Thursday, February 27, 2014

ATTENTION: Commodore Fans Who Don't Live in Nashville

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Vanderbilt Coaching Search 2014

It is likely that no one will read this since we haven't posted in well over a year.  However, if you are interested in hearing from the VSL Brain Trust, follow us on Twitter: @VSLNation, @StanimalVSL, @BobbyOSheaVSL and SeamusOToooleVSL. With wives, jobs and babies, 140 characters is all we can manage.

Anchor Down.

Friday, April 12, 2013

We don't do much writing about Vandy sports

But fortunately there are some less lame people out there.

See, for example, the front page of the college football section on  An excerpt:
While his first two seasons at the helm were described with words like potential, this year, there’s a need for of fulfillment. “There isn’t anything easy in the SEC,” Franklin said. “But there’s no doubt there’s an expectation [this season]. In the first year, we thought we could win. Last year, we believed we could win. Now there’s an expectation, not only externally, but internally in our program.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Commodores Cap Historic Season with Top 25 Ranking

Add "Top 25" to the list of accomplishments for this year's Vanderbilt Football team. 

After winning the Music City Bowl with a 38-24 win over N.C. State to earn their 9th win of the season (their most since 1915), the Commodores conclude the 2012-13 season ranked 20th in the USA Today/Coaches Poll and 23 by the Associated Press. This is the first time Vanderbilt has been ranked at the end of the season since 1948. Soon enough, such accomplishments will become commonplace and won't conjure images of a bygone era.  Still, it is nothing short of incredible how Coach James Franklin, his staff, and the Vanderbilt administration, led by Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams, have set the Commodores on this meteoric rise.  Think about this: on January 8, 2011, Vanderbilt had won 4 games in two years; the team and had just hired a coach, of whom many were skeptical; and Commodore fans were (understandably) nervous that perpetual doormat was our SEC fate. Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

Friday, December 21, 2012

VSL Gets You Ready: Previewing Vanderbilt vs. MTSU

The Commodores take on Papa O'Shea's alma mater this evening at Bridgestone Arena.  The game will be televised nationally on ESPN U.

Much like the Commodores of a year ago, MTSU has to consider this to be "the year".  Head Coach Kermit Davis has the second most experienced team in the NCAA.  While it appears that this game, at the moment, is unlikely to be the kind of resume builder that Coach Davis would like, it would be a large boost to his program to claim a victory over Vanderbilt this season.  Last year, the Commodores claimed a seven point victory over the Blue Raiders, one of four victories over the past four contests that Vandy can claim.

That may still be easier said than done.  Judging from the comments section in my previous post, I am one of the few who is taking a ride on this Commodore bandwagon (either that or our readers have long since abandoned us).  Regardless, I think this is a dangerous game for Middle.  They gain very little by winning, and lose quite a bit by dropping to this squad in their hopes to reach the NCAA tournament via an at-large bid.  A loss here would basically seal Middle's fate to winning the Sun Belt in order to punch their ticket.

While Middle is experienced, this is an interesting matchup because it is "strength-on-strength".  Middle is not particularly talented in post scoring, though they do create extra shots by getting after the offensive glass.  However, this version of the Commodores excels at limiting second chance opportunities.  Who controls the glass when the Commodores are on defense will be an integral part of this game.

Similarly, Middle thrives off steals and turnovers.  Vanderbilt has been very good about taking care of the ball, and especially about not allowing steals and transition points.  Middle attempts significantly more two point field goals than threes (mostly off put back attempts), but they aren't particularly potent inside the arc on the first shot.  Middle has a couple of long-range bombers, but those guys are not the primary force of their game plan (though Raymond Cintron does take a tremendous number of three point shots), and Vandy is vastly better at defending the perimeter than the paint.  Middle excels at getting to the line, but Vandy isn't one to foul unneccessarily.

To me, winning this game will be about controlling the defensive glass.  This is where having a guy like Kevin Bright can be a huge advantage for us.  Offensively, we have to find ways to attack the basket and not be too three reliant, which unfortunately has been our M.O. this season.  The reason here is two-fold:  (1) Middle fouls a whole heck of a lot and puts people on the line people on the line a ridiculous 43% of field goal attempts, and (2) Middle is a crappy interior defensive team, allowing almost 50% at that point.

