Monday, March 17, 2008

10 thoughts from Selection Sunday...

The brackets are out and the fourth-seeded Commodores will take on 13th-seeded Siena Friday at 6:20 p.m. (CT) at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. in the first round of the Midwest Regional. The winner will play either No. 5 Clemson or No. 12 Villanova on Sunday.

It’s the Commodores second consecutive trip to the Big Dance. It’s the first time they’ve had back-to-back appearances since ’88-’89 and their second highest seed in school history. Vandy was a No. 3 seed in 1993. It’s also the Commodores’ 10th overall trip to the NCAA Tournament and coach Kevin Stallings’ third in five seasons, a testament to the fantastic job he's done with this program. Here are 10 other thoughts as I rewind from a long and tornado-filled weekend:

1) Vandy clearly got a favorable seed and draw.

According to SI's Luke Winn and Vegas Watch's Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, the Dores are the tourney's most overseeded team. Although I disagree with their take slightly, it's hard to argue that Vandy is fortunate to be a 4 seed with a good Achance to advance to its second straight Sweet 16. I was at tonight's press conference with coach Kevin Stallings and players Shan Foster and Ross Neltner, and they all said they were expecting anywhere from a 4 to 6 seed.

And the fact that national pundits are taking shots at the Dores suits Foster and company just fine. They seem to like playing with a chip on their shoulder better anyways.

"That’s kind of been the story of my life here at Vanderbilt," Foster said. "All four years we’ve been the underdog."

2) Stallings has known Siena coach Fran McCaffery for a long time and thinks highly of both him and his team.

"He and I were assistants back in the Midwest together. He's always done a really good job wherever he's been. I've had a chance to see a little bit of tape already and they look like a very well coached, very high energy basketball team with some guys that can make shots and can make plays off the dribble and draw fouls. They have a lot of really good players and a lot of really good pieces. When you get to this point, every team you're going to play is going to be a good team so we'll embrace the fact that we've got a tough team to play and certainly try to get ready for the challenge."
-Kevin Stallings
3) The fact that four starters (Jermaine Beal, Shan Foster, Alex Gordon, Ross Neltner) have NCAA Tournament experience shouldn't go unnoticed.

"Having that experience last year will really benefit our team. We understand what it takes to win and the tournament format. We have a lot of guys coming back that played a lot of minutes in last year’s tournament so the upperclassmen will try to convey to younger guys about the tournament and how important it is and how everybody steps their game up another level because you lose and you’re done. For me and Shan, our career is over. And for the other guys, their season is over."
-Forward Ross Neltner
4) Last year's Vanderbilt squad was harder to prepare for and mentally tougher than this year's, but not necessarily better.

"I think it was probably tougher for people to get ready for us last year," Stallings said. "Our team was unconventional and difficult. And not only difficult because it was unconventional, it was difficult because we were good and we were tough. That team was an extremely hard-nosed, tough basketball team."

At the same time, Derrick Byars and company lacked an inside presence like A.J. Ogilvy. They depended heavily on the 3-point shoot and struggled to get to the foul line. This year's squad has a much easier time getting easy baskets inside, which is crucial.

Still, I don't think this team has the "it" factor and killer instinct that the 2007 Commodores had, although I guess they still have a week to get it...

5) A sign that Vandy is in trouble: Stallings said his two areas of concern are "sustained defensive intensity" and rebounding.

If a team is still addressing those issues now, the odds aren't good that they'll be fixed by Friday.

6) The Southeastern Conference should be thankful.

At one point, only three SEC teams were locks for the Big Dance. But, thanks to an impressive league performance by Kentucky and strong tournament runs from Arkansas and Cinderella Georgia, the SEC sent six teams to the tourney. The only disappointment is that Tennessee lost its No. 1 seed and was put in the same bracket as UNC, the top overall seed.

7) Joe Lunardi is either really good or a cheater.

Or probably both. The ESPN Bracketologist nailed all 65 teams correctly, although he made a couple of adjustments late in the afternoon (bumping Illinois State out, for example) that make you wonder whether he had any inside tips...

While Lunardi was right on with the field, he wasn't the best at projecting the seeds. Vegas Watch tells us that honor goes to SI's Stewart Mandel.

8) The Selection Committee worries about what teams they put in the field, not where they put them.

How else do you explain this?
-No. 7 Butler playing No. 10 South Alabama in Birmingham?
-No. 7 Gonzaga playing No. 10 Davidson in Raleigh?
-No. 1 Memphis playing in the South Regional (with the second weekend being in Houston) along with No. 2 Texas?

9) The Selection Committee needs to become more transparent so coaches, fans, writers, etc. know what it looks for in teams.

"Unless you’re behind those doors of that committee, you don’t know what they place the most value on," Stallings said.

10) Stallings isn't sold on his Commodores just yet so neither should we.

"There are a number of things that we do better this year than we did a year ago, but I'm not going to sit here and profess our team ready to be a tournament team," he said. "I think we'll find that out."

Stallings asked some great questions that no one knows the answers to just yet.

"It's about the teams that get on a roll and catch fire right now, and that could certainly be us," he said. "We have the elements. We have the pieces. Do we have the focus, the ability to limit the distractions, the ability to rebound and play with that sustained defensive intensity that it takes in this tournament?"

What do you guys think? How does this year's team compare to last year's? Does Vanderbilt have what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? Or is it overrated and ready to be knocked out in the first or second round? Leave your comments below...


Greg Viverito said...

I'm actually glad to hear Stallings' comments because I think it shows that the team (or at least he) is still grounded in reality. While I think this team can beat anyone in the field, they can also probably lose to anyone too. Hopefully that attitude dominates practice this week and becomes evident as we see some of that sustained defensive pressure. Lets see a little more Jamie Graham and a little less of Metcalfe's fat ass.

David Shochat said...

I would really be disappointed if they lose to Siena. Siena has very little size so i hope that AJ can dominate like he did against Auburn who has little size as well. Siena did beat Stanford, but Stanford's best player Brook Lopez was still academically ineligible so i don't put much stock in that. If Vandy has to play Clemson, we are done. They are exactly the athletic type of team we struggle with. If Nova somehow gets the upset, I think we can beat Nova because of their lack of size. Basically from here on out the Commodores will be able to win as long as they get favorable match-ups. Once they play an athletic team with decent size, they will lose because when it comes down to it this team does not have the mental toughness it needs to have, can't play defense or rebound, and they just aren't that good of a team away from Memorial.

Chip Robie said...

In comparing this year's team to last year's, what strikes me is that there's no real defensive play-maker. Any Dores fan can recall the Derrick Byars block in the Wash St. game. Without that bit of athleticism, this year's Dores have plenty to worry about. I think Greg is right; this team can play with anyone--especially when Foster gets hot--but because of some of the factors already mentioned (poor defense and inability to rebound) we could go down to almost anyone. That said, with an extremely steady point guard in Jermaine Beal and a plethora of tournament experienced players, I trust that the Dores will eek out a couple of victories.