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What to think of the Jerry Stackhouse era

We’re in year three and... I still don’t know where this is going.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, evaluating a coach isn’t easy.

We’re now in the third year of the Jerry Stackhouse era, and to be blunt, I still don’t have a good idea of where this is going. There’s been some progress after Stackhouse took over following the disastrous end to the short-lived Bryce Drew era; on the other hand, Stackhouse hasn’t even approached the level the program was at in Kevin Stallings’ last few years, which we decided in our infinite wisdom was not good enough.

That’s how slow the progress has felt, even as an inconsistent Commodore team has shown flashes of clear ability in the 2021-22 season. Currently, the team ranks 91st in KenPom — which, if it finished that way, would be lower than any Kevin Stallings team finished with the exception of the 2013-14 team, which was infamously gutted by defections and injuries to the point that a not-ready Luke Kornet was forced into playing significant minutes in January and February.

Of course, it’s also the best team in Stackhouse’s three years, and this team has gotten as high as 64th in KenPom’s metrics — a ranking achieved in November following a 16-point win at Pitt, and Vanderbilt nearly got to that level again after stealing a road win at Arkansas to open SEC play. But losing four of five, and looking particularly hideous in two of those losses, has gotten Vanderbilt back to this point.

This skid, though, has mostly coincided with the absence of Rodney Chatman, a starter in four of the five games this season that he’s been healthy, and Vanderbilt hasn’t had the services of Liam Robbins at all this season. Vanderbilt won four straight when Chatman returned after missing the first nine games of the season; with him, the Commodores are 4-1, and 6-7 without. And needless to say, Robbins would probably be at worst the team’s second-best player if healthy.

Then again, injuries are only an excuse to a point, and it’s fair to ask just how much the dropoff should be when a team is without its second- and (maybe) third-best players. Perhaps that dropoff shouldn’t be “scoring 42 points in a blowout loss at Florida.” And it’s fair to point out that this team is still carried by Scotty Pippen Jr., a player who was recruited to the program by Bryce Drew. Sure, Pippen didn’t have to stick with his commitment after Drew was fired (and, in fact, another 2019 recruit, Austin Crowley, did not), but it’s still worth pointing out if you want an easy argument against the current coach.

You’d be fine questioning Stackhouse’s ability to recruit based just on the current roster (at least, in its state without Robbins and Chatman), but then, you also have to acknowledge that Stackhouse has a pretty good class on the way next season: Lee Dort, Colin Smith, and Noah Shelby all have four-star ratings in the 247 Sports composite, and even three-star Malik Dia looks like a solid addition. But then again, the highest of the four (Dort) is ranked 94th — so there isn’t a sure-fire star in here.

I’d like to say that there’s a clear-cut answer here, but right now there’s so much conflicting information that it’s next to impossible to make a judgment — and somehow, I don’t think the next six weeks are going to give us a definitive answer, either. Going into the season, I thought that Stackhouse could clearly coach in terms of in-game tactics, but I had questions about whether he’d recruit well enough to really succeed here, and ironically this year’s recruiting class has provided the answer of “yeah, maybe he can recruit a bit, but also he still hasn’t landed a truly top-level recruit.” I’d love this recruiting class as a first act, but in the third year of a tenure that’s so far yielded an 8-32 SEC record... huh, I’m not so sure.

I thought this year was going to see a bit of a jump in terms of the team’s on-court fortunes, and that appeared to be true as recently as the Arkansas game... but since then, Vanderbilt has only beaten a terrible Georgia team. I thought we’d see his player development efforts start to pay off, and instead, Jordan Wright’s jump has mostly been about increasing shot volume, and Trey Thomas actually looks like he’s regressed from his freshman season — and, meanwhile, of Stackhouse’s two full recruiting classes at Vanderbilt, only Myles Stute has turned into anything resembling an impactful player, with Tyrin Lawrence posting a dreadful 86.8 Offensive Rating, Shane Dezonie occasionally showing flashes, Gabe Dorsey barely getting off the bench, and Peyton Daniels already being out of the program. And aside from the two injured players, Stackhouse’s forays into the Transfer Portal haven’t yielded much either.

I mean, you’d be excused for thinking this isn’t going to work. I still don’t know. This is weird, because I feel like I should know by now.