Well, at least we didn’t lose the midweek game.
Last year, the Vanderbilt baseball team had some inexplicable struggles in midweek games against inferior opponents. While Vanderbilt did beat Evansville 5-4 last night, the game did bring back some bad memories. The Commodores fell behind 2-0 early and had to rally back, then gave away a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning. Hugh Fisher got the win in relief and Jake Eder got a save; Jayson Gonzalez hit a homer.
Obviously, the weekend series (for reasons beyond my comprehension, ask Andrew VU ‘04 about this) are a much bigger deal than the midweek ones. But the latter still count in your record and your RPI, and last year they may well have been the difference in Vanderbilt hosting a regional. Let’s not do this again.
Women’s basketball hosts Alabama tonight at 7:00 PM CT on the SEC Network+. The women have lost six straight since picking up their lone SEC win of the season.
The swim team: still in 12th.
Also, I forgot to mention this in yesterday’s Anchor Drop, but we have a new graduate transfer cornerback: Illinois’ Cameron Watkins, who played high school ball locally at Pearl-Cohn. Yes he’s friends with Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Tweet of the Day
Yep. Former Duke player Carlos Boozer attempted to send get well wishes to Zion Williamson, and instead sent them to Zion National Park.
Off the West End
Well, Nike lost Zion Williamson last night. Welcome to Big Baller Brand, Zion:
Zion blows right *through* his shoe pic.twitter.com/uuiUayOSNL— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 21, 2019
Everybody saw that on national TV. Guess who else did?
Meanwhile, probably not the smartest thing to say to someone who’s in the process of dropping 30 on you:
Duke player to Luke Maye: “You’re not a 5 star or even a 4 star player”...— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) February 21, 2019
Luke Maye: “No I’m not..but I’m killing a lot of y’all who are “
(God, I hope no Vanderbilt player said this to Grant Williams.)
Also, it’s been a bad year for the Georgia student section. First a baseball player yelled racial slurs at Justin Fields and now... this:
We’re playing baseball tonight, supposedly.
Evansville Purple Aces (1-2) at Vanderbilt Commodores (2-1)
When: 6:30 PM CT, Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Where: Hawkins Field, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network+
Pitching Matchup: Evansville RHP Shane Gray (0-0, 0.00) vs. Vanderbilt RHP Chance Huff (1-0, 27.00)
Well, supposedly we’re playing baseball tonight.
Vanderbilt’s home opener against Evansville has been pushed back from 4:30 to 6:30 due to weather.
At 2:;12 PM light rain is forming to our west. This will be the "on" portion of our "off and on" light rain this afternoon. Turning the spigot off tonight. pic.twitter.com/4FMOsuFX6X— NashSevereWx (@NashSevereWx) February 20, 2019
Vanderbilt plays the first of 15 straight home games after going 2-1 in Arizona to open the season. Freshman Chance Huff will get his first start after getting the win in relief of Drake Fellows on Friday, albeit after giving up three runs in an inning.
Evansville salvaged their season-opening series against Mercer with a 7-2 win on Sunday, though they enter with a 1-2 record.
...and if you don’t know, now you know.
Letters... we get letters... we get sacks and sacks of letters...
Question from VandyImport:
Should I be worried that we’re averaging giving up a run per inning all season to teams ranked below us?
If we haven’t halved that by the end of this weekend, yes. In other words, no. Not yet. I know this is more of a Tom Stephenson answer, but it’s the correct one. We’ve got the arm talent, but the first month of the season is always for sorting out the rotation and bullpen. Think of it like spring training: some come in ready, and others need a few trips to the mound to get their timing down, get their grips right, and then to throw a few more innings for muscle memory to take over. Raby looked ready (which is the best news we could have gotten from this weekend, honestly), as did Hickman, King, and Eder. Fellows, Rocker, and Franklin did not. Some of the freshmen, like Huff and Smith, showed they have the talent to be forces for us down the line, but will be projects for Scott Brown to work with in the Pitching Lab. I haven’t seen anything thus far that smacks of Turd Ferguson-esque wildness. They have the next 15 games at home to iron out the kinks. Talent wins out in the end.
More importantly, should you be worried? You, who would ride out a nuclear apocalypse clad in a seersucker suit with cocktail in hand? You, who spent your youth with a “Cousin-Pa” in Alabama and ended up with a degree from Vanderbilt, working at a world class university in the Silly Con Valley (*okay, it’s a Junior College, but one hell of a Junior College)?
You, worried? No.
Question from Athanatos504:
1. Do you give Rocker at least one more Sunday start or drop him to a midweek game next week to settle his jitters?
2. Has there been a status report on Infante? Did he sustain a concussion? If so, will it improve his ability to lay off breaking balls in the dirt?
If I was pitching coach Scott Brown, I would seriously consider stretching out So. LHP Jake Eder’s arm in the mid-week spot. He pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning on Sunday, but I think he has been underutilized to this point in his Vanderbilt career. He got 9 starts as a freshman, and though he didn’t have the best ERA last year (5+), he has a three pitch mix, and big lefties with an easy delivery and a 96mph heater do not grow on trees. As such, here is what I would do: pair Hickman and Rocker as a tandem on Sundays—planning to give them around 4 IP each. At the moment, I would start with Hickman, and give him two turns through the Pepperdine lineup. If he’s cruising, that’s 5 innings. If he’s doing fine, that’s 4 innings. Either way, I’d plan for Rocker to come in after the first 18 batters. Ideally, he’s coming in with a pretty solid lead, and as such, less pressure. By giving them such a plan, they would feel like dual starters, and this could preserve the competition for the spot. Beyond that, for Rocker, knowing he is to come in the inning following Hickman’s 2nd pass through the lineup gives him more of a starters rhythm in terms of when to start warming up in the pen. This is not exactly uncommon in college baseball, especially in the postseason, and the idea is even gaining traction amongst MLB analytics types. SBNation Phillies writer Ethan Witte took a look into it for the Phillies rotation a few weeks back, and while it does not make as much sense for the current iteration of the Phillies, it could work with the Dores. Young pitchers are especially susceptible to performance drop-offs the third time through a line-up. Short of that, I’d ride with Hickman on Sundays and Rocker on Wednesdays (with Eder, King, and Smith as long relief options if either falter) until Rocker forces Brown’s hand.
Of course, they don’t exactly listen to me. Looks like Fr. RHP Chance Huff is going to get the ball Wednesday vs. Evansville.
Chance The Pitcher in the home opener tomorrow ⬇️ https://t.co/1svJ2s81qc— Max Herz (@MaxHerzTalks) February 19, 2019
As for your 2nd part question, Corbs is notoriously tight-lipped on player injuries. As there is no league requirement to give out injury reports, he just doesn’t do it. Short of Tommy John surgeries, we pretty much never know. Hell, Kyle Smith shattered his orbital bone, and then couldn’t see the ball for over a year, and all that was leaked out for the longest time was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. However, the fact that Chinfante came out in game one and did not return at all this weekend screams concussion. As for the last part of your 2nd question, I would love for Chinfante to undergo a Fred Flintstone hit with bowling ball style transformation that turns him into someone with epic plate discipline (“Frederico Chinstone”). Just don’t see it happening.
Question from ShawnerAllen:
First time long time. Could you rank your favorite uniform combinations? Bonus question, if you were a coach, would you wear a uniform or just a hitting jacket type thing?
Thanks. I’ll hang up and listen.
I actually really liked the gangster pajamas with script Vanderbilt they debuted Friday:
Following that, the white with gold script Vanderbilt is a good’n. Not a fan of any of the camouflage, gold with black lettering, or awkward red white and blue with flag lettering nonsense pairings.
