Vanderbilt basketball should be better than this.
I’ve been marinating on this post for a week, ever since Vanderbilt sleepwalked its way through a 70-62 win over Alabama A&M. Alabama A&M ranked 330th in KenPom entering the game; this shouldn’t have been a difficult game. Vanderbilt decided to make it a difficult game because that’s just what they do. So far this season, they’ve lost to Southern Miss (135 in KenPom), VCU (107 in KenPom), and Grambling (239 in KenPom.) They also just barely scraped by Wofford (154 in KenPom) at home. Their wins: Temple on the road in overtime (134), Morehead State (287), Fresno State (139), and Pitt (69) by one point, in addition to the aforementioned close shaves against Wofford and Alabama A&M.
The losses, in isolation, can be excused. Southern Miss was the second game of the season, and really, KenPom might still be underrating them. VCU was on the road. Grambling was the last game before finals, and that’s always tricky. The problem with all the poor performances is that when there are that many of them, they’re not aberrations any more. They’re just a reflection of what this team is. You could excuse one bad performance; you can’t excuse half of the games you’ve played.
And I say Vanderbilt basketball should be better than this as a broad statement, because going back to the beginning of the Kevin Stallings era, Vanderbilt basketball has been outside of the top 100 in KenPom on five occasions, counting this season; four of those have been in the last five years, and three of them have come on Jerry Stackhouse’s watch. But I also say that to mean that this specific Vanderbilt basketball team should be better than this.
Kevin Stallings’ 2012-13 team finished 16-17, but that team ranked 328th in Division I in experience. The 2013-14 team went 15-16, but thanks to injuries and defections had just seven scholarship players once SEC play rolled around, and two of those were Shelby Moats and a not-ready Luke Kornet. The 2002-03 team went 11-18, but didn’t have a single senior on the roster; with everyone returning the next season, they made the Sweet 16.
Whatever excuses you want to make about NIL and the transfer portal, the broader excuses don’t apply to this team. This team isn’t young — 77th in Division I in experience, with four seniors and three juniors in the rotation. Injuries haven’t really been an issue, either, at least not to the extent that they should be altering the course of the season: backup point guard Paul Lewis has missed time, and Jordan Wright missed a couple of games, but this isn’t anything on the level of losing a Darius Garland or Aaron Nesmith for the season, or even last year’s team where Liam Robbins and Rodney Chatman both missed big chunks of the season. Jerry Stackhouse is playing the team that he intended to field this year, and the team sucks.
The “why” is the part that’s hard to figure out. Liam Robbins is a very good player who for some reason is only on the floor for 22 minutes a night and has come off the bench in five of Vanderbilt’s 12 games, neither of which makes a lick of sense to this writer. (Sure, he’s occasionally in foul trouble. That doesn’t explain it.) Myles Stute is a deadly three-point shooter. Jordan Wright has regressed a bit from last season, but where are his minutes going? Mostly to inferior players.
Those are players you should be able to build around, but the supporting cast around them has been subpar at best. Ezra Manjon hasn’t been a disaster at point guard, but I wouldn’t say he’s been good. Tyrin Lawrence has improved on the offensive end; he’s still not the scorer you want at that spot. And the team’s five-man freshman class came in with promise, but only Colin Smith has played significant minutes. Trey Thomas continues to play significant minutes for this team while shooting 31 percent from three, and that’s basically the only thing he’s out there for.
Meantime, the head coach goes out of his way to block fans on Twitter and blows up at officials on a not-infrequent basis. And the university gave him a contract extension before the season. What part of a 39-54 record (13-39 in the SEC) merited an extension, I’ll never understand, but then I’m just a big dumb idiot on the internet with a law degree.
There’s still time to turn this season around. There’s also time for things to get a lot worse.