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Vanderbilt Basketball Mail Bag #2: Answers to your Questions

You ask; we answer.

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Question from Your Uncle Mike:

The VCU game was only one bad game, right? Nothing to worry about. Just shake it off and go on?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Until I see more evidence, this was one (very, very bad) game. Because, yeah, this team scored 91 and 79 points in its first two games, so we at least have some evidence they’re better than this. The 2012-13 team scored 33 points against Marist in the fourth game of the season, but that team had already been showing signs of having a terrifyingly bad offense early that season (like, they’d scored 48 points against Oregon just two games before that) and that team didn’t have a single offensive player on the level of Scotty Pippen Jr. Hell, that team didn’t have a single offensive player on the level of Jordan Wright. No, that team had Kedren Johnson as allegedly its best player and insisted on playing Shelby Moats for 17 minutes a night. This isn’t that, this was a team that probably has a decent offense but ran into a team that played a gimmick defense that they probably won’t see again.

Stanimal: It was a bad, bad, bad game. Zero question. We couldn’t shoot. We turned the ball over. We handled length and pressure very very poorly. Respectfully as to Stack’s post-game, Scotty was completely shut down. It was a model for how you beat us.....without Robbins and Chatman. In other words, what this game taught me is that we really really need those two to be at our potential, because while Chatman might not be a scorer he is a steady hand that can alleviate pressure from Scotty to find other scorers. As for Robbins, this team has no legitimate post-scoring right now. We desperately need it. As such, I wouldn’t say it’s one bad game, it was just VCU having a good game plan and executing it. Now we need to adjust to account for those obvious weaknesses.

Doreontheplains: I would not write it off as “only one bad game,” but it’s not the harbinger of doom. VCU is very active defensively, and we handled it like a middle school team. Some of that can probably be attributed to the number of new faces playing together. A good chunk of it falls on Pippen for not being assertive enough going to the basket and instead curling back, which let the defense reset time after time. Another hefty portion is Stack’s for not doing a better job keeping a shooter like Stute away from the play for skip passes for open 3s. Also, we brainlessly kept screening ourselves into double teams.

Paul: 37 points for a 3rd year coach is completely inexcusable. Yes, Vanderbilt was ice cold shooting, to the point of missing a lot of layups even, but fourteen first half turnovers is pure coaching and readiness in my opinion. We all have bad days, Stack included, so I’m really hoping we can just chalk this one up as a “wake up call” game before proceeding with our very manageable non-conference schedule. Bryce Drew’s Grand Canyon team is 4-0, but that’s neither here nor there...

Andrew VU ‘04: I wouldn’t say there’s nothing to worry about, as that was one hell of a clunker, but I also would keep your torchforks in storage. Our first two performances (‘gainst Ramajama and Tejas States respectively) were so good that I’m willing to entertain the notion that we might be the team we saw against VCU and the team we saw in the first two games at the same time. I just don’t see how you can play such team-oriented, well-coached basketball in games one and two, and then turn into Scotty vs. The World undisciplined 1 vs. 5 ball we saw against VCU, and only the crap version being the truth. It’s much more plausible that both are true, and it comes down to executing your game plan and not panicking at a press-style defense. In other words, let’s wait at least until after the Winthrop and Pitt games to arrive at a hypothesis of what type of team we’ve got on our hands. They all should get a Kevin Stallings-esque verbal reaming this week in practice, as what they did on Wednesday just cannot happen again. Of course, our likely 2nd best player (and likely best defensive player) in Liam “Wonderwall” Robbins is still out with injury, and his return should make a meaningful difference.


Question from BlueDore:.

Do the parts fit together at all? What does a healthy Robbins change in this equation?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Kind of? You have the lead guard in Pippen, the second-banana wing in Wright, a qualified 3-and-D guy in Stute, and Jamaine Mann doing a James Siakam impersonation. What you don’t have is an offensively-skilled big man, and yes, Robbins would change that.

Stanimal: Robbins, assuming we get him as advertised, changes everything. The parts we have right now do fit, but the puzzle is incomplete without Chatman and Robbins. As Stack said though, it’s about getting these younger guys minutes until we get healthy.

Doreontheplains: I will say they do not fit together yet. We do not have terribly misshapen pieces, but they need a little molding to have crisp connections. Robbins can do a lot to help, but they can be a lot better even without him.