As for all time baseball uniforms, I’m partial to the the 1980s Phillies’ powder blues and the Nolan Ryan era Houston Astros futuristic Astrodome nonsense:
For your last question, much like Bobby Hill, I would wear the full uniform... and a cape.
Question from Harry Billy Bob:
On what day will baseball’s number of wins surpass basketball?
Either March 2nd or March 3rd. In other words, this will happen before Senior Day in Memorial Gym vs. Arkansas. Poor Joe Toye.
Both teams had their worst offensive performance of the season last night.
The good news in Vanderbilt’s 58-46 loss to Tennessee on Tuesday night, such as it was: the 58 points were a season low for the Vols, and even on a per-possession basis, Tennessee had its worst offensive performance of the 2018-19 season. The bad news? Vanderbilt also had its worst offensive performance of the season.
The offensive gameplan that put 83 points on Tennessee last time around was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Vanderbilt took the ball straight at the basket. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but (a) the referees were calling a very loose game and (b) with few outside shooting threats to be concerned about, Tennessee just swarmed every drive to the basket. There were lots of missed layups, but those layups attempted had a high degree of difficulty.
The lack of adjustment to the officiating and what Tennessee was doing is concerning; but then, when you’re a team that shoots 31 percent from the arc, what else were you going to do? The fun part of this is that if Vanderbilt had good shooters lined up on the perimeter and players driving to the basket who could find them, the offense would look just fine. Instead, you get, well, this.
The Vanderbilt swim team finished the first day at the SEC Championships in 12th place.
Baseball has its home opener today, welcoming Evansville to the Hawk at 4:30 PM CT. Today’s game will be streaming on the SEC Network+.
Off the West End
Apparently former NBA referee Tim Donaghy made a lot of money betting on games he was officiating, according to Outside the Lines.
In any case, I am mystified as to why the Padres stopped using brown and yellow as their colors and started using the same boring dark blue that everybody else uses.
The Alliance of American Football nearly went broke and needed a $250 million cash infusion after just one week. I have questions, like “why is this league going broke” and “what is the angle of the Carolina Hurricanes CEO giving the league $250 million?”
With that said, there is a reason why minor league football played in the spring has never worked in practice. There’s only so much of a market of people who would rather watch subpar football than college basketball, the NBA, the NHL, MLB, or a million other things in the spring. And the leagues that have tried it have, frankly, gone too big from the start. Minor league sports only works when it’s either heavily subsidized by an affiliated, established pro league (like minor league baseball or the G-League), or, like independent league baseball, it’s tiny and doesn’t even try to compete with bigger leagues.
Vanderbilt held Tennessee to a season low in points. And, um, lost by 12.
For the second time this season, Vanderbilt has gone on the road to play a highly-ranked SEC opponent and held them to a season low in points. The Commodores did it to Kentucky in Rupp Arena back on January 12, and tonight, they did it to Tennessee.
They also lost both games.
In the first matchup between Vanderbilt and Tennessee, the two teams combined to shoot 53 free throws; tonight, they combined for 15. Vanderbilt shot 50 percent from the floor in the two teams’ first meeting and 32 percent tonight. And yet in spite of the offensive ineptitude, Vanderbilt stayed in the game until the closing minutes.
Things started inauspiciously tonight; after trading blows for the first few minutes, Tennessee went on a 9-0 run midway through the first half, followed by an 11-2 stretch late in the first half that gave the Vols a 36-22 lead with a minute and a half left. But then the Vols went cold: Tennessee scored two points over the next nine minutes of game action.
The only problem, though, was that Vanderbilt wasn’t scoring much either. Even with the Vols going ice cold, Vanderbilt could only cut the lead down to 38-34. While the Vols couldn’t put Vanderbilt away, Vanderbilt couldn’t make the shots it needed to come back. Simi Shittu cut the lead to 51-44 on a free throw with 4:03 left; but Vanderbilt would only score two more points from there. Aaron Nesmith led Vanderbilt with 13 points; Grant Williams had 14 points for Tennessee — a far cry from the 43 points he scored in Nashville.
Vanderbilt has now lost 14 games in a row and is 9-17 overall, 0-13 in the SEC.
Send questions to email@example.com
Letters... we get letters... we get sacks and sacks of letters...
After this weekend’s solid performance in Talking Stick, Arizona—beating UVA and CSF before losing Sunday’s game against TCU—and maintaining our #1 ranking, I know you’ve got baseball questions for me.
We’ve got position battles, we’ve got rotation battles, we’ve got 15 straight games at The Hawk starting tomorrow vs. Evansville, and this weekend vs. Pepperdine.
Austin “Bond Car” Martin was named both SEC Player of the Week and NCBWA National Hitter of the Week.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday afternoon/evening, and I’ll answer them in a post on Thursday afternoon.
*Note: Questions about other SEC baseball teams are welcome, too. I just won’t know as much about them, and will likely respond with juvenile, biased trash talk.
I will do this weekly as long as the questions keep coming in. If they dry up, no post. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
The Women’s Golf Team Won the Second of Back-to-Back Tournaments last Weekend
The Commodores won their second in as many tournaments last weekend when they captured the Reynolds Lake Oconee Challenge in at Reynolds Lake Golf Course in Greensboro, GA.
The women’s team shot +17 in a tournament marked by difficult weather over host team, Mercer University which shot +29. SEC teams participating were Kentucky and Missouri which shot +32 and +49, respectively. Full scoreboard here.
Auston Kim led the ‘Dores with three day total of 216, level par, at Reynolds Lake. She opened with a -2, 70 and then shot a +6 78 on the second day. She rebounded with a -4 68 for her final round, giving her an individual finish of T-2.
Abbey Carlson was the second finisher for Vandy. She shot 77, 71, 71 for a solo fifth place finish. It was a strong finish to a week full of promise as she aced a par three during her practice round.
Both Kim and Carlson have been stalwarts for this team this season. Kim recently won the SEC Freshman of the week award prior to the tournament.
The Women’s Golf team is ranked #6 in the country and has a scoring average right at 71.46 for scores taken each day. Their comparative record is 261/266 (meaning they have defeated 261 teams of the 266 they have squared off against). Their record against Top25 teams is 13/16. And they are are the highest ranked team in the SEC.
When reached for comment, Head Coach Greg Allen was unavailable because he was too busy making warning calls to the rest of the conference coaches shouting into the receiver, “Anchor DOWN,” then whispering, “because there is a storm a coming,” probably.
The Women go for their third straight victory on March 8-10 at Hilton Head for the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate.
The Men’s Golf Team beat UF on their home course this past weekend
Full recap from the Commodores' second consecutive victory this season (2018 Isleworth Collegiate) and second straight Gator Invitational Title.— Vanderbilt Men's Golf (@VandyMGolf) February 18, 2019
It's also Will Gordon's second consecutive victory after winning at Isleworth.
| https://t.co/imXpbhymzw#AnchorDown #vandygolf pic.twitter.com/Bx3gWfnvKg
The #3 ranked Men’s Golf team beat the slimy Gators this past weekend at the Florida Gators Invitational on the Mark Bostwick Golf Course in Gainesville, FL.
Led by Will Gordon, who took medalist honors with a pair of level par rounds of 70 and one round of -7, 63 (!!!), the Commodores felled UF by one stroke over the three day tournament.
Patrick Martin shot 68-70-68 for a -4 tournament total and T-4 finish. He, along with Gordon, were the only two players for Vanderbilt under par. Full scoreboard here.
