Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hey Vandy Fans! Thank goodness it's hoops season! (Or maybe not!)

Every year it's the same mantra among the dwindling Commodore faithful: 'Thank goodness it's basketball season.' This after the annual drubbing by the University of Tennessee Volunteer football team who are eternally bowl-bound while we Vandy fans are glad yet another losing campaign is over.

Hope springs eternal for us on the hardcourt. Vanderbilt University's Memorial Gym is a tough place to play and we are generally competitive in basketball. However, this season seems to be an exception. And not in a good way.

Losing to Furman at home and needing a buzzer-beater in overtime to win against Toledo doesn't bode well for the upcoming conference season. In fact, unless Alan Metcalf gets healthy, I'm not sure that we can confidently look at any Southeastern Conference game on the schedule as a sure win. Even with Alan, I'm not sure the picture changes drastically.

Sure, we're a shooting team and against Furman our guys couldn't hit a lick, but that's the point. Derrick Byars, Shan Foster and Dan Cage are all threats from the 3-point line, but we've learned the hard way that Tubby Smith can make his players play defense well enough to take shots away from anyone, especially a team that has few low post scoring threats.

And speaking of defense, I can't see the 'Dores scaring anyone defensively this season, either. Who's the 'defensive stopper'? Dan Cage is stronger than ever, but he's not the quickest man. And he's going to draw some very difficult assignments playing at the 4 position at his size. Byars and Red Gordan will absorb a few plays, but neither is exactly defensive player of the year material. At the low post, there simply aren't enough fouls to go around. Both Metcalf and Ted Skuchas are prone to hacking calls and there simply aren't any bodies that can effectively fill that role when they're out of the game in foul trouble.

I see a 2-14 league record as a very, very real possibility.

How did we get here?

I my opinion, I think that Coach Stallings and his staff are too hard on the players, and I don't think that Kevin Stallings is an especially good teacher. There have been a few recruiting misses that would have helped us had they gone the other way, but that's NCAA hoops. Stallings says repeatedly that he's changed his stripes, and he's 'relating' more to the players. I'm not convinced.

Coach Stallings lost two key players to transfer in the offseason -- DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Madsen. Both left the program because, at the end of the day, they weren't happy. They didn't trust Stallings and staff to bring them along as players. I don't think that Kevin Stallings sold them on their roles as players, students and Commodores and how those roles were going to get each of them what they wanted out of basketball. Coach, if you recruit them, you should be able to keep them, right?

Madsen redshirted last season and thus didn't play, but Vanderbilt needs another big man with skills, and Madsen looked the part. Carroll, of course, was a key player on the 2005 Commodore club averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds a game. Both will be sorely missed.

In related news, it appears that the regular 'Stallings regression' has started early this year. Against Furman, our shooters were tentative, seemingly afraid that they're going to mess up something. Therefore, they shot horribly and lost. Jason Holwerda, Mario Moore, Julian Terrell, Dawid Przybyzewski and more have all regressed under the tutelage of Kevin Stallings. I'm beginning to see a pattern that I really don't like. One that really needs fixing.

Finally, I'm not seeing great game preparation, another Stallings hallmark. Completely flat at the tip-off, never able to mount a true threat to take the lead, and several needless turnovers that show a lack of mental focus. That's a Stallings team.

I hope that we pull it out this year, but I don't think that we will. Kevin Stallings had better be on the hot seat. Or I think that Greg Williams needs a lesson in athletics.


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