With this in mind, I expect a low-scoring and somewhat slow tempo game.  I think Vandy does a great job limiting second chance opportunities, but doesn't do enough from the line or on the inside to come out on top.  However, I feel pretty good about Vanderbilt covering the -6.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Moment to Taste A Little Crow: Trying to Sell You on 2013-2014 Vanderbilt Basketball

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I am a big Kevin Stallings' detractor, I simply wonder if perhaps he has run his course at Vanderbilt.  But today I'm going to eat just a feather or two of crow.

I understand if some of y'all aren't at that point yet.  After all, this Vanderbilt team is merely 5-4, has a horrible double-digit loss to Marist under its belt, and has yet to enter conference play.  If you are concerned about having horrible losses on your resume, then you aren't understanding what this year for Vanderbilt basketball is all about.  You can't say never, but this team's chances of making the big dance are slim to say the least, and the only situation in which a bad loss really matters is when the Selection Committee is making decisions for the field of 68.  Therefore, take those poor performances and add context to them, because they are more about how the team responds than they are about how the season will play out.

I'm sitting down at the table early for my avian fare because I believe the early exit polls show there is far more in this cupboard than most initially thought.  It's hard to quantify it with numbers at this point because nine games is such a small sample, but there's just something there when you watch these guys that makes you think a couple of key cogs could drastically improve the team as a whole.

This is a different perspective than I had at the end of last season, where I looked at recruiting strike-outs and player losses and arrived at the conclusion that it would be a long time before this program was back on the national radar.  There are two reasons for my sudden change in attitude: 1) a deeper and more talented than expected backcourt and 2) Kevin Bright.

The backcourt's offensive and defensive capabilities have surprised to a large extent, thanks to big improvement out of Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller.  Kedren was somewhat of a known commodity, but his offensive numbers have been stellar when compared to his freshman year, and further when compared to the rest of the SEC.  He's averaging 17 ppg and shooting .418 from three.  Per Ken Pomeroy, he is 10th in the SEC in effective Field Goal% (fgs made/field goals attempted with heavier weight on threes) and has improved that rating by over 20% from last year (59.4%).  The important thing to note is that Kedren is utilizing nearly 28% of the team's possessions at this point while taking more shots than anyone else on the team.  He has thrived as his minutes have tripled, and he's only going to get better.

Much the same can be said about Fuller.  Thought to be in line for transferring last year, Fuller opted to stay on and has gotten his opportunity due to Dai-Jon Parker's suspension.  To say he's made the most of it is an understatement.  While Fuller still struggles with scoring consistency (only a 47.4 eFG%), his biggest jump has been his ability to limit his OGKF moments.  Per Ken Pomeroy, his turnover rate (turnovers/possessions where the player touches the ball) is nearly half what it is for his career, while his assist rate (assists/field goals made by player's teammates while he is on the floor) is nearly identical to Kedren Johnson's.  Furthermore, Fuller has demonstrated himself to be the only capable free throw shooter on the team while getting to the line about four times a game.  He has also proven himself to be a good perimeter defender.  But what has really impressed me about Fuller has been the intangibles.  Twice now Kyle Fuller has turned it on huge in big points of games, most notably his 12 point onslaught in overtime against Xavier.  He plays much more within himself and controlled, making heady decisions with the ball.  But even more than that, he's learned to use his agility and ball-handling to create penetration into the lane.  Don't believe me?  Go watch the Cornell game, specifically at 5:12 in the first half.  Fuller's move to the rack was a thing of beauty.

This backcourt duo has been the rock for this squad thus far, and it's only going to get better with Dai-Jon Parker now back from suspension, and next year will have more depth with Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan in the fold.  The other part of this equation, Kevin Bright, needs even less explanation.