Vanderbilt was also the only team to finish the tournament under par, which is promising for their PGATOUR prospects considering the TOUR’s slogan. UF played the tournament at level par, while other while other D1 ranked teams Liberty, Directional Floridas (North and South), West Virginia, and Georgia Southern all shot +2— +31 on the weekend.
It has been difficult to get quotes from the Men’s Golf program so I am going to make up a few quotes and scenes from this past weekend. Upon the final putt dropping, Will Gordon yelled out, “I hate UF, yes I do. I hate UF how ‘bout you?!”
On the first tee of the final round, Patrick Martin asked the crowd, “who has two thumbs and hates UF?” Then motioning to his chest with two thumbs raised, he said, “this guy. Now watch this.” He then pounded driver down the middle.
At one point, Mr. Two Bits came out in his annoying pastel costume to fire up the crowd, but an unnamed assassin fired a three iron stinger from atop a library depository, striking Mr. Two Bits in the hamstring. He lunged forwards then backwards from another stinger. Witnesses say there was a second swinger atop a grassy knoll just over a hundred yards away.
But seriously, do you like a Top 3 program in the country? Do you like winning back to back tournaments? Because this Vanderbilt squad is hotter than a match head.
The ‘Dores have a few weeks off before heading to Mexico at the beginning of March for “golfing,” and definitely not laying on the beach drinking rum runners.
Just make it end.
The Vanderbilt basketball team plays at Tennessee tonight at 6:00 PM CT. Tonight’s game will be televised on ESPN.
Vanderbilt is on a 13-game losing streak, and strangely, one of the closest games they’ve had to a win over that stretch was an overtime loss to this same Tennessee team, then ranked #1 in the country. The Vols fell to fifth after a loss at Kentucky over the weekend, but this is still obviously a really good team: Vegas has Tennessee as an 18-point favorite tonight.
This game, for some reason, drew one of the two ESPN time slots tonight. Makes sense. It would be funny if we won this game, though.
Vanderbilt swimming opens the SEC Championships today in Athens, Georgia.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
The Vanderbilt basketball team lost its thirteenth game in a row on Saturday, a 64-53 decision against the Auburn Tigers. Vanderbilt actually did a good job on the defensive end, holding a good offensive team to 8-of-24 on two-pointers and 9-of-25 on threes. They also outrebounded the Tigers 43-27.
The problem? Well, we can start with the 19 turnovers — which isn’t an eye-popping number, but in a game that only had 62 possessions, it meant that 30.6 percent of Vanderbilt’s offensive possessions ended with a turnover. That’s how, in spite of the Commodores’ rebounding edge, they actually took fewer shots than Auburn did. And making shots continues to be a problem for the Vanderbilt offense: the Commodores shot 11-of-25 on twos and 5-of-23 on threes. They did shoot 16-of-21 at the foul line, for the second game in a row; but let’s also add the asterisk that players not named Aaron Nesmith went 11-of-18 at the line.
It’s bad. Is it a fireable offense?
A rather popular sentiment over the past few weeks, as the losses have piled up, has been that Bryce Drew is in over his head in the SEC and Vanderbilt needs to make a coaching change. I’ll point out that at least some of that is, frankly, based on an assumption that the losing will continue and Vanderbilt will end the regular season with an 0-18 SEC record and a first-round loss in the SEC Tournament. That’s not a given, but even with that, Vanderbilt has needed some bad breaks both on the court and in the scheduling department for this to happen. On the scheduling front, as usual, Vanderbilt has Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida on the schedule twice, and this year turns out to be a particularly bad year to have that threesome on the schedule twice. Tennessee and Kentucky are both ranked in the top ten, and while Florida is floundering a bit, they’re still ranked 29th in KenPom.
And in terms of the remainder of the schedule, the three worst non-Vanderbilt teams in the conference are Georgia, Texas A&M, and Missouri. Vanderbilt drew all three of those just once, and somehow drew all three on the road. Still, even with all that, KenPom’s algorithm gives the Commodores an 18.5% chance of going winless in conference play. They’ll be underdogs in each of the remaining six games, but they probably won’t be big underdogs against Arkansas at home (44% chance to win) or at Texas A&M (31%), or against Florida at home (31%.) Even a road trip to Alabama (21%) isn’t completely out of the question. And with all that, the first game of the SEC Tournament would likely be a game against one of Georgia, Texas A&M, or Missouri at Bridgestone Arena.
You will recall, too, that Vanderbilt had chances to win in a few games. They actually led against Ole Miss with ten minutes to go in the SEC opener; they collapsed late against Georgia (a 4-point game with ten minutes left became at 19-point loss); they led at halftime at Kentucky and trailed by just three with eight minutes left; they led South Carolina by five with under two minutes left before a technical foul on Saben Lee swung the game; they led Tennessee by six with 1:40 left before, uh, things happened; they trailed Missouri by six with under three minutes left; they actually led Arkansas after a Joe Toye three within the final minute, and had a chance to win before a questionable offensive foul call on Saben Lee; they rallied back to within five of Alabama at the five-minute mark; they trailed Florida by two with six minutes left; and they trailed Auburn by four with five minutes left. Only home losses to Mississippi State and Kentucky have been truly noncompetitive.
Now, it’s true that the overall product has been bad: Vanderbilt is getting outscored by an average of 11.6 ppg in conference play. But that’s actually somewhat better than the “normal” team that gets blanked in conference play: Cal, playing against a considerably worse conference than the SEC, is getting outscored by 14 ppg. Pitt last year was outscored by 19.1 ppg in 18 ACC losses. And Tulane this year has been outscored by an average of 16.3 ppg in 12 AAC losses. Vanderbilt’s average scoring margin this year isn’t even the worst in the SEC — that would be Georgia, which has an average margin of -12.5 ppg. The Bulldogs have won a game (against Vanderbilt, of course) but only two of their eleven losses were by single digits, compared to five for Vanderbilt.
None of this is to make an excuse for the team; it’s bad, and I’m not going to try to spin it as good. But it “feels” more like a team that should be 1-11 or 2-10 in the SEC, not a winless team. And all of that, by the way, is with a team that’s 301st nationally in experience, and 11th in the SEC — and the three below it are LSU, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Kentucky is Kentucky, Arkansas has a likely lottery pick in the fold, and LSU may have a lottery pick themselves. Vanderbilt hasn’t since Darius Garland was lost for the season with an injury. The team’s best player — and I don’t think it’s really a question at this point — is Aaron Nesmith, a freshman. Its second-best player, Saben Lee, is a sophomore.
Will this get better?
So back to the question at hand. Bryce Drew is in his third year as Vanderbilt’s head coach, and one truth in all of this is that it takes an exceptionally bad performance for a head coach to get fired prior to his fourth year. Here is a full list of SEC head coaches since 1990 who have left their jobs involuntarily after three years or less:
- Kim Anderson (Missouri, 27-68 record)
- Rick Ray (Mississippi State, 37-60 record)
- Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee, 16-16 record)
- Billy Gillispie (Kentucky, 40-27 record)
- Ron Jirsa (Georgia, 35-30 record)
- Steve Newton (South Carolina, 20-35 record)
It’s understandably a short list, and it includes one guy (Donnie Tyndall) who was fired mostly because of issues unrelated to his record on the court — Tyndall would be slapped with a show-cause penalty shortly after Tennessee relieved him of his duties. Billy Gillispie is obviously an exceptional case, and there’s probably no other school in the conference that would fire a coach after two years with that record. Ron Jirsa took over a team that had gone 24-9 without a single senior among its top nine players, and promptly went 20-15 and 15-15 in back-to-back years.
