To preview the Villanova-Vanderbilt game, I caught up with Christian D'Andrea from Anchor of Gold & Nashville Sports Hub to talk about The Battle of the V.
Vanderbilt is limited on impact players this season. Shooting guard Dai-Jon Parker was a top 50 recruit, but he's been suspended indefinitely without any official reason to start the season. Rod Odom is a junior small forward who can shoot, but he's been doing too damn much of it and it's usually ended badly for the 'Dores. He's connecting on just 30.4% of his shots from the field this season. The other wild card is freshman Kevin Bright. He was a member of Germany's National Under-18 club and he's been solid in limited use so far this season. He may be due for a breakout game at home.
"33 points? 33 goddamn points? That's all we got?" Seriously, walk me through WTF happened in that Marist game.
Vandy doesn't have a go-to scorer. Kedren Johnson is close, but still unpolished. They also don't have anyone in the post who can create easy baskets. That means that this team relies on its jump shooting, and when that's off you somehow end up scoring 30 points in 39 minutes against goddamn Marist.
On the plus side, it gave Vandy fans across the country a solid visual to accompany the term "basketball abortion."
What happened in the last couple of years at Vandy? Y'all looked like you were ready to make a climb to the SEC elite and now 2012-2013 happened. What and who is to blame?
We all knew that 2012-2013 was coming, and that it was going to be bad. Vanderbilt lost 93% of its scoring thanks to the graduation of five seniors and losing John Jenkins to the draft. Of those six players, three are in the NBA and another two have latched on in the D-League. That's a lot of talent to replace in one year.
That was compounded when the 2012 recruiting class came up thinner than usual. Bright and Sheldon Jeter could both blossom into next-level players, and A.J. Astroth is a nice shooting specialist, but there isn't a big time prospect like Festus Ezeli or Jeffery Taylor in that group. That's the result of Kevin Stallings putting all of his energy behind recruiting Alex Poythress, only to be spurned at the last minute when Poythress left his hometown to vacate championships at Kentucky.
Things will get better. This team is extremely young and only has two upperclassmen - both juniors - on the roster. Next year, top five center Damian Jones will be in tow. If things go according to play, he'll pick up a blooming Vandy big man tradition that Ezeli and A.J. Ogilvy created in the mid-'00s. Plus, Johnson and Parker, both sophomores, showed flashes of being a big-time backcourt for this team, even if that won't happen in '12-13.
It looks bad right now, but signs suggest that this is a rebuilding year rather than a return to the Vandy teams of old.
How much pressure is there mounting on Kevin Stallings, even with the tenure he has?
Vandy fans are fickle with Stallings. There were plenty of cries to fire him after the Marist loss, and I'm sure he had to put out plenty of flaming bags of dog crap with his boots after that one. His lack of postseason success - one NCAA tournament win in three years with a roster full of NBA draft picks - also works against him.
Still, he's got a history with this team and does well recruiting at a school that has plenty of drawbacks when it comes to bringing in players. I think he'll be safe in this rebuilding year, but if things get worse in '13-14 he'll be in trouble. The best thing he can do this season is showcase growth amongst a roster full of young players. If Vandy can go from putting up 33 points against Marist to taking Florida to the wire in early March, then that will go a long way in proving that he can still be effective at Vanderbilt.
Villanova has seen its homecourt advantage decline in the past few seasons as the fairweather fans have disappeared. Is that happening at Vandy and what can we expect Memorial Gym to look like Saturday night?
This year has definitely been an adjustment. To be fair, the 'Dores haven't had a home game since their bed-crapping against Marist, so it will be interesting to see how the fans adjust. Vanderbilt has only played Nicholls State in Nashville so far, so whether the students and the crowd shows up in force is still an unknown. Playing on a Friday night will help, but if I had to guess I'd say that the student section will have a few empty rows in the back against a 3-3 Villanova team.
How do you see this game shaking out?
That's a tough one. If Vanderbilt is shooting well, they can be a very dangerous team. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened too often this season. Villanova will have the edge on the glass, and that means that a sloppy affair will probably tilt in their favor. Vandy's offense is just too volatile for me to pick them against a BCS opponent right now (except Boston College), even if they are playing a struggling Wildcat team.
Villanova 59, Vanderbilt 55.