It's hard not to look at the way Bright plays and be impressed.  Bright is a more developed freshman than most, having spent a signficant amount of time in international play.  This does raise some questions about his ceiling (a la A.J. Ogilvy), but right now you gotta think his play will only get better.  Bright is averaging about 7 ppg while scoring a ridiculous 61.2 % eFG (good for top 100 in the nation!).  He's arguably the team's best three point shooter, where he has more FGs made than 2 point attempts.  What's amazing is that he is a tremendously efficient defensive rebounder, on par with Lance Goulbourne in his junior and senior year. He is top 50 in defensive rebounding %.  Bright is yet another gem from the foreign pipeline for Stallings, and solidifies the three spot in future years.  Place developmental guys like Sheldon Jeter, Bamba Siakam, and A.J. Astroth in there and there's some depth at the wings without too much pressure to develop quickly.

The real question lies in our post play, an area where we sorely need help from top-100 recruit Damian Jones.  While Josh Henderson, Shelby Moats, and Rod Odom have fought admirably, Vanderbilt's defensive woes rest inside the three point line, where they allow teams to score on 47.6% of their 2-point attempts.  They do a nice job of not fouling and also of limiting opposing offensive rebounds, but are weak at getting their own put backs.  This is the unit where the loss of our big three (Jenkins, Taylor, Ezeli), is most strongly felt, as Festus was in the top-50 in the nation in block percentage for two years straight, very tough shoes to fill.  The addition of a strong defensive post like Jones will bring a strong positive impact for this squad.

In addition, Vanderbilt is heavily reliant on the three offensively, where they are among the tops in the NCAA in bombing away, and among the bottom in shots inside the arc.  Of course, this leads to less free throw attempts, where the 'Dores are again among the bottom dwellers in the NCAA, which may not be a bad thing entirely when you consider how poorly they shoot free throws (a near NCAA worst 59.5% as a team!)

These observations don't come without a caveat.  Vanderbilt has feasted on some fairly weak opponents of late and is about to hit a difficult stretch to close out 2012 (against MTSU on neutral court, against Butler at home).  While expectations should remain somewhat low in those matchups, they are opportunities for these guys to taste high level competition, so watching how they respond will be interesting.
Free throw shooting can be improved on a yearly basis, as can interior scoring, but the team could sorely use a defensive body in the post.  Given the solid base that our backcourt provides, the team desperately needs improvement out of Josh Henderson, Shelby Moats, and Rod Odom.  A boost from any one (and preferably two), along with a solid freshman campaign from Jones, could legitimately have this team back near the tournament bubble by season's end next year, a far cry from where I initially thought (my original prediction was 2014-2015).  With a little bit of recruiting luck, Vanderbilt could get their shot as a top 25 squad in perhaps three years, and could provide what most Vanderbilt fans truly crave, a deep March run.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Vanderbilt's Headed to the Music City Bowl, Are You?

The 8-4 Commodores will take on NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on December 31, 2012 on ESPN.  Kick-off is at 11:30 central. You can buy your tickets here

I know many of you were disappointed with your seats at the Liberty Bowl and are considering getting tickets from the secondary market. I would encourage you not to do so. One of the reasons Vanderbilt is staying home for the bowling season is because of the perception that Commodore fans won't travel.  It doesn't matter that that characterization has no basis in fact: when it comes to bowl selection committees, perception is reality.  The more tickets Vanderbilt sells (and hotel rooms our fans book), the more likely bowl selection committees are going to invite the Commodores in the future.  

We will have bowl updates in the days and weeks to come.  If you're on the fence (especially as a non-Nashvillian), make the trip.  A Vanderbilt bowl game and getting to spend New Year's Eve in Music City, do you really have something better to do?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

VSL's First (But Not Last) Word on Vanderbilt's Bowl Prospects

Here's what we know. The SEC has 9 bowl-eligible teams, one of whom will play Notre Dame for the BCS National Championship, and another who will play in one of the other BCS bowls (likely the Sugar Bowl).  After the BCS bowls, the hierarchy is as follows:
  • Capitol One
  • Outback Bowl/Cotton Bowl (Cotton Bowl has preference of teams from the SEC Western and the Outback Bowl has preference of teams from the SEC Eastern. The bowls can select teams outside of its divisional preference, but cannot select them before the opposite bowl selects from its divisional preference)
  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Gator
  • Music City
  • Liberty
  • BBVA Compass
Vanderbilt finished the season 8-4 (5-3) with the same overall record as Mississippi State, but a better conference record after the Bulldogs lost the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss (giving the Rebels 6 wins and bowl eligibility). Despite having a better conference record, bowl selection committees are free to choose either the Commodores or Mississippi State, which means the decision is likely to come down to the school that they think will travel better.  If you limit the discussion to bowls with SEC tie-ins (not a given considering how many conferences have more tie-ins than eligible teams), the Commodores are probably looking at four possible destinations: Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Gator Bowl, Music City Bowl, and the BBVA Compass Bowl. Complicating matters is that Mississippi State played in the Music City Bowl last year and the Commodores played in the Liberty Bowl, meaning those destinations are probably off the board for each team. 