The other three were pretty clearly awful, and even in Rick Ray’s case, he might not have been fired had Mississippi State not already figured out that Ben Howland was available and interested in the job. I don’t remember much about Steve Newton (the guy who was fired to pave the way for Eddie Fogler at South Carolina, by the way), but I do know enough about Kim Anderson to know that there’s an important difference between him and Bryce Drew; namely, that Anderson couldn’t recruit to save his life and that’s clearly not an issue here.
I’ve always maintained that firing a coach isn’t about punishing a coach for performance. That might be the case for a longtime coach, as Kevin Stallings was in 2016, but it’s not really the case for a third-year coach. After all, there are a lot more unknowns with a relatively new coach. Vanderbilt might well have made a mistake in hiring Bryce Drew, but the idea that it needs to make a change right now is probably wrong. The point of making a coaching change is to take the program in a different direction, and sometimes, things will get better simply by giving the current coach another year. And more importantly, sometimes, things probably won’t get any worse.
The less important factor is the current team’s record; rather, the important factor here is that this is a team that only has one senior on it; whose current recruiting class is ranked 33rd nationally and 8th in the SEC, and includes two four-star recruits; and whose last recruiting class ranked 13th nationally and included the first two McDonald’s All-Americans signed out of high school in school history.
A third-year firing is appropriate when the team is bad and when it’s unlikely to get better. This isn’t that situation. I hate having to preach patience, particularly in the midst of a season that began with a ton of promise and has turned into a disaster (and I don’t think there’s much debate that it is, in fact, a disaster), but giving up on a coach with the kind of upside that I still think Drew has seems like a very shortsighted move.
Vanderbilt looks to open the season 3-0.
Vanderbilt Commodores (2-0) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (1-1)
When: 12:00 PM CT, Sunday, February 17, 2019
Where: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, Arizona
TV: None that we’re aware of
Pitching matchup: Kumar Rocker (0-0, 0.00) vs. Brandon Williamson (0-0, 0.00)
Vanderbilt closes out the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament looking for a sweep in the event, and they’ll send one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the country to the mound. Kumar Rocker, a 6’4”, 255-pound freshman from Athens, Georgia, will make his collegiate debut on Sunday.
Sadly, this game will not be televised as far as we’re aware. There were rumors that this game would be available on MLB.TV, but so far we haven’t been able to find it.
Today’s opponent, TCU, evened its record at 1-1 with a 9-4 win over Virginia on Saturday night, following a 2-0 loss to Cal State Fullerton to open things up on Friday. The Horned Frogs are coming off a 33-23 season in 2018. They’ll send junior lefthander Brandon Williamson, who struck out 104 and walked 34 in his sophomore season at North Iowa Area Community College.
It didn’t take Rocker long to get his first start in college.
Well, that didn’t take long.
Kumar Rocker, one of the top pitching prospects in the Class of 2018, will make his debut for Vanderbilt on Sunday, getting the nod to start against TCU. Earlier in the week, Tim Corbin had played things close to the vest, listing the Sunday starter as TBA. Speculation centered around Mason Hickman, who made 13 starts last season and posted a 5.21 ERA, but evidently talent won out in the end.
Rocker was thought to be a first-round talent entering the 2018 MLB Draft, but perceived signability concerns — which turned out to be, well, accurate — led to him falling to the 38th round of the draft.
Rocker also did this at the airport on Thursday:
Seeing @VandyBoys @_KumarRocker give @KristinCav a rose in the Nashville airport while Jay Cutler looks bored and disinterested is the Vandy-centric crossover of my dreams. @CespedesBBQ @edsbs pic.twitter.com/uGjmidIdD1— Dan (@VandyDanR) February 14, 2019
So tomorrow’s game has just gone up to 11.
Coming off a 15-9 drubbing of UVA, Vanderbilt faces a tough Fullerton team.
Coming off a 15 run effort, Corbs is quite correctly making minimal changes to the lineup. As of press time, it’s the same one through nine as last night, except Julian Infante is (likely) out of the lineup, but definitely out at first base. Cooper Davis and Stephen Scott have moved defensive positions—The Ontario Barrel-Maker to left field and The Human Fire Hydrant to first base. At the moment, Drake Fellows is penciled in at the 8 spot as DH, but that is a strategic move Corbs has made time and again to not show all his cards until he knows the handedness of the pitcher the 8th slot DH will face.
This makes complete sense, as Chinfante is likely in the concussion protocol, as an awkward slide on an even weirder stolen base attempt resulted in UVA’s shortstop, Tanner Morris, kneeing him in the helmet. Following the collision, Chinfante left the game, and Scott showed more than cromulence at 1st—he even made a nifty double play late in the game. Cooper Davis, the fastest man on the team, ought to bring more range to the outfield, as well.
The only minor head-scratcher is Jayson Gonzalez staying at 3rd, as he mucked up an easy play in the field, and routinely missed pitches by a damned foot. However, Harrison Ray is injured—though we don’t have details on the seriousness of said injury.
On The Mound
Vanderbilt Sr. RHP Patrick “Mad Dog” Raby (5-5 3.57 ERA in 12 starts in ’18)
vs. Cal State Fullerton So. LHP Timothy “Class Rings” Josten (0-1 4.15 ERA in 3 starts in ’18)
It’s a match-up between the ultimate veteran and the relative newcomer. Raby, who had a down year by his standards in ‘18 and subsequently went undrafted, is looking to stabilize the pitching rotation, have a bounce back year, and reestablish himself as a viable pitcher on the next level. He certainly has the pedigree, as a PG All-American, member of Team USA Baseball, four year starter, and former Freshman All-American. The read here is that he was injured last year, and struggled to get his velocity and feel back. Here’s hoping he has it in ‘19.
See you in the comments, as we huddle by our radios, recall what life was like in the 1950s, take out our Little Orphan Annie Decoder Rings, and drink more Ovaltine.
Live on MLB Network from Talking Stick, Arizona in the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament.
One hour left. One hour until our long national nightmare ends. Vanderbilt baseball is back.
Lineups have been released, so let’s talk about it.
On the Mound
Vanderbilt Jr. RHP Drake “Safari Planet” Fellows (7-4 3.94 ERA in ‘18)
UVA So. RHP Griff “Children’s Sitcom Bully” McGarry (0-2 in 8.15 ERA ‘18)
No surprise here. He was a weekend starter as a freshman, the Friday night starter as a sophomore, the no doubt ace as a junior, and he is deeply suspicious of the motives of this parrot:
1. So. DH Cooper “The Ontario Barrel-Maker” Davis
2. So. 2B Austin “Bond Car” Martin
3. Jr. RF JJ “Say Hey” Bleday
4. Sr. LF Stephen “The Sentient Fire Hydrant” Scott
5. So. C Philip “Seymour” Clarke
6. So. CF Pat “The Natural” DeMarco
7. Sr. SS Ethan “Chili P” Paul
8. Sr. 1B Julian “Chinfante/Boom Stick” Infante
9. So. 3B Jayson “Light Tower Power” Gonzalez
Thoughts on the Lineup
First, though I suspect the position battle will go on all year, Corbs has settled on the senior Ethan Paul at the game’s most important defensive position. Of course will will miss the steady glove of Connor Kaiser, but the double play combination of Paul and Martin should match the range and add more athleticism. Some (okay, me) thought Martin would get the nod at SS, but Paul has been there since fall ball, so Corbs must have seen enough then.
