Andrew VU ‘04 asks:
Do the “secret exhibition games” tell us anything? If so, will you be silenced by some sort of secret society—a College Basket-Cabal, if you will—for answering this question accurately?
Tom: They tell us something. I’m just not sure what.
The reason why I don’t take much away from secret scrimmages is because since nobody sees them and there’s no box score, we’re just kind of relying on thirdhand information to even know what happened, and even that’s often deprived of context. What we “know” is that Vanderbilt lost to Georgia Tech (by a score of 80-76) and beat Xavier (pretty handily.) Georgia Tech is projected toward the back of the ACC, while Xavier is maybe an NCAA Tournament team, but even with early season games we’re just sort of guessing how good the teams we’re playing are.
What we really don’t know is how seriously Vanderbilt was taking either of these scrimmages. Per Robbie Weinstein, Vanderbilt wasn’t playing anything resembling a regular season rotation in the Georgia Tech scrimmage, because he knows that it’s not a real game and the result doesn’t matter. If they really did beat Xavier easily, that’s certainly encouraging, but we also don’t know if Xavier was using its normal rotation. Overall, they tell us something but I’m not sure what. “Vanderbilt is somewhere between an NCAA Tournament team and a team that will struggle to avoid playing on Wednesday night in the SEC Tournament” is, well, a fair assessment of those two secret scrimmages, but also, I could have told you that without knowing what happened in those scrimmages.
Dore fan in Dallas asks:
there’s a lot of discussion about Lebron James, Jr. Most folks think he can not start for a top tier team (like UK, KU, etc.) but he could start for a Power 5 team that is less talented. Do you think that Jerry Stackhouse would be interested in recruiting him insofar as LeBron James, Jr. is a guard with professional aspirations? Sounds like maybe a match?
Tom: I mean, he could. The problem with Bronny James — as Matt Norlander and Gary Parrish went over in a recent podcast — is that, as one coach put it, “is the talent really worth the circus?” Because Bronny James is a back-end Top 50 recruit but will draw media attention more akin to a top 5 recruit. And... I don’t know if I would want to deal with that were I a coach.
Anyway, it doesn’t sound like he’s looking at Vanderbilt (and Vanderbilt probably isn’t taking any more freshmen in the 2023 class, for whatever that’s worth) so this is kind of a pointless question.
Which our freshmen will get the most minutes?
Tom: This is a good question, and also a hard one to answer. The issue here is that the most college-ready guy in the freshman class (Colin Smith) is also playing probably the area of least need for Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt doesn’t need somebody to displace Jordan Wright or Myles Stute.
What they do need is a guard who can shoot the three, and that’s Noah Shelby. Shelby could also play the point, though I don’t think Stackhouse will be having him play there much — but of the five freshmen, he’s the one I could most clearly see working his way into the starting lineup in SEC play if Tyrin Lawrence’s offensive game doesn’t improve.
Maybe I’m biased, since I was raised in the era of Marathon Oil and VASDA USA exhibitions. I feel like allowing two “secret scrimmages” is stupid, and every team should play at least one public exhibition against a local lower-division school. What are your thoughts on the whole matter?
(I also feel like allowing exempt “tournaments” with no defined brackets is idiotic, and the Great Alaska Shootout should come back. Feel free to use this as a soapbox for those instead, if you prefer.)
Tom: Rant time!
Yes, the secret scrimmages are ridiculously stupid — either tell teams that they have to play an exhibition against a lower-division school or allow those games to be televised and/or attended by fans. Because yes, things were so much better when teams played actual exhibition games. Kevin Stallings scheduling Sewanee for an exhibition game one year was really a genius move, because Sewanee. But hell, play Trevecca or Lane or something. (The downside risk, of course, is that you actually lose to the lower-division team, as happened one time when I was at Lambuth and we actually beat UT-Martin in an exhibition game.)
