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Vanderbilt Basketball Mail Bag #10: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Question from BobbyTheBuilder:

This has a been a tough season as a fan, but with glimmers of hope and optimism for next year. But then I’m thinking, do we? Yes we have a strong recruiting class coming in, but it’s rare to have multiple SEC-Ready freshman. Then there’s the question of returnees - who should we expect to be back? We’ll likely have a few transfers out (hopefully more of the Oton Jankovic variety, less of the Disu type), so that opens up some spots for transfers (or graduate returnees ... please come back QMB)

So that brings me to my question - what is the expected makeup of the team next year and what are reasonable/stretch expectations for the squad?

Answers from AoG:

Tom: Oh, are we already moving on to next year? Anyway, who the hell knows. I have this weird hunch that Scotty isn’t going to be back next season, whether that means he enters the transfer portal or goes pro. But that’s countered with the possibility that Liam Robbins could return. And maybe even play a full season!

That said, whatever you think of the Transfer Portal era, there aren’t any guys on the team who are obvious candidates to transfer after the season, and that’s probably a good thing. Last season, you could pretty well figure out that Ejike Obinna and D.J. Harvey were going to transfer after the season, and you might have even guessed Issac McBride as well. You wouldn’t have bet on Dylan Disu, of course. Speaking of which... holy shit, have y’all noticed what a nonfactor he is at Texas? Boy, the grass wasn’t greener there.

Paul: The new world order of college basketball adds such a layer of uncertainty to each offseason that it’s really hard to assess next season’s team until all of the dust has cleared from transfers, people going pro, etc. Not only will you get the random transfers that you never saw coming, it is also much more attractive for an undergraduate player to continue his development in the G league or overseas than it was a few years ago.

Looking to this team specifically, it will become a question of the following: 1) Would SPJ rather develop next year at Vandy or in the G league, 2) Will Liam Robbins test the pro waters 3) Does Jordan Wright want to finish his career as a role player on a tournament-ready team, and 4) Is QMB tired of playing basketball or will he come back next year to give us maturity and depth?

No other players leaving or staying will have that much of a splash in my mind. The final piece of the puzzle will be what Stack can get out of the transfer portal.

Andrew VU ‘04: This question gets top billing due to the Weird Oton Jankovic reference. I applaud all VU sports commenters and athletes who dare to be stupid.

Beyond that, this is THE question for the offseason, and is why this season has been such an “If only...” If only Dylan Disu didn’t transfer out, we’re an NCAA tourney team. If only our various Chatmen and Liam and/or Noel Robbins’ were healthy for the majority of this season, we’re an NCAA tourney team.

Then, looking forward to next year, to borrow a poem from Williams Carlos Williams:

so much depends
upon

a Scotty Pippen,
Jr.

glazed with NBA
hopes

beside QMB, Robbins, &
freshmen

So, if all with eligibility remaining who can return [see poem] do, then we could be in the top third of SEC teams, and should be an NCAA tourney all but lock.

Or the other shoe could drop, QMB decides to graduate/call it a career, SPJ puts his name in the draft (and/or signs with a European team), and Robbins decides to be that really tall guy in the office, and we’re in for a rough year. I’m not sure if it will be 0-18 in the SEC rough, but let’s just say I would expect it to be worse than the past two seasons. It’s a full reset in which we turn the reigns over to the freshmen and focus less on W/L and more on “hope for the future.” In that horrid event, this William Carlos Williams poem is more apropos:

I have lost

the veterans

that were in

the lineup

and which

you were probably

saving

for next year

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Of course, this is just to say.


Question from BarnDore1950:

Do we know if Liam will be back for one more year? It seems a shame he was lost for 2/3 of this season and even now, his minutes are going to be limited for a while.

Answers from AoG:

Tom: No idea. He could return, and honestly, since he’s missed this much of the season that’s a pretty good reason for him to return. Better to have a good season before you go pro instead of trying to convince pro teams to sign you based on approximately 150 minutes of action. (Then again, this worked for Darius Garland.)

Paul: This is where the current state of professional evaluation makes me wonder what would be better for Liam. Would he be better off showcasing his talent at Vandy, a G league, roster, or somewhere in Europe? I certainly hope it would be Vandy, but I don’t know if that’s the case in today’s climate. I also don’t know if he’s even professional material.

Andrew VU ‘04: I, for one, have no earthly idea. If I were him, or if I were advising him, I would tell him to stay for his last year of eligibility, so as to prove to pro teams what he’s capable of when healthy. Of course, I am neither of those people.