Similarly, I expected Martin to lead off, but Cooper Davis is a fast, super talented kid. He didn’t see much time last year (only 11 ABs), but Corbs has had a ton of success with kids from cold weather climates in the past. If he could turn hockey players Massachusetts native Will Toffey and Wisconsin’s own Jeren Kendall into baseball stars, we can only conclude that Davis, who hails from Ontario, will break out in his sophomore year. It’s even colder in Ontario, so Corbs’ hockey magic will be all the stronger, right?
Starting Clarke at catcher is the absolute right call. Though I expect Ty Duvall and Stephen Scott to see some time behind the plate (with Clarke as DH), Clarke is the best offense and defense combination at the position.
Infante and Gonzalez will be the most powerful 8 and 9 hitters in all of baseball—including MLB. Have a little think on that one.
Though it had previously been reported/assumed that Patrick Raby would get the nod on Saturday, it looks like Kumar Rocker will get to go to White Castle on Sunday, bumping Mason Hickman to the mid-week spot.
Looking forward to being part of the @MLBNetwork broadcast of the @VandyBaseball vs. @UVABaseball tonight at 7 pm ET. Working with @StephenNelson & Dan O'Dowd. In case you're wondering, Mike Vasil starts for Virginia on Saturday and Kumar Rocker starts for Vanderbilt on Sunday. https://t.co/0rS2NDHwcu— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) February 15, 2019
See you in the comments.
Finally, our long winter is over.
Vanderbilt Commodores (0-0) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (0-0)
When: 6:00 PM CT, Friday, February 15, 2019
Where: Salt River Fields, Talking Stick, Arizona
TV: MLB Network
So, here it is. We’ve had since last June to process the fact that the Vanderbilt baseball team would be projected as one of the best teams in the country in 2019, and in fact multiple outlets think Vanderbilt will be the best team in the country.
And now, the season opener is finally here. The Commodores open the season at the MLB4 Collegiate Classic in Arizona, where they’ll face a rematch of the 2014 and 2015 College World Series finals. The Cavaliers are unranked to open the season and finished 29-25 last year with a 12-18 SEC record.
All right. Have at it, commentariat, your time is here. Anchor Down.
You have-a the questions; I give-a the answers.
Question from Tom Stephenson:
Hi. Yes. Why the hell does college baseball season start in February? That’s basketball season, you dolts.
Interestingly enough, West Virginia head baseball coach Randy Mazey has been crusading for a “Spring Training” of sorts for college baseball for years now, with the regular season not beginning until April. In a 2015 post on the baseball blog National Arms Race, this proposal is given the pro and con treatment. The Wasington Post wrote about Mazey’s idea then, as well.
In short, northern baseball programs get screwed by the early baseball start, as they basically play the first month on the road so as not to get snowed in (and/or have a plethora of fingers shattered by inside pitches). Vanderbilt, though not northern by any stretch of the imagination, typically heeds the advice of Horace Greeley and has its young men “go west.” Typically, we head out to California and play a group of top seeded teams to test our mettle well before conference play starts. This year, we’re heading out to Talking Stick, Arizona to face UVA (Friday at 6pm CT), Cal State Fullerton (Saturday at 2pm CT), and TCU (Sunday at 12pm CT). *Note: The first game will be on the MLB Network, and the next two are supposed to be on MLB.TV (which is really an excellent product if you, like me, live out of the market of the MLB team you follow).
My best guess as to why the season starts so early is that the NCAA wants all of its major sports to happen while students are on campus. I would argue that the conference tournaments and NCAA tournament largely happen when students have long since returned to the land of summer jobs and parents, so who cares when it starts? Frankly, I’d prefer that it start in March or April and go through the entire summer because, well, more good baseball. I’d also propose that the MLB draft be held AFTER the College World Series has concluded, as this boondoggle screws with the emotions of all the top juniors and seniors during the toughest time of the season. It’s so dumb, and so easily fixed. Get on it, people with much more power than I have, like MLB commissioner (checks notes) Rob Manfred. No, that can’t be his name. That’s the type of name an alien chooses after climbing into a human skin.
However, do you really want to watch any more Vanderbilt basketball?
Question from VandyTigerPhD:
We’ve often talked about how awful most sabermetrics are, even written articles about it. Some sabermetrics are straight up awful (e.g. WAR, ZR, and wRC+). A search to find some truly awful sabermetrics did not disappoint. Did you know that there’s a sabermetric for a batting average when it’s in the 7th or later and your team is down by <4 runs? It’s called LIPS! I also found out that someone proposed tracking the “catcher’s ERA” (CERA).
No, this question isn’t about what sabermetric you hate the most (though feel free to get on that soap box, too). I was curious as to what sabermetric you may like. I’m going to take the time to (once again) trumpet WHIP as my personal favorite.
I actually think WAR (or bWAR or fWAR if you prefer), is not a bad metric. It’s just not the be-all-end-all. It’s basically like the RPI in that it can give you a pretty good sense about how good a player is, but it would just be lazy to stop there. Before I answer which sabermetric stat I love, can we all finally agree that individual +/- in basketball and hockey are just irresponsibly stupid, myopic, and lazy? In a team sport, who is around you matters, con sarn it! If TJ McConnell exclusively plays with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out of the lineup, of course his +/- stats are going to look horrible! Then, once you give him Tobias Harris to play with, of course his +/- stats are going to look phenomenal! Try harder, NBA and NHL.
My personal favorite sabermetric stat is like the inverse of the problematic +/-. I am such a fan of the FiP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in conjuction with the ERA. FiP (though admittedly not perfect) attempts to factor out the defense behind a pitcher to give you a pitcher’s true ability regarding outcomes he can personally control. By keeping both FiP and ERA in mind, you can get a good sense not only of a pitcher’s abilities, but the ability of the defense behind him. From mlb.com’s statistics glossary:
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)
FIP is similar to ERA, but it focuses solely on the events a pitcher has the most control over -- strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. It entirely removes results on balls hit into the field of play.
For example: If a pitcher has surrendered a high average on balls in play, his FIP will likely be lower than his ERA. Balls in play are not part of the FIP equation because a pitcher is believed to have limited control over their outcome.
Where the “FIP constant” puts FIP onto the same scale as the entire league’s ERA: ((HR x 13) + (3 x (BB + HBP)) - (2 x K)) / IP + FIP constant.
Again, it’s far from perfect, as a pitcher who gives up a ton of base hits to spots where defenders cannot conceivably get to relative to his peers would have an artificially inflated FiP. Beyond that, it doesn’t take into account the value of a tactician like Dallas Keuchel, who pitches to the strengths of his defense. Still, on teams with horrific defenses (like the Phillies last year, who played nearly everyone out of position and thought Rhys “Mr. Heavyfoot” Hoskins could play in the outfield), it is useful in determining which pitchers would be useful on your roster in the future if, you know, you fixed all the damned holes in your defense.
Here is footage of Rhys Hoskins putting on his pants and then running a marathon.
I like the WHIP, too. Quite a lot, actually. Not just because I like the name “Steny Hoyer.” Of course, very few of these sabermetric stats have made their way into college baseball, as no one has put in the capital to film everything at a precise enough level to track defensive range, etc. Yet.
Question from BlindRef69:
Which players have the highest 2019 MLB draft potential? Bonus question: Which players without draft eligibility (fresh/soph) have the highest future draft stocks? cough cough…Kumar Rocker
I’m going to answer this regarding players currently draft eligible on the team, and not those who have committed to us for next year. With that in mind, the answer is easy: Jr. OF JJ “Say Hey” Bleday.
Not sure how much you paid attention to last year, but when he was healthy, we won. When he was hurt? Not so much. Bleday is a 4 tool athlete (not fast enough to truly be a 5 tool guy) who will likely have to play a corner OF position at the next level. As such, he will be devalued due to his defensive position. However, the man can rake, and his bat is a legit carrying tool.