Paul: I love QMB, but he’s just not the big man we need down there. You’ll hear me say again and again that for some of these guys, its not their fault that they’re the best players available. Robbins should help, but by no means is a B list big man the silver bullet for a team that just shot 22% from the field.

Andrew VU ‘04: Are we not doing “phrasing” anymore???


Questions from Dore fan in Dallas & WonderfulVU:

It has now been 6 years since VU pushed out Kevin Stallings as head coach. Given the results of the last 6 years, including last night’s game against VCU, do you think either the Administration or AofG has any regrets about that?

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Follow up to this: It seems like there has been a small but seemingly significant drop off in shooting percentage from the Stallings days. Is this a sign of recruiting not panning out? Changes in coaching emphasis (and/or coaching not being effective)?

As a casual fan, something has seemed “off” for a while, but it’s hard to place what it is. Particularly since this feeling has extended from the “I’ll f@&$ing kill you days” to present.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: So the fun thing is that everything I wrote after the Mississippi State loss in 2016, when I openly said that Stallings needed to go, is still 100% true five years later. Stallings peaked in 2012, and he wasn’t going to get the program back to that point, in part because Stallings simply never adjusted to the world where Wade Baldwins leave for the NBA after two years and guys transfer at the drop of the hat. Now what’s happened since then is really a different question, because Bryce Drew seemed to think that the only thing to the job was recruiting (which, sure, but you also still have to run offensive sets and not mail in the season after your star player gets hurt) and Stackhouse... eh, I still don’t know. I’m not saying those were bad hires (Drew, based on what we knew at the time, was a solid hire and at least in theory I liked the Stackhouse hire at the time) but at least one of them didn’t work out and the second one might be going that way. Either way, the solution was not to let Stallings hang around for as long as he wanted. He’d have probably made the NCAA Tournament in 2017 (when Bryce Drew actually did make the tournament with the players he’d left over) and he’d have probably figured out a way to get there in 2018, when Bryce Drew somehow went 12-20 with a team that included Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Jeff Roberson, and Saben Lee.

I do think that Bryce Drew shifted the emphasis in recruiting away from shooting (though he did get Aaron Nesmith to come here... and uh, somehow turned Aaron Nesmith into a 33% three-point shooter) and I don’t know that Stackhouse has really gotten back to it... I mean, what shooters has he recruited? It’s just the modern game emphasizing “attacking the basket” or some such nonsense, because that’s how you get the good recruits to come.

Stanimal: It’s important to note a few things about the end to the Stallings era: 1) it’s not just the administration, but really the administrations ::plural:: that you are talking about; 2) the subsequent decisions after Stallings decided to leave largely contribute to any regrets that may exist; and 3) even if Stallings had stayed it’s questionable whether we wouldn’t be in this same position today.

Even before Stallings and the University parted ways, St. Nicky was refusing to appropriately put dollars into athletics, which largely left the programs in a position of staleness. That wasn’t a big deal for Stallings of course, he’s an old schooler. But the game and the attraction of recruits has continued to change and while straight basketball wasn’t getting past Stallings (great mind for the game), the recruiting was. Enter Drew, who promised bright lights and big stars, and got them, but when rubber hit the road, he struggled. Then St. Nicky hires Malcolm Turner, retires, Turner hires Stackhouse, Turner becomes lame duck because he wants to spend money to fix things (though he did other things which made him a bad fit), which causes gasps for interim administration in Kirkland, a force out gets orchestrated, COVID, and voila you’re 5 years since Stallings. So the initial decision to move on from Stallings isn’t the problem, it’s the world of mess that happened thereafter. I, for one, have no regrets in the decision to move on.

As for the de-emphasis on shooters: Stallings adored them. Drew liked them, but put athleticism at a higher emphasis (even though Nesmith was a great shooter). I don’t see a big emphasis on recruiting shooters out of Stack. I think he values athleticism and body style and thinks he’s good enough to teach them the rest.

Doreontheplains: None of them should regret firing Stallings. They should regret hiring Drew, but I think it is hard to blame anyone involved in that decision because it seemed like a home run. I am sure he even talked a good game about plans to fix things after 2017-18 with the help of a blockbuster recruiting class.