Question from VU1970:

I have a feeling that the real Vanderbilt is about to be seen, barring unforeseen injuries, as soon as the RCs [*note: VU1970 apparently meant both Robbins and Chatman, and not a brand of cola that is not his usual dietetic coke] get their legs under them. And no, it’s never too late. Win a couple of SEC tournament games and hold onto your hot dogs. QFTMB: Am I being delusional? Should I try decaf?

Answers from AoG:

Tom: I don’t really know how to answer this, so here, have a picture of a mural that actually exists.

Paul: I’d love to be wrong here, but I think it’s too little too late for this year’s squad. Even with that duo suddenly in the rotation again, I don’t think that’s going to fix the issues of this team overnight. For Vandy to start winning games, I think that the turnover bug and shooting woes would have to dramatically improve, and neither of those issues will be solved overnight.

Andrew VU ‘04: All right. Time to go back to the well of “What can we do given the current state of our roster and our remaining games?” We’re currently 11-10 overall (3-6 SEC). That does not a tournament team make. However, we do have both Rodney “Glue Factory” Chatman and Liam “Baby Giraffe” Robbins back. Though Robbins is not remotely at 100% (probably more rust and conditioning than being hindered by injury right now), his interior defense, extra 5 fouls, and potential for adding some low post banging and offensive rebound put backs makes this a very different team. For one, it doesn’t put the entire post defensive responsibility on QMB. As we get close to conference tourney time, teams would have realized all they need to do is triple team SPJ and feed things down low until QMB fouls out, and we would have no answer for that. With Liam back, the latter thing can no longer work. With Chatman back, we have an experienced ball-handler, offense-runner, and all-around glue guy who just knows how to be in perfect position at all times... and, well... teams can no longer do the former strategy, either. I mean, they could, but there would be actual repercussions for doing so.

To do this, to borrow a phrase from the old ladies who live near my mom and are constantly playing cards, we would have to “Shoot the Moon.”

In other words, short of an improbable run in the SEC Tourney in which we win the whole damned thing, we will have to win every game with a 33% win probability or higher from here on out. Here’s what that would look like:

Beat LSU Saturday at home (they might not have PG Xavier Pinson, so this is actually possible), and then put together a nice little streak with wins against Missourah (spits) at home, and The bUTtchuggers in the Wigshpere. That would make us 14-10 (6-6 SEC) with 6 regular season games remaining. Do this, and we’re in business. Win 2 of three and we still have a pulse. Drop all three and we no longer have even an outside shot at the NIT.

But back to the greatest of all possible timelines... say we go on the aforementioned 3 game run. There is no possible way, short of all of their starters spraining ankles during pre-game shoot-around, that we beat this year’s Auburn War Tigers at Toilet Paper Tree Arena. You can write that loss in Sharpie. So, in our best of all possible worlds, we’re now 14-11 (6-7 SEC) with home games against aTm and Ramajama; a trip to Clanga; back home against the Jorts; and closing out the regular season at Ole Piss where the Ox Ford the river. Let’s say we find a way to take 3 of 5 (4 of 5 if we lose one out of the three against Yellow Shoe, Missourah, and the Mullet Luge Chuggers).

As there’s no effect without a cause, we would be in the NIT regardless of what happens in the SEC Tourney if things go as outlined above. Beyond that, at 17 total wins, and 9-9 in conference, with the “injured players return” narrative, we could win 2 games in the SEC tourney and make it really difficult for the NCAA selection committee to ignore us. Of course, win 3 and we’re in.

As you can see from my repeated references to Panglossian optimism, I don’t actually expect this to happen. In other words:

“‘That is well said,’ replied Candide, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.’”


Question(s) from 92Drummer:

QFMB #1 & 2:

Some folks seem to have an air of optimism after this game. Does yet another SEC loss somehow mean that Stack is now a better coach than previously thought? Should one player’s very mediocre return be the difference in what we think of our coach’s long term prospects?

Consider this. Grady is an amazing player for UK. If he had the same injury and path to recovery as Liam, would it be acceptable for UK to have a consensus crap team and then suddenly everything seems to be better because of one player’s return? Clearly no. Calipari would not last through pre-season if he ever allowed one player’s mean that the season is a wash. The expectations for the UK program are too high.

So the QFMB #3 is, do we collectively realize just how low we have let our expectations fall, if one baby giraffe means that we are now ok?

