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Stream of Consciousness Final Thoughts on the 2019-20 Basketball Season

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This season was hard to watch at times but also felt like it could have been a lot worse.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Arkansas Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In what’s becoming an end-of-season tradition (at least, for football and basketball, the two sports I write about at Anchor of Gold), I’m writing my thoughts about the season we just witnessed as they come to me after last night’s season-ending 86-73 loss to Arkansas.

  • The final record was 11-21, 3-15 in the SEC, but it felt like it could have been a lot worse than that, at least after Aaron Nesmith was lost for the season with an injury. After Nesmith went down, the team lost its next five games by an average of 20.2 ppg. It looked like this was doomed to be another 0-18 season, and then out of nowhere the team was competitive at Kentucky, and then they managed to beat LSU. Oh, and they closed the regular season with two straight wins, one of those on the road.
  • With that said — with Nesmith, this team was capable of winning a few more games than that. Probably not an NCAA Tournament team, but capable of playing with anyone.
  • Vanderbilt lost five nonconference games this season, but none were embarrassing (at least, for reasons having to do with basketball.) I remember some flipping out about Richmond as “a team that Vanderbilt should not lose to” and here Richmond is going into the Atlantic 10 Tournament as a possible tournament team, and that’s a team that Vanderbilt lost to in overtime on the road. Tulsa wound up sharing the AAC regular season title, Liberty is 30-4 and in the NCAA Tournament, Loyola Chicago finished second in the MVC, and SMU went 9-9 in the AAC. Those aren’t embarrassing.
  • Stackhouse’s handling of the aftermath of Aaron Nesmith’s injury was a master’s-level class in how to move past an injury to your best player, and something that Vanderbilt definitely could have used last year. Bryce Drew, presumably, would still be trying to use the injury to Darius Garland as an excuse for this year’s team were he still employed.
  • Also much better: Stackhouse’s willingness to use walk-ons. One thing I’ve never understood about college coaches is why they insist on carrying multiple players on the roster who just never play outside of mop-up duty. Like, how bad do you think things are going to get if you play them for a minute or two? None of the walk-ons were any good, mind you, but that beats the hell out of the last coach’s policy of “certain players will play 30 minutes a night regardless of whether they feel like playing hard on a given night.” If the team was shitting the bed — or, hell, if guys were in foul trouble or needed a breather — Jon Jossell was coming in.
  • So, what was wrong? Well... as it turns out, Bryce Drew built a team to win in 2018-19 and then immediately fall apart. The lack of talent was an issue, but so was just the sheer lack of bodies after Nesmith and Clevon Brown went down for the season.
  • One of the weird things about this year’s team is that while as a whole the team just wasn’t very talented, individually I can make an argument for why each of the players should be playing at this level. (If you disagree with this, you may or may not know what a power-conference backup looks like.) Dylan Disu just needs time to develop. Jordan Wright has a solid game inside the arc and is a consistent three-point stroke away from being a guy who can start here. Maxwell Evans is a useful player, just not a guy who needs to be playing 35 minutes a game. Ejike Obinna and Oton Jankovic are young, tall guys who you don’t want to give up on.
  • That said, there is a very specific problem here: none of those guys are shooters.
  • One thing that defies explanation is that Bryce Drew, a person who shot 43.5 percent from three-point range in his college career, apparently did not see the value in shooters.
  • Chris Lee mentioned before the season that we’d only know after this season if Jerry Stackhouse was really good or really bad. Well, he’s not bad, I can say that much. Whether he’s merely above average or really good is something we’ll have a better idea of in a year or two.
  • There are a lot of people who have brought up Stackhouse’s recruiting, and I just think it’s too early to know. Remember: at this time in his tenure, Bryce Drew had only signed Saben Lee, Maxwell Evans, and Ejike Obinna.
  • Possible starting lineup next season: Scotty Pippen Jr., Saben Lee, D.J. Harvey, Dylan Disu, Clevon Brown — the last one can claim a medical hardship and get a fifth year. That’s actually pretty solid.
  • And finally — yes, we’re all sad that The Streak ended. To blame that on Jerry Stackhouse felt kind of stupid at the time and now the calls at that point for his firing just look flat-out insane and childish. Yeah, I said it.