I think a lot of it is a change in philosophy. Stallings was all about having 4 or 5 guys who can make 3s, especially at the end of his time here. I cannot speak as much to the earlier teams. The crazy thing to me is how tight FG% is statistically. From 2020-21, the difference in the 10th best FG% (49.6%) and the 100th best FG% (45.1%) was 4.5%. A cursory look at the team FG% show a ton of variance. We were downright terrible compared to those numbers a few years. Our best year was 2017-18 (second year after Stallings) at 43.7%. We were 43.0% in 2016-17 and 2020-21. The deeper I dig the less sure I am of anything, to be honest.

Paul: I may get fired for saying this, but does Vanderbilt Basketball fit the category of programs that had no business thinking they deserved a better coach? Stallings had just three losing seasons in his 17 years at Vandy. Now, we’re looking at breaking 0.500 as if it’s some benchmark of the progress that Stackhouse is making in his third season.

Six years back, I was certainly as vocal as anyone about firing Kevin. The relationship was stale and he had seemingly lost any kind of connection with his players and the trajectory of the university. The past six seasons have showed me, however, that Kevin Stallings was the only coach who understood Vandy enough to have a consistently good program. Yes, he had about the worst tournament record you could ask for, but isn’t the sole purpose of Vanderbilt basketball to potentially ruin a UK fan’s day 1-2x per year?

Stallings teams were fun to watch. He got guys who played hard and could hit the three, so no team was too outmatched for any game they played in. Stallings stomping and whistling in Memorial Gym will always capture a piece of nostalgia in me, not so much because I liked him as a person, but because he did this inside a stadium that was full of fans in great primetime atmospheres. Something has seemed “off” because 6 years ago, fans and students would show up to these games. Today, you couldn’t make Memorial half full if you bribed people $10/head to show up.

Andrew VU ‘04: I think I was the only one here who wanted to keep Stallings for life and build a statue of his Shine-O Ball-O of a dome in front of Memorial Stadium... and even I could notice he was starting to lose his lust for shooty hoops life his last year in Memorial. He was a great coach for us, but it was pretty clear he’d stopped giving a shit about competing once he moved to Pittsburgh. Of course, that may at least have been in part having to live in Pittsburgh.


Question from VandyFan1:

I did not see the game but I saw the final score and was it bad offense, good defense, or we’re we just off and if it was bad defense what will stop teams from trying to do that to us when we play them?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Kind of both, but I don’t think that what VCU did was really replicable by most teams — they play a gimmick defense that most teams won’t bother with. Kind of like how Virginia’s defense can make anybody look bad.

Stanimal: Both. VCU had the right game plan, they executed the game plan, and we were abysmal on that night. Teams will try to do exactly that to stop us. We need to hit shots and we need to bolster interior presence.

Doreontheplains: Good defense meeting a team that kept making bad decisions, was out of sync, and failed to adjust. The team let VCU dictate the terms. Pippen also had a poor game, especially by his standards.

Paul: SPJ was supposed to average 37 points a game, not the entire Vanderbilt team. 21 turnovers plus missing every open jump shot we had made this one every bit as ugly to watch as it appeared on paper. My uncle did point out, though, that at least we played good defense too.

Andrew VU ‘04: It was not playing team basketball. At all. Our exciting offensive game plans in games one and two were scrapped for the Larry Brown Allen Iverson 1 on 5 offense, and Scotty ain’t Iverson.


Question from Mark Lonergan:

Against VCU last night:

o 22% FG shooting

o 8% 3PT shooting

o 64% FT shooting

o 21 Turnovers

o 37 points TOTAL

...against a marginal foe. In our building.

Worst VU game since...?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: That time we scored 33 points against Marist.

Stanimal: Losing 77-75 to KP 143 Kent State on Friday, November 23, 2018 - also known as the game where Darius Garland got hurt.

Doreontheplains: There was no clapping merrily along while being awful, so pick an ugly Drew loss.

Paul: Gotta be losing the streak game against the Vols. Helpless loss against a rival where your program lost the only thing that gave it historical significance.

Andrew VU ‘04: ...we lost The Streak.


Question from WestEndMayhem:

APATHY! FUTILITY! DESPONDENCE!

We are approaching a decade of substandard and lackadaisical basketball, after that 2012 SEC tourney so many long years ago. What lead us to this point:

Vandy separated with a 17-year tenured coach the very same season he brought us to a Tourney appearance in 2016- questionable, but the situation felt like a win at the time with Pitt footing the bill.