I mean…AOG articles don’t even end with, _” have fun, expect to win” any more.

Answers from AoG:

Tom: Stackhouse is neither as good a coach as he looked on Wednesday night nor as bad a coach as he looked while getting swept by South Carolina. Look, I know that we have to have a hot take about the coach after every game, but the fact is that I am extremely confused about Jerry Stackhouse to the point that we are almost through his third year at Vanderbilt and I have no idea whether he’s the right guy to lead the Vanderbilt basketball program. Like... not that I know that this isn’t going to work out and I just don’t want to admit it, but I legitimately do not know the answer here. He’s a good in-game coach, but I also have questions about his ability to build a program, similar to this article that my friend Sam Snelling wrote about Cuonzo Martin at Missouri. But Stackhouse also has the coaching part down, and that’s the more difficult skill to develop. There are instances of good recruiters who eventually figured out the coaching part, but there are probably more instances of good coaches who just hired a guy to bring in the recruits. (And there are examples of good coaches who were too hard-headed to figure out how to play the recruiting game. See, this is a hard question.)

And “have fun, expect to win” was Woody Widenhofer’s thing, so we usually only bring that up during football season. In shooty hoops, the equivalent is “I’ll fucking kill you,” but that would probably get Anchor of Gold shut down by our site overlords if I ended every article with it.

Paul: The turnover woes still really bother me on this team, but I also think we need to give Stack another season to truly assess his trajectory and ability to turn things around. I really hope that a couple of the key guys return for 2022-2023 so that we can’t give him the benefit of the doubt for having a depleted roster again.

Andrew VU ‘04: Baby Giraffe’s return was only mediocre because he’s still getting his conditioning up. If you couldn’t see the potential of what he would add to our team, even if only in post defense/shot blocking, I don’t know what to tell you.

Also, comparing our shooty hoops team to Big Blue Nation’s should only be done in the year of our Lord 2012, when we took them down for the SEC crown. It’s a little like asking why our feetball team can’t currently compete with Ugga on the ‘crootin trail. Our expectations match our talent level. It’s why I’m very much looking forward to baseball season.


Question from Comstipplesacksoun:

QFTMB: is the season back on?

Answers from AoG:

Tom: Let’s shake the Magic 8-ball...

Paul: I’d say that having Liam Robbins back for the rest of this season is kind of like putting hot sauce on a piece of toast. It may add some spice, but the reality is that you’re still eating a bread for lunch. Until you go to the store and get some meat, lettuce, tomatoes, etc, you’re still going to be hungry at the end of the day.

(Not sure if my old English professor would be proud of that analogy or quit his job after reading it)

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ll cede my time to the distinguished gentlemen from Aurora:


Question from VandyFan1:

QFTMB does anyone else seemingly give up on this team and than [sic] suddenly feel again when we lose by 7 to kentucky?

also why do we always go 6 minutes without points?

Answers from AoG:

Tom: No, because as I pointed out on Twitter Wednesday, that’s basically what happens every time we go to Rupp Arena. Seriously, in Vanderbilt’s last 11 trips to Rupp Arena, the Commodores have lost by double digits exactly once, in 2016. And a lot of those Vanderbilt teams have been pretty forgettable otherwise, but somehow they always play Kentucky tough on the road. (Kentucky games at Memorial are a different matter; somehow, three of the last four home games against the Wildcats have been decided by double digits, including an embarrassing 35-point beatdown in Bryce Drew’s last season.)

And we go six minutes without points for the same reason that a surprisingly large number of college teams go six minutes without points, because compared to their professional counterparts, college basketball players are significantly worse at making shots, even when the shots they’re taking are objectively good. I watch enough college basketball to know that this affliction isn’t unique to Vanderbilt.

Paul: I’m not reading into the close-ish game against UK that much because weirdly enough, Vandy has played pretty well in Rupp in their last few seasons that have otherwise been lackluster. The ‘Dores have now kept their last 5 appearances in Rupp Arena to within 10 points.

I don’t really believe because while this team is scrapping some close games together here and there, they look horrible doing it by missing free throws and throwing the ball out of bounds all the time.

Andrew VU ‘04: On the first question, absolutely. Our 2nd half push was the best basketball we’ve played all year. While I don’t think Big Blue has the type of team which should be NCAA Tourney favorites this year, they’re easily a top 5 team overall. We, for the most part, proved we could hang with them (with the refs putting their thumbs on the scale in Rupp, nonetheless). We’re a bipolar shooty hoops team this year. Just ride the lightning.