Let me crib from my article this summer in which I wrote about Bleday being named “Top Pro Prospect in the Cape Cod League” (a wood bat league that routinely features the top pro prospects in the summers following their freshman and sophomore years):
For those who watched Vanderbilt baseball last year, it should be no surprise that outfielder JJ Bleday is regarded as a top pro prospect for the 2019 draft. Simply put, his impact on the lineup was staggering.
In his 39 games played, Bleday slashed .368/.494/.511 (yes, you read that right, Moneyball Bleday was on base in nearly half of his plate appearances). Further, in the five and a half weeks Bleday missed due to injury, Vanderbilt slipped to 8-14 (losing the first five games of Bleday’s absence, to boot). When he returned, the boys immediately picked it up, going 10-5 and were an eyelash short of a trip to Omaha. Overall, the team played at an impressive .675 clip (27-13) with him, but were a .364 team without him.
In other words, the 2018 Commodore squad were basically the Boston Red Sox with Bleday, and the Chicago White Sox without him.
Bleday’s bat has not been as hot (again, the man was on base damn near half the time) in the Cape Cod League, but he has hit .311/.374/.500 in the top wood bat league in the land, which was enough to pique the curiosity of the MLB scouts in attendance. Yesterday, he was awarded the McNeese Outstanding Pro Prospect Award.
Bleday is our top junior, and it’s not even close. He has a great shot at being picked in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft, winning the Golden Spikes Award, slugging the team to a title, and coming close to supplanting Dansby Swanson in our hearts.
Junior pitchers Drake Fellows, Jackson Gillis, and Zach King should be taken in the top 5 rounds. Junior catcher Ty Duvall—though trapped in one hell of a battle for innings and at bats at catcher with Philip Clarke and sentient fire hydrant Stephen Scott—has a bat that can play, and should at least receive a look.
As for our seniors, many of them turned down minor league contracts to come back, so they should expect to be drafted again in 2019. Ethan Paul and Stephen Scott should expect to be redrafted. I expect Julian “Chinfante” Infante to have a bounce back year and put on a power display. If this happens, he should be drafted, as well. Patrick “Mad Dog” Raby will need to have a hell of a year to hear his name called before the 20th round, as MLB teams almost never draft pitchers who can’t top 90mph in the high rounds—no matter their pedigree or performance in college. Like Infante, he will have to have a hell of a year to move up draft boards. It is nigh on impossible to predict which rounds seniors will go, as MLB teams like to pick more than a few in the top 10 rounds for lower bonuses so as to keep enough money in their coffers to go after tougher to sign college juniors and high school seniors.
Not to dismiss the 2nd part to your question, but we have so many extremely talented and highly regarded freshmen and sophomores, I would be here all day running it down for you. However, yes, freshman fireballers Kumar “Harold” Rocker and Austin “Big Walnut” Becker currently have the most upside regarding the draft. Keep your eye on sophomores Austin Martin (especially if he wins the SS job and scouts think he can stick at the position), Pat DeMarco, and Philip Clarke.
Question from VanDSIRROM:
How many games into the season will VU be when Rocker gets his first weekend start? How many mid-week games will he have won by that time?
Will he play more than 1 year at Vandy?
Last question first: yes. I fully expect him to play three years at Vandy and then get drafted, as per the rules of Major League Baseball. Once you enter a four year college, you have to stay three years to re-enter the draft. If you enroll in a two year college (junior college), you can leave for the draft at any time.
As for the rest of the question, I would think Rocker will be put on the same plan as Walker Buehler was early in his VU pitching career. In fact, as long as Raby is pitching well enough to hold onto his weekend slot, it wouldn’t surprise me if Rocker held the mid-week slot into postseason play. By the postseason, like Buehler, he will force the hand of Corbs and Brown, and make multiple starts. Of course, we are stacked in the rotation, and either Becker or Eder could compete for and win a weekend spot. On the flip side, like Tyler Beede, he might win a weekend rotation spot right away (though I don’t expect this to be the case). It’s a hell of a good problem to have.
Vanderbilt takes on Florida looking to end its 11-game losing streak.
As you might have heard, the Vanderbilt Commodores are on an eleven-game losing streak, tying a school record set back in 1985. We would surely like to end that tonight, but in case we really want to break the record, I’m sure the Florida Gators will be happy to oblige. The Commodores and Gators will meet tonight in Gainesville at 8:00 PM CT; tonight’s game will be televised on ESPNU.
A lot of things have had to go wrong for Vanderbilt’s season to reach this point, but the simplest answer is that the offense has gone bye-bye since the calendar flipped to January. In eleven games, Vanderbilt has failed to crack a point per possession in eight of them. Unsurprisingly, the three in which it did were the close calls against South Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The team hasn’t shot well, but they’ve also been fairly turnover-prone and haven’t been hitting the offensive glass like they did early in the season. And really, it’s been a team-wide effort: in conference play, just two players (Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith) have an offensive rating over 100.
You really hate to say it, but at this point, the team only has two keepers and it’s about figuring out how the pieces will fit together for next season. And this really isn’t an exaggeration; barring a miracle run in the SEC Tournament, this team has already played its way out of the NIT, never mind the NCAA Tournament.
The bad news tonight: Florida ranks 10th nationally in defensive efficiency. The good news? Florida ranks 110th in offensive efficiency, so if Vanderbilt can get a few shots to fall, this one might end up being winnable. Florida has a weird profile; they rank 38th in KenPom and yet are sporting a 12-11 record (and a 4-6 SEC record.) They’ve lost three in a row and four of their last five.
Expect tonight’s game to have a 55-50 final score is what I’m saying.
If you have baseball questions, there’s a mailbag for that.
Have we mentioned that baseball season starts Friday?
There are rumblings, though no official word, of a couple of changes on the football coaching staff. Football Scoop reported the other day that quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski will be promoted to offensive coordinator. Meanwhile, Chris Lee’s latest podcast suggested that former Auburn RB coach Tim Horton will be hired for the same position at Vanderbilt.
(For the record, Andy Ludwig held the RB coach role last season while also serving as offensive coordinator.)
Off the West End
SEC OFFICIATING RANDOM EVENT GENERATOR STRIKES AGAIN... IN LEXINGTON... wait, it must have malfunctioned:
That’s a very questionable call by the refs ... SHOCKED that it went against Kentucky in Rupp. Personally, I thought ball was still on the cylinder.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) February 13, 2019
What’s he referring to? This:
LSU DOWNS KENTUCKY AT THE BUZZER IN RUPP pic.twitter.com/oLgbwk031G— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 13, 2019
Meanwhile, if you watch the “Alliance of American Football” instead of college basketball this time of year, please stop. Unless you’re just watching because Steve Spurrier is involved.
If you’re into the Netflix series “Last Chance U,” you’re probably familiar with a rule change in the Kansas JUCO circuit removing a cap on out-of-state players. That in turn has led to an explosion in the number of Kansas players going to in-state Division II and NAIA schools. There’s your NAIA reference for the day, motherfuckers!
Oh yeah, and Barry Odom’s got a beef with Tennessee now. Missouri is at least starting to figure out how to pretend to be an SEC school.
This isn’t a hopeless situation, but some weird roster flaws need to be fixed.
If you want a quick, handy guide to what went wrong with the 2018-19 Vanderbilt basketball team, a quick look at KenPom’s data on the most frequent lineups over the last five games should give you an idea.
