Sunday, March 23, 2008

Picked-up pieces from the NCAA Tourney

1,472 miles, $246 and six Tay Fisher 3-pointers later, I'm finally back in Nashville, where I'm still trying to figure out how Vanderbilt lost by 21 points to Siena. (On a completely random note, a car full of Tennessee fans pulled up alongside us yesterday on the ride home and held a sign up in the window that read "Sienna." No punchline needed. Just classic.)

A few closing thoughts:

-It's no secret that the Commodores lost because they couldn't defend. They have not been a particularly good defensive team all season, especially away from Memorial Gym, so perhaps we were naive to assume that it was going to be different against a Siena team that excelled at beating opponents off the dribble.

Stallings blamed himself for his team's defensive deficiencies.

"The disappointment was really all season long I didn't get this team to play defensively the way it had to play on a consistent enough basis for us to win the way we wanted to win," he said. "Now, 26-8 is not a terrible year, but we just never were consistent defensively. And, again, that's my responsibility. It's completely my responsibility. I was just never able to push the right button with this group because we worked harder defensively all season long than we did offensively."

I don't think it's fair to put all the blame on the coach. It wasn't Stallings who got beat off the dribble. It wasn't Stallings who got caught up in screens. It wasn't Stallings who failed to close out on shooters.

My take is this: Vanderbilt just didn't have the personnel or mindset to defend at high level for 40 minutes a night. Stallings couldn't have said or done anything to change that.

-Sophomore Jermaine Beal probably summed it up best.

"That's why they call it March Madness because anything can happen," he said. "Siena just came out, played harder than us, and they beat us pretty bad."

That's really all it comes down to: effort. It's not that the Commodores didn't care or that they didn't want to win -- of course they did. It's just that Siena wanted it more. They had the look in their eyes and swag in their step that Derrick Byars and Dan Cage had last year. They knew they were going to win.

"In other years we've been able to kind of get that switched around when the tournament has come," coach Kevin Stallings said, "and for whatever reason we weren't able to get that done this particular season."

-The fact that Tampa saw four upsets on Friday (Western Kentucky over Drake, San Diego over UConn, Siena over Vandy, Villanova over Clemson) shouldn't come as too much of a surprise given the state of college basketball.

I asked Stallings if he thought the gap between mid-majors and majors was closing and here's what he said:

"I think the nature of the NCAA Tournament is not about seeding; it's about match-ups. Do you get match-up that's good for you? And Siena, obviously, got a match-up that was good for them. Western Kentucky got a match-up that I thought was good for them. Obviously, San Diego made the most of their match-up.

"So again, so much of it depends on how you're playing when you hit the tournament and then who you draw...Yeah, the gap probably is closing because there a lot of good players out there.I think that shows through. There are some guys on that Siena team, obviously, that would be very successful SEC players. So maybe that gap is closing.

The point is not that Siena is better than Vanderbilt, but rather that higher-seeded teams like the Commodores don't have much margin for error.

-Like us here at The Sports VU, Stallings said he is "a big Jamie Graham fan."

"He has really added a lot to our team and added a lot to the personality of it," Stallings said. "You just don't know how much progress a guy can make when he plays football and you're only going to have him for part of the year. Jamie was a very welcome addition, and really, really a great guy to have on our team this, and we loved every minute of having him, and I thought he played very well when he was in there (Friday)."


-Even after the loss, Stallings said he thought Vanderbilt might have overachieved this season.

"I really think that we probably overachieved in some respects," he said. "I think if you look at the season as a whole, I think that this group got a lot out of itself."

Stallings makes an interesting point. At the beginning of the season, how many of you expected this team to win 26 games? Probably not many.

-To Shan Foster, Alex Gordon, Alan Metcalfe and Ross Neltner, I say thanks. This program, and this university, is not going to be the same without you. Remember that you've accomplished too much and done too many special things to allow your careers be defined by one game.

As Stallings said, "There really isn't anything you could ask for more than what these guys were able to give."

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts/comments below.


David Shochat said...

I agree that it is not Stallings fault for the defensive effort. That is on the players. Stallings can only say and do so much. With that said, it is Stallings responsibility to know his team and bring in players to give him a dynamic look. If you look at this year's team, we had A.J. down low and a bunch of shooters. We had no one who could create off the dribble like Byars could nor did we have anyone who could defend other team's guards except for Graham. I hope Stallings sees that, which i am sure he does, and recruits some guys who can get their own shot and play good defense. Shooters are great and all, but if they are not on and that is pretty much all you have then it does your team no good. Recruiting needs to turns it's focus away from shooters and on to guys who can create off the dribble and defend. With only a few scholarships left (two I believe) for the next two years, Stallings better make them count because our team is pretty one dimensional right now esp. at the guards.

Anonymous said...

I too was at the game and completely depressed about the trip. the only highlight was the ten minute pep rally.

Next year we need a shrink on board to get these kids ready and get them in the mindset. I fear that the media comments seeped into their heads. What I cannot understand is the juniors and seniors were on that same Sweet 16 team. This wasn't their first time at the rodeo so to speak.

Can't we bring in a defensive coordinator next year?


Jarred Amato said...

Binkycat, I'm all on board for bringing in a defensive coordinator next season.
And like you, I wonder how a team with three senior starters who have tourney experience could come out so flat and play with such little emotion. and the only players who seemed to have any fire (other than jamie graham) were two freshmen, A.J. Ogilvy and Keegan Bell.
I kept waiting for them to make a run and they never did. It's not that the players didn't want to win, but they never seemed to have that urgency or passion that you need to play with in the tourney. as stallings said, they never turned on the switch. i'm not sure we'll ever know ehy.