As for the 2nd? Such is Mango.


Question from 79Commode Door:

QFTMB: Oh oracle, who is to blame, or what it is the explanation for us missing so many free throws and making so many turnovers, and not getting better? We’d have several more games under our belts in the win column (maybe even the most recent one) if we just had decent numbers in those two areas and everything else was the same. Last night 15/23 on free throws (not counting missing the front end of at least 2, if not more, 1 and 1’s, which would make the effective miss rate worse) and 18 turnovers. Fix those things and we’re competitive and a threat. I keep waiting for us to get better on those and we don’t. Is there an Rx for this (other than alcohol for those who watch)?

Answers from AoG:

Tom: I still blame Bryce Drew for deciding that what Vanderbilt needed was not fundamentally sound basketball players, it was athletes. I realize that this is one of those Boomer takes that Patrick accuses me of, but ever since Riley LaChance et al graduated after the 2017-18 season, Vanderbilt’s had three of four seasons outside the top 200 nationally in free throw percentage after doing that three times in the preceding 22 seasons. (Yes, you’re reading that correctly.) The turnovers, I suppose, are a different thing since Stallings’ teams weren’t particularly good at that, but what’s especially bad is that this team commits a lot of non-steal turnovers, which basically translates to dumb shit that your middle school coach yelled at you about. Hell, I don’t know. This question just made me depressed.

Paul: That’s the biggest issue of the Stackhouse era in my mind. Yes he’s had depleted rosters and has been remarkably unlucky with injuries. And to his credit, his teams play extremely hard and have been a tough out for the lopsided talent they face on most nights. However, what haunts me is that these teams are seemingly unable to improve throughout the course of the season and fix a lot of the issues that seem to be directly tied to coaching.

Andrew VU ‘04: I don’t know, man. The Grand Inquisitor performed an auto-da-fe in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755, and yet they still had an earthquake the next day. I’m beginning to think Maitre Pangloss might not have been 100% correct about this world.


Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Why has QMB become my favorite player?

Answers from AoG:

Tom: Because you read the comments in the postgame thread at Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue.

In seriousness, he has a lot of the qualities you see in a fan favorite: guy who isn’t obviously athletically gifted (other than height) but plays hard, doesn’t try to do too much, doesn’t pout, and generally helps the team win but not in the kind of ways that stand out in the box score.

And, again, he pisses off Kentucky fans, which usually means you’re doing something right.

Paul: QMB is by far my favorite player on the roster this year. Maybe I should write about this? Oh wait, I did a few weeks ago.

Also @Andrew VU - how dare you compare QMB to Skuchas. Ted Skuchas was the equivalent to a walk on that would get feel good minutes every now and then, but QMB truly contributes to this team.

Andrew VU ‘04: Seems like you would be best suited to answer this, but I can tell you what to think, I guess. First, all fans appreciate “lunch pail effort,” and Quality Man Bun has been giving his all, Ted Skuchas style, all year. That transitions nicely into my next point: The Ted Skuchas Effect. All of us less than athletically god-like fans like to imagine, “If only I was tall, I could be on the team.” Teds Skuchas, Quentins Millora-Brown, and Bryants “Big Country” Reeves (to use a non-Vanderbilt-centric example) reinforce said delusion, as they are—or better yet, appear to be on camera—relatively average athletes who through height, strength, and effort alone, can be anywhere from solid bench rotation guys (Shuuuuuuuuuuuch), glue guys (QMB), to true difference makers (Large Nation Reeves).

What has us all hoping QMB stays for yet another year and enrolls in, I don’t know, a PhD program in Comparative Big-Man-ature [note: QMB is a Mechanical Engineer, so some sort of continuance of that graduate degree program would also make sense] is that he has that one characteristic many of us lack: Total Self-Awareness.

QMB never tries to do more than what his athleticism and stature will allow. He is always in the right position, both in defensive and offensive sets; sets great picks for SPJ; fights relentlessly against bigger, stronger, more athletic bigs for rebounds—especially on the offensive glass—and has developed a pretty nice array of Euro big man type moves down low.

Oh, and back to the Mechanical Engineering thing—we’re not only able to pretend we could be him if not for having a height that starts with 5’, but we also know, given he started out at Rice, transferred to Vandy, and has been able to thrive in something as complex as engineering, that he’s quite literally one of us.

Well, except for the man bun.