Vanderbilt’s most frequent lineup has been Saben Lee at the point, along with Aaron Nesmith, Matt Ryan, Yanni Wetzell, and Simi Shittu. Its second-most frequent lineup replaces Ryan with Joe Toye. (It also, according to KenPom, has Toye at the two and moves Nesmith to the three. His lineup algorithm is a bit complicated, but I suspect it considers Nesmith the three mostly because he’s a better rebounder than Toye.)
For comparison, Tennessee’s most frequent lineup over the last five games is Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, and Kyle Alexander. Its second-most frequent lineup replaces Alexander with Jordan Bowden, with Schofield and Williams essentially functioning as a small-ball four and five, respectively.
That lineup works in modern college basketball and Vanderbilt’s really doesn’t. When people talk about the “small-ball revolution” and “positionless basketball,” what they usually mean is replacing bigger players who aren’t actually that good at basketball with smaller players who can play, and Tennessee — particularly its small-ball look with Williams and Schofield on the court with three guards — is kind of the textbook example of that. It works in part because Williams, even at 6’7”, is capable of performing the rim-protecting functions that most teams still rely on a 7-footer to do, but mostly it works because that lineup is difficult to defend and also can still function defensively.
Vanderbilt’s lineup, on the other hand, looks like the kind of lineup that has trouble with small-ball lineups. Against an average team, one of Joe Toye or Matt Ryan is chasing a guard around the perimeter; Yanni Wetzell or Simi Shittu is tasked with guarding a guy like, well, Joe Toye or Matt Ryan. On the offensive end, the offense has precious few shooters — Saben Lee could be good at driving to the basket and creating for his teammates, except who exactly is he creating for here? Nesmith can shoot, Toye has his moments, and Matt Ryan has been mired in a weird shooting funk for most of 2019. And the bench options — Max Evans, Matthew Moyer, and Clevon Brown — aren’t shooters, either.
Darius Garland’s injury was bad for obvious reasons, but the reason it completely killed the season instead of “merely” underachieving is outlined above. Without Garland, the entire house of cards fell apart, and strangely losing Saben Lee to injury might have caused a similar problem (albeit with Darius Garland running the offense instead of Saben Lee.) With Garland and Lee in the backcourt, Aaron Nesmith could have slotted in nicely at the three, where he’s a natural fit, and the collection of 6’8” to 6’10” guys would have fought for minutes at just two spots. Without Garland, you have a lot of that group trying to defend the other team’s guards and an offense that simply doesn’t have enough shooting threats to function.
It’s a long-winded way of illustrating why Vanderbilt finds itself in the basement of the SEC. So how might this get better in 2019-20? Well, the two players that Vanderbilt can’t afford to lose — Lee and Nesmith — will be back, and two guards (Scotty Pippen and Austin Crowley) enter the mix as well. While neither of the new guards are projected to be impact players from day one, Crowley at least can handle most defensive assignments on the perimeter. It would be even more helpful to add an experienced guard as a graduate transfer — and Vanderbilt does have a scholarship available since Garland withdrew from school, and could of course have more if anybody else leaves. But in today’s game, being able to play small ball is more important than having a ton of length on the floor. That can be fixed this offseason.
Letters... we get letters... we get sacks and sacks of letters...
I just now set up an email account for all of my doings on Anchor of Gold. Why now and not five years ago when I started this gig? Shut up. I also just now got around to filling out my SBNation profile. However, I filed my taxes yesterday. We all contain multitudes.
Anywhoozle... with baseball season starting this Friday, I’ve got a hankerin’ for some Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team based questions from the Anchor of Gold commentariat. And when I gets a hankerin’, I needs my emails.
Send your questions to email@example.com by Wednesday, and I’ll answer them in a post on Thursday afternoon.
Interested in whether I think Julian “Chinfante” Infante is due for a bounce-back season? Send me an email. Want to know who will be our starters by season’s end? Email me. Want to know how a fire hydrant managed to meet a fairy and have his wish to become a real boy named Stephen Scott granted? Email. Want to know what Dansby Swanson’s hair smells like? You should stop and reevaluate your life choices. Send me an email about whether the stolen base juice is worth the squeeze instead.
*Note: Questions about other SEC baseball teams are welcome, too. I just won’t know as much about them, and will likely respond with juvenile, biased trash talk.
I will do this weekly as long as the questions keep coming in. If they dry up, no post. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
Stay tuned for the series preview of the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament in Talking Stick, AZ on Friday, game threads daily Friday through Sunday, and various recaps, reactions, and opinion posts all season.
11 AM on the SEC Network? Where have we heard that one before?
Vanderbilt’s spring game (officially the Black and Gold Spring Game) will be televised this year. Unlike in years past, there was little fight over this: since it’s an actual spring game and not a “spring showcase,” the SEC Network was more than willing to pick it up.
Yesterday, we found out the start time: 11 AM. Of course it’s at 11 AM, because why wouldn’t a Vanderbilt spring game be at 11 AM? The bad news: if you were planning to make it a doubleheader with baseball, you’ll be on the West End all day; the Commodore baseball team takes on Tennessee the same night at 8 PM at Hawkins Field. That game will also be on the SEC Network, so if you plan on leaving your television set on the SEC Network all day, well...
Services for former athletic director and Vice Chancellor David Williams will be held this Friday at The Temple Church at 3810 Kings Lane in Nashville. Services are open to the public; visitation will be from 11 AM to 1 PM with the funeral service at 1:15 PM.
John Jenkins signed a ten-day contract with the Knicks.
Off the West End
Ole Miss vacated wins, because of course they did.
The NBA is investigating whether the Lakers tampered with BEN SIMMONS (!)
Georgia got a five-star recruit... in basketball?
The bad news? That’s last in the SEC.
The good news? Vanderbilt’s weighted five-year average is 78th, so the Commodores are expected to be above average for Derek Mason’s tenure. Considering that tenure has already produced two bowl bids, that should be good right?
Well, here’s the bad news: that projection is good for last in the SEC. Bill’s initial ratings rely a lot on weighted five-year averages and recruiting rankings in addition to returning production. Meaning that teams like Tennessee and Arkansas that were bad in 2018 are expected to get something of a dead cat bounce: Tennessee is projected 21st and Arkansas 48th.
And Tennessee, at 21, grades as only the sixth-best team on the Commodores’ schedule. Georgia, LSU, and Florida all tank in the top 6, with Missouri and South Carolina in the top 20. Kentucky ranks 37th and Ole Miss 39th.
The good news is that all four nonconference opponents are ranked below Vanderbilt. Purdue is 58th (though that game will be on the road), Northern Illinois is 76th, and UNLV is 100th. ETSU is not ranked.
If the projections are correct, Vanderbilt would be expected to go 4-8, and 3-9 is on the table. Of course, this is why they play the games.
On Senior Weekend, Denk leads the ‘Dores at Music City Challenge
It was Senior Weekend for the Commodores at their Music City Challenge, and Kristen Denk made the most of it with a victory in the Pole Vault.
Denk, a Senior Indoor (and Junior Outdoor), won with a vault of 4.23m. She came in at 4.03 and took two jumps for her first two progressions. At 4.23m, she scratched on her first attempt and then cleared on her second. She defeated vaulters from Michigan St, Mississippi St, Michigan, Ole Miss, and Cincinnati, among others in the 30+ vaulter field.
Junior Margaret Ollinger continued her solid indoor campaign by vaulting 4.03m cracking the 13’ barrier again. She is knocking on the door for more personal records and peaking at the right time in the Indoor season.
Other stand out results were in the 400m by Freshman Tayai Shelby. She placed 5th in a 40+ runner field with a time of 55.17. She won her heat and was .1 of a second off of 4th place. The top four runners in the 400m were all Seniors.