Given the fact that all bowl eligible SEC teams other than Ole Miss and Mississippi State have better records than the Commodores, Vanderbilt is unlikely to "jump" any of these teams. There is a remote possibility that the Chick-Fil-A bowl may take the Commodores, but a lot of things would have to happen (The SB Nation site for Mississippi State, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls teases out the scenario where Vanderbilt ends up in Atlanta).

Right now, the most important thing for Vanderbilt fans to do is pre-order tickets for bowl games, especially the Chick-Fil-A and Gator Bowls. The more tickets that are sold on the front-end, the easier it will be for Vice Chancellor Williams the rest of the Vanderbilt administration to "sell" Vanderbilt to the selection committees as a program that will travel. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

James Franklin Tennessee Post-Game Press Conference

Coach Franklin starts off the press conference by saying: "The one thing Vanderbilt always does, is focus on being 1-0 this week." He couldn't hide a smile. Well played, sir. 

1,000 Words

Photo from

A Win Over Tennessee Doth a Season Make

I'll be the first to admit it -- when Vandy lost to Northwestern, it felt like some of the air was taken out of this football season.

A week later, when Rodgers was benched against Presbyterian, it started to smell a bit like scapegoating (never a good sign, but especially so early in the year).

On the heels of the Rodgers/Carta-Samuels drama, the Dores simply failed to show up in Athens and things were starting to look ugly.  Was SOV back in the saddle again?  Did CJF, for all his passion and salesmanship, have the ability to manage and unite a team through the inevitable ups and downs of a season?  Was he trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with his offensive game-planning?  Were we destined to retake our seat in the cellar of the SEC East?

Ancient history.  Take a look at what's happened since: Wins over Missouri, Auburn and Ole Miss that an awful lot of people would not have predicted at the start of the season.  Four straight victories heading into the final conference game.  A 6-4 record and bowl eligible with two games to spare.

In short, Vanderbilt has been quietly putting together the kind of season that we in the Braintrust (recall that 3 of 4 of us predicted an 8-4 record or better) had hoped for given the way the schedule set up and the backfield talent that was just waiting to be unleashed.  And it's been accomplished by winning close games down the stretch, which was the hump that everyone agreed Vandy would have to get over if we wanted to take the program to the next level.  Credit where due -- there's been a lot to get excited about over the past month.

But here's the thing.  For me, and I suspect for many others, the success or failure of this season hinges on one thing and one thing only: what happens tonight at Dudley Field.

Let's face it, whether we finish 8-4 or 7-5 or 6-6, the bowl selection isn't likely to be all that different.  Sure, we've got an outside shot at the Gator Bowl if we get some help from the likes of Arkansas or Ole Miss (Mississippi State's remaining opponents), but realistically Vanderbilt seems to be headed for something a tad less glamorous and a lot closer in proximity to Nashville, TN.

So while I have no idea how effective Zac Stacy is going to be coming off the leg injury; while I'm not quite sure how Jordan Rodgers will handle the pressure coming off a game-winning drive against Ole Miss but surely still haunted by memories of what happened in Knoxville last year; and while I have no clue what CJF has been doing (other than apparently not showing the infamous Derek Dooley tape) to get his team mentally prepared, I do know this:

Beating the Vols would make my year.

VU vs. UT: Who Ya Got?

Give us your score predictions in the comments section. Bobby O'Shea is giving away two basketball tickets to a mutually agreeable game* to whomever gets the closest. *The Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida games are not mutually agreeable. So don't ask.