re hot or we’re cold, but there should be no doubt about the outcome at the first media timeout of the second half. If there is, then we’re probably in danger. And finally, there’s the one road game of the non-conference slate at Richmond, and Tulsa, the one actual decent team. Let’s be honest, last year’s team (post-Darius) probably lost those games. So: what you’re looking for is for Vanderbilt to be 6-1 or 7-0 at the end of November, and having passed the test in the other five games (or at least four of the five, anyway, as long as there aren’t any actual losses in that stretch.) That’s how you know it’s getting better.
Andrew VU ‘04: Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter will be the one-two punch that will take us not only to the tournament, but to Omaha, Nebraska. Though we will lose JJ Bleday, Stephen Scott, Ethan Paul, Philip Clarke, Pat DeMarco, and Julian “Chinfante” Infante, our lineup will be the best in the SEC, by far. (I know, I know—it’s good to be king.) Beyond that, our schedule is the same as anyone else in the SEC. We should expect to go back to Omaha this year. Further, we should expect to win it all again. Again, it’s good to be king.
Question from WestEndMayhem:
What is the (or why is there) concern that CJS’s coaching experience in the G-League would not (or will not) work in the college realm? X’s and O’s seem mostly universal, so does he just support a more physical style of play? Or was the concern altogether something different?
Tom Stephenson: Well, the concern is that Jerry Stackhouse’s G-League experience has not given him any exposure to the world of AAU coaches (I’m sorry, “grassroots” coaches), “uncles,” “cousins,” “handlers,” “hangers-on,” “street agents,” and “financial advisors.” I am not kidding you when I assert that there are people employed as college basketball coaches whose only real, marketable skill is their ability to navigate this world.
One of the defining differences between the pro game and the college game is that everybody in the pros can play, and that’s not always the case in college. X’s and O’s are universal, but having roughly the same talent level as the other team is not.
Andrew VU ‘04: This can all be controlled by bunting.
Question from Volundore:
Presumably the best way out of this is to get in more talented dudes…so, are in on any talented dudes? Do we have a sense of what kind of dude fits Stackhouse’s system (whatever exactly that may be)?
Tom Stephenson: I mean, it depends on what we mean by talented dudes. Are there any Darius Garlands that we’re likely to land in the next year or two? Probably not. But I’m not really concerned about Stackhouse’s ability to recruit at at least a Kevin Stallings (pre-2012) level.
Andrew VU ‘04: Dansby Swanson’s hair.
Question from DoreJam:
I am feeling both hopeful and optimistic, but have absolutely zero expectations for this shooty-hoops season. Is this normal?
Tom Stephenson: Yes, this is probably how you should feel about this season. You should not have any expectations, but having not seen this year’s team yet, there is no reason to not be hopeful and optimistic.
Andrew VU ‘04: Oh this year is likely to be a rebuilding year. At Hawkins field, this means rebuilding a path to Omaha.
Question from Allan C.:
Will men’s basketball get new uniforms to replace the clean but stale ones they’ve been wearing for ages?
Tom Stephenson: That’s a good question. I am always concerned about the possibility of replacing the “clean but stale” ones we’ve been wearing for ages, because it seems like the last time we tried that, the result was the gray-and-highlighter-yellow nonsense that we wore in the 2016 game against Missourah. The point is that sometimes, clean but stale is worth keeping.
Andrew VU ‘04: Corbs would give you burlap sack patriotism in the form of uniforms. Let’s call this a win for any team not named “baseball.”
Questions from “Mr. Anonymous”:
Jerry, we have looked through your roster. It doesn’t look like you have the personnel to stop Harpeth Hall, much less Kentucky. What gives?
You have hired some, well, interesting assistants. Not exactly bluechippers. At all. Not one even. Why? Will they help you recruit?
What can we expect in terms of 2019/20 recruiting? Where’s the beef, Jerry?
Tom Stephenson: I really don’t know why you would blame Jerry Stackhouse for the current state of the roster.
I don’t pay a ton of attention to assistant coaches, but what I do know is that the three assistant coaches that Jerry Stackhouse hired all have actual experience coaching basketball, and none of the three are related to Stackhouse by blood or marriage, which were two things you actually could not say about the last coaching staff. In fact, David Grace is actually pretty well-regarded in college coaching circles, and Adam Mazarei is thought to be good at player development. And from what I’ve heard, Faragi Phillips’ teams at Whitehaven were well-coached. As far as recruiting goes, Grace is the recruiter.
The 2020 recruiting class is going to be weird, but it might not be a fair reflection of anything. For one thing, there are only two scholarships available, with Clevon Brown being the only senior on this year’s team. For another, Stackhouse didn’t start recruiting until... April. We’ll be able to see whether Stackhouse has coaching chops as early as this season, but I’d probably wait until about the 2021 recruiting class to decide where he is as a recruiter. (Myles Stute is a good addition, though.)
Andrew VU ‘04: Again, baseball season will be phenomenal. We should expect to compete for a title again. You dare to ask for more???