Drew felt like a big pick up, a real up-and-comer, but his tenure went downhill after Matthew Fisher-Davis decided that Vanderbilt’s season was done for the year. Not wanting to be outdone by Mason, he led the program to [a] season with zero conference wins.

Our current head honcho has heaps of talent on the roster, though he has yet to maximize potential. He also coached a team that was incapable of hitting a single 3-pointer, and did not seem to give one damn about The Streak afterwards. Perhaps he was dreaming of a job in Chapel Hill during the game.

Lastly, before we forget, Vanderbilt hired an alleged Basketball-guru of an AD that spent most of his time, energy, and budget renovating an office.

Is this a slow motion train wreck? A preventable mistake? Are we on the up-swing? Last night was just one game, yes. And in a vacuum, these losses happen. But within a broader narrative, tonight felt like the UNLV loss.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I don’t think this team has heaps of talent. Consider this: starting with the 1996-97 season and continuing through 2019-20, Vanderbilt had at least one player who would play minutes in the NBA on the team every year but two: one, the 2012-13 season (which, uh, was the team that scored 33 in a game) and two, somehow, the 2007-08 team (which had senior-year Shan Foster, who surprisingly didn’t play in the NBA.) And I’m honestly not sure that this year’s team does.

But this year’s recruiting class is currently ranked in the top 25 (and since the early signing period has already come and gone, it’s probably going to stay that way.) Obviously recruiting wins don’t necessarily lead to better results on the court (see: Bryce Drew) but there’s at least some reason to think this might work out. That said, Stack should be gone if he can’t make the NCAA Tournament this year or next.

Stanimal: We’re on the upswing but we came from the absolute abyss because of all the things you have listed. This isn’t a Stack defense or anything, you can be rightfully skeptical, but it’s not like our recruiting class coming in is trash, and we’re getting a brand spanking new basketball facility. There’s plenty to sell, whereas before there was pretty much nothing to sell.

Doreontheplains: The idea really falls apart at the talent level of this team. They are worlds better than Stackhouse’s first two teams (but boy do I miss Disu) and probably significantly better than Drew’s last team at full strength (see: healthy Robbins and Chatman). Let’s not overestimate the talent level to the point we suddenly think Stack is 2019 Gerry Gdowski and Derek Mason if this team is on the NIT fringe, whether they get in or just miss out.

If you want to talk “broader narrative,” comparing this loss to the UNLV loss is really missing the point. UNLV was terrible on both sides of the ball. VCU is very good at half the game but awful at the other. Basketball also inherently has more room for the outmanned team to make things happen. Even against a good defense and with poor offensive sets, you would expect to shoot significantly better than 25%. Even shooting 32%, assuming all extra makes were 2 pointers, would have given us the points to win. That game was much more likely the perfect storm of good and aggressive defense, poor game planning, and an extraordinarily poor shooting night than it was confirmation the wheels have come off like UNLV loss was for Mason.

Paul: I wouldn’t slap the UNLV label on there quite yet. VCU is at least a respectable program and Vanderbilt’s shooting performance was (hopefully) a statistical anomaly. And I also wouldn’t call this a train wreck because on paper, Drew and Stack looked like great hires. Drew just was handed the worst injury in program history and Stack inherited the aftermath of Drew’s quick and dramatic demise.

I will say, however, that I have a $100 bet with a friend of mine that Vandy won’t make the tournament before 2024, and it’s looking like I have the upper hand right now.

Andrew VU ‘04: I wouldn’t exactly say “our current head honcho has heaps of talent on the roster.” I’d say talent-wise, we’re a lot closer to Stallings’ early teams of over-achievers than Stallings’ late era squads packed with 4 star players. I think we’re close to being on the up swing, but only if Scotty somehow stays for his senior year and gets to play with the incoming commits (as that class is late-period Stallings talented). If not, we’ll have to wait another year to make a run at the tourney. We’re in the murky middle right now, so it’s certainly better than the last few Bryce Drew and early Stack teams, but you’re likely to see a few VCU-style clunkers throughout the year.

*Editor’s Note: Paul, please take your voodoo curse off the shooty hoops team post haste. One cursed team is enough in the fall. $100 won’t even keep you in 12 gallons of milk per week luxury anyhow.