Blog Entry

Stallings feels 'pressure' to advance in March

Posted on: October 22, 2011 2:34 pm
Edited on: October 22, 2011 2:36 pm
By Gary Parrish

A column about Bruce Pearl garners cookout remarks. A column about John Calipari gets references to vacated Final Fours. A column about Rick Pitino leads to emails loaded with tired and not-really-funny-anymore sex jokes, and this is how it goes pretty much every time.

Reader comments are usually predictable.

I learned this years ago.

So I wasn't surprised when my column professing belief that this season's Vanderbilt Commodores are built to compete for anything and everything, including a trip to the Final Four, was met with skepticism, nor was I shocked that the main reason folks seem skeptical is because Kevin Stallings has lost his NCAA tournament opener in each of his past three trips, all to lower-seeded teams. I knew what the perception of Stallings and, by extension, his program would bring before I ever typed a word. In fact, I spoke to Stallings about his lack of postseason success in recent years, and he discussed it with great candor.

"The only thing the typical fan base cares about is how you finish, and I share the frustration with the fans," Stallings said. "There's nobody who wants to win or have better finishes than the players and the coaching staff, but [the recent losses are] not going to ruin my life because there are too many good things happening here, too many bright spots, too many success stories, and I believe these guys are having great experiences. But I will say this: It'll be greater if they have success in the NCAA tournament, and for that I feel a responsibility, and I feel a little bit of pressure."

When's the last time you heard a coach acknowledge feeling pressure?

And it's not job-security pressure.

Vanderbilt isn't firing its coach no matter what happens this season.

What Stallings was talking about is pressure from his desire to give his players the best college experiences possible, and he knows tournament-opening losses don't provide great experiences. He also knows fans -- both his fans and opposing fans -- talk about how he's never advanced past the Sweet 16, and how he hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2007. Granted, Stallings doesn't completely understand why that's all people talk about given the fact that he's running a program that can be respected nationally for how it operates on and off the court, but he's aware of the perception and would love nothing more than to change it.

"We're 4-5 in the NCAA tournament [since I've been at Vanderbilt], so it's not like we haven't won," Stallings said. "We've gotten bumped lately, and that's no fun. But most programs would be very happy with a [near] .500 record in the NCAA tournament. ... And I have to give some appreciation to my boss, David Williams. Because the first thing he says is, 'Hey, you've got to get there to lose.' There was a long stretch where Vanderbilt wasn't getting there, and he has that perspective, and I appreciate the support he provides. But we would still like to finish better than we have, because I want these guys to have the greatest experiences they can."

Since: Oct 21, 2011
Posted on: October 26, 2011 7:00 pm

Stallings feels 'pressure' to advance in March have no clue what you're talking about, mgmgmg75. For one thing, you don't even know the players' names. All three of them are on the top 50 pre-season watch list for the Wooden Awards. JENKINS led the USA national team at the recent World University Games in scoring, and his defense was touted by Coach Painter on that circuit as well. He's more than a "rich man's Lofton." He was runner-up for SEC POY last year as a sophomore after leading the league in scoring and will certainly be in the running again this season. He has improved his handle and can score as much more than just a shooter. I'd be pretty surprised if he goes undrafted.

EZILI is quite probably the most under-rated center in the NCAA. He may well make a run at SEC POY this year if he stays out of foul trouble to increase his minutes. He's an absolute beast, beyond just his physique, as he had ZERO organized basketball experience before coming to college, with the exception of ONE summer of AAU ball. His learning curve has been astronomical in his time at Vanderbilt and that's a large part of the reason pro scouts will be drooling over him. He is far from his ceiling, and his statistics per minute played are outstanding. Defensively he's one of the most disruptive centers in college ball, altering a high number of shots. His offensive efficiency is impressive, as he connected on nearly 60% (0.588) of field goal attempts last year (not hard to do when you can power through just about anybody to get to the rim, but he also has outstanding footwork and has developed excellent touch on his shots). Have you even seen him play???

Of the three, Taylor is the longest shot to make it, in my opinion, as he has been his own worst enemy on the court the last two seasons. However, you discredit his shooting, despite the fact that he worked on that significantly in between his sophomore and junior seasons, improving to 34.5% from three-point range last year...not amazing, but far from terrible. If he improves again this season, which wouldn't shock me, he would be very respectable for a wing. The biggest thing he needs to fix is his mental game. Coach Stallings has said time and again Taylor is his own worst defender. If he can overcome whatever mental block he seems to have he could be just about unstoppable offensively. Defensively he's one of the top defenders in the SEC, if not the NCAAs. He attended Kevin Durant's camp over the summer and supposedly was as good as any of the college wings in attendance.

This team should be just fine come March, and CKS will show his "knack." 4-5 in the NCAA tournament certainly doesn't put him up there with the elite coaches, but for a program that is not a traditional power with built in recruiting and  perennial wins that one would consider essentially automatic, he's doing just fine to build Vanderbilt's prestige a bit. It doesn't happen overnight, though.

Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: October 23, 2011 5:02 am

Stallings feels 'pressure' to advance in March

Lots of college BB people say you need 3 pro's to win it all.  Vanderbilt has 3 borderline nba/d league guys.  None are sure fire nba players but have experience and are definitely really good college players.  Taylor has NBA athletelic ability but lacks NBA skills - teams leave him wide open because he can't shoot.  Jennings is a great shooter but 6-3 shooting guards are a dime a dozen.  He's basically a rich man's Chirs Loften who never sniffed an NBA contract.  Elizus or whatever his name will get drafted in the 2nd round just because of his measurements.  Will probably get parked in the D-league for a year or two and probably never make the show. 

Vandy picked the wrong year to have a historally good team by Vandy standards.  I think there are going to be 4-5 great teams this year who would beat 10' Duke or 11' UConn by double digits.  Vandy should make it past the first weekend provided they don't have to play UNC or UConn in the second round. 

Some coaches just have a knack for the NCAA tourney (Izzo) and some don't.  Not to say Vandy will never make a final four because even a bad coach can catch lightning in a bottle (John Brady LSU anyone).

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