Meantime, the MTEs (multi-team events) are out of control too. Bryce Drew should have been fired on the spot for that time that he scheduled four random buy games and called it a “Commodore Classic” instead of playing in a real tournament. Really, college basketball just completely screws up the start of the season. Back in the 1990s, the season mostly started around Thanksgiving weekend with the exception of a few real tournaments, like the old-school Preseason NIT (which was way better than the crap they do now where it’s just the semifinals and finals in new York), Maui Invitational, and yes, the Great Alaska Shootout, which absolutely should come back except that nobody wants to go to fucking Alaska in November when that’s not one of four or five places you can play and get exempt games. Also, the regular season should be 26 games with the exception of those exempt events (of which there should be maybe five and all of them outside the mainland United States.) Also, I am not a crazy person.
Jared Rifkin asks:
Are we a bubble tournament team this year?
Tom: In November, everybody is a bubble tournament team.
Jokes aside, I could see it, but there’s a lot that has to go right. I think this is probably a good defensive team, which really reduces the downside risk. Where do the points come from, though? You don’t just replace a guy like Scotty Pippen Jr. easily.
Why is the entire women’s team hurt, and is there any hope for the season?
Tom: Best I can tell, Stephanie White did something to an old Indian burial ground. I can’t explain why the women’s basketball team has three or four major injuries every year. I don’t know if there’s any hope for the season, but when is the last time we had hope for the season?
Why did VU extend Stack given the shadow of both the Drew and Mason debacles? What was once a prove it year now isn’t.
Tom: I’m going to generalize quite a bit here, because I don’t know enough about the terms of the extension to form an opinion, but there’s a difference between a paper extension that adds a couple of years to the deal while not making it any more difficult to fire the guy if things go sideways and a Jimbo Fisher/Mel Tucker-style debacle that makes the guy impossible to fire.
The way that coaching contracts work, there comes a point where you kind of have to choose whether to fire the guy or extend his contract, because you can’t have a coach trying to recruit with two years left on his contract. That said, there’s also a benefit to being proactive with contract extensions: if you know you have your guy, it’s better to sign him to an extension at a point when you have a lot of leverage and the coach doesn’t; waiting until he makes a Sweet 16 run and has calls from other schools is either an exercise in futility or a way to sign yourself up for a really one-sided contract (and not one-sided in your favor.) The gamble, of course, is that he’s not actually that good and you want to fire him. Is that a bigger gamble than waiting and possibly finding yourself in a situation where he has your balls in a vise grip? I don’t know. If you don’t think Stackhouse is the guy, I can see why you wouldn’t like this. Hell, even I’m kind of wondering if this was a good move, but I understand the logic behind it.
Gut feeling, how many of the incoming class freshman and transfer will have their Vandy career end in transfer as opposed to grad transfer/graduation/draft? What is the best we can expect in the current era? Would that make you hire a James Franklin style coach over a comparable Built Program style coach. (idk Chris Collins?)
Tom: What you’re really asking in the first question is how many of the incoming freshmen are actually good enough to play in the SEC, because that tends to be the overriding reason for a lot of the transfer portal activity: they’re guys who aren’t going to cut it here and transfer to a level that’s more in line with their abilities. That really describes most of the players who left the program after last season: Gabe Dorsey ended up at William & Mary, Peyton Daniels transferred to SFA (and, uh, later transferred from there, too), Shane Dezonie went to Temple, Terren Frank is now at Idaho, and Jamaine Mann is at Georgia State, and probably the only guy in that group who I saw anything from that indicated he’d be more than a bench player for a good SEC team was Dezonie.
For that reason, I could easily see four guys in the freshman class being four-year guys here. The main one I have questions about is Paul Lewis, who wasn’t as highly thought of as a recruit as the others. But Colin Smith, Noah Shelby, and Lee Dort were all well regarded, and Malik Dia is from Nashville and may have been overlooked (I mean, when your recruiting profile says you’re 6’7”/210 and you show up on campus 6’9”/240, that makes a pretty big difference.)
As for that last part — I mean, there’s kind of a reason why Clark Lea, Tim Corbin, and Jerry Stackhouse, three very different coaches with programs in three very different places in their sport’s pecking order, are all going with the traditional approach of recruiting mostly freshmen and bringing in the occasional transfer as a complementary piece. Seems like that’s the way Vanderbilt wants to do it, and the other option is to be Bryce Drew and whine about how admissions won’t let in the grad transfers you absolutely have to have.