Sophomore Regan Clay and Shelby placed 21st and 22nd respectively in the 200m. Clay ran 25.17 and Shelby posted a time of 25.22.
In the 800m Reagan Bustamente ran 2:09.10 placing 7th in her heat and 8th overall.
For full meet results, click here, courtesy of CFPI Timing.
Indoor Regular Season is over as the Commodores will prepare for the SEC Indoor Championships in two weekends, February 21-23.
The Commodores have now lost eleven in a row.
34 years ago today, the Vanderbilt Commodores lost to Florida by a 78-66 score. That was Vanderbilt’s eleventh loss in a row, a school record that stood untouched for the last 34 years.
Until tonight, that is. Vanderbilt dropped a home game to Alabama by a 77-67 score, its 11th loss in a row. The 1985 Commodores would squeak by Georgia a few days later to end the skid; this year’s team, with games coming up at Florida, Auburn, at Tennessee, and at Alabama, has no obvious end in sight to the losing. Like the 2019 team, the 1984-85 Commodores suffered due to injuries — with Bobby Westbrooks’ season ending after four games and Will Perdue, later the SEC Player of the Year, missing the entire season.
Of course, the losing streak in 1985 was much more hard luck. Nine of the eleven losses in that streak were by single digits, and none came by more than 17 points. This team has now seen seven double-digit losses in an 11-game stretch, including two by more than 30 points.
It’s hard to make a great argument for this team. They fell behind by 19 points in the second half, then rallied to cut it to five with five minutes to go — but couldn’t get closer than that. The free throw woes continue; in a game decided by ten points, Vanderbilt went 17-of-28 at the foul line. Saben Lee did his best to keep the team in the game with 24 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, but the rest of the team wasn’t cooperating: Vanderbilt players not named Saben Lee shot a woeful 12-of-39 from the floor.
Baseball season starts Friday. At this point, the basketball team is just trying to avoid becoming the first SEC team to go 0-18 in conference play.
Can we finally win a game?
Alabama Crimson Tide (14-8) at Vanderbilt Commodores (9-13)
When: 7:30 PM CT, Saturday, February 9, 2019
Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network/WatchESPN
Vanderbilt, you might have heard, has lost ten basketball games in a row. The last time Vanderbilt won a basketball game, the calendar still said 2018.
If there’s good news, while the Commodores are (of course) underdogs tonight, this is also one of their best chances to win a game left on the schedule: per KenPom, Vanderbilt has a 39% chance of winning tonight, and predicts a final score of 74-71, Alabama.
So, let’s do it? Please?
Justin Skule not invited, and hence, will have his work cut out for him.
This week, the NFL released the list of 338 draft eligible players invited to the 2019 Scouting Combine. Two Vanderbilt players—QB Kyle “Shurms McKenzie” Shurmur and CB Joejuan “Joejuan Island” Williams—received invites.
Shurms, Vanderbilt’s career leader in completions (722), passing yards (8,865), and passing TDs (64), is one of 17 QBs invited to the Combine. He will likely participate in all drills, and we are relatively certain he will beat Rich Eisen in the 40 yard dash. #CrazyLegsShurms
Shurmur’s slightly more famous father, Pat, is the head coach of the New York Giants, who finished 5-11 and will have the #6 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. I’m not saying Pat will choose Kyle there, but in a world where nepotism is rampant, we can’t say anything for sure. Regardless, the Giants have 10 picks in the draft (will an 11th likely to come after compensation picks are awarded), and a glaring need for young arms in their QB pipeline. It would not be shocking to see the G-Men pick multiple QBs in this draft, and Kyle should be in the mix for a late round pick—from his father or from any number of other NFL teams—and will have a good chance to make an NFL roster as a 3rd string, developmental, QB.
Williams, however, will try to cement his status as a Day Two pick. 36 total CBs were invited to the Combine, and in a league that routinely starts 3 in the increasingly common Nickle as Base Defense model, should have a skillset that is in demand. He is a long, physical corner, who should continue the trend of Vanderbilt DBs as impact starters on the next level.
Unlike Crazy Legs Shurms, Williams’ time in the 40 yard dash will directly impact the round in which he is drafted. He will spend from now until the Combine begins on February 26th training like a damned Olympian, as every single athletic measurable matters for defensive backs. However, if he can run, jump, and show the hip fluidity and change of direction during the 3 cone shuttle that we have all seen in his game tape, he should shoot up draft boards.
Neither Justin Skule nor Bruno Reagan, despite being beasts of men, received invites. It is not yet known whether they will be attending a regional combine, or will just concentrate on Vanderbilt’s Pro Day. My assumption is the latter, as scouts not only have years of game tape on them, but Skule participated in the East-West Shrine Game, and Reagan in the College Gridiron Showcase, so they have been seen by the decision makers.
Five Questions and a Bonus with Bammer Hunter Johnson
You may know him from his Twitter account where he tweets pictures of his cats (Sarah Caterson and Catrick Murphy ), live tweets beauty pageants, and Gumps harder than anyone in the Yellow Hammer State. But I know him as a long time friend and my insight into the weird world of Alabama Athletics. So I thought it was necessary to get his take on the game this weekend, where he’ll be in attendance.
Shawn Allen: Why is your coach so short? Will he have trouble seeing the elevated court?
Hunter Johnson: He’s not short, Shawn. He is a normal-sized human being, unlike the coach of the team across the state, who is fat. Bruce Pearl is fat.
SA: So when do you think the rest of the SEC will move their benches to underneath the hoops?
HJ: Ugh already getting started on that House of Horrors that is Memorial Gym. I am very much on the record as a Memorial Gym-hater. It’s so dumb. And clearly my hate has nothing to do with the fact that we have won there one time since 1991. I am still pissed about Jamychal Green getting called out of bounds in 2011 when he clearly wasn’t (F you Tim Higgins). Probably cost us an NCAA Tournament bid. It seems like even when we have had good teams come up there, we have lost. But, I do at least like that they extended the coach’s box a few years ago. It was much worse before that.
SA: With our terrible luck and missed opportunities, do you think Bama is catching us at exactly the right time for a “Nobody believed in us” game? Because literally, nobody believes in us, just look at our comment section.
HJ: I am not sure that we are catching y’all at the right time, as I almost feel like y’all are due. Vandy has caught a ton of bad breaks this year, beginning with the Darius Garland injury. I was really hoping that y’all would pull it out against Arkansas on Tuesday night, both for conference standing purposes and to go ahead and yet your inevitable win out of the way. You’re not gonna go 0-18.
SA: This is not the self-loathing and hatred we are familiar with in the Vandy Athletic-sphere. But, Bama has alternated W’s and L’s the last 8 games. Your due for an L, but I don’t like how your reverse jinxing us. If we do win, you can probably drown your sorrows at at the FGL House to pay homage to the best Country Group (and your favorite) in the business? Follow up, will you be wearing an all white suit with no shirt to match Bama’s all white road uniforms?
HJ: I will not be hitting up FGL House and I despise FGL (but I did see them at a festival back in September and after about 12 Miller Lites, they weren’t as bad). I kinda wish that the game was starting a little earlier. Would have love to have gone to that Dawes show at The Ryman. And our all-white road football uniforms are the best uniforms in college football and I will accept no opposing viewpoints.
SA: It’s a shame. Was hoping I’d see you in Memorial combining two of your great loves wearing this (pictured below). But, I’m hoping I’m wrong. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.
SA: BTW, why didn’t you come for the Kentucky game? I thought all Bama football fans were also Kentucky basketball fans.
HJ: Alabama Football fans who are also Kentucky Basketball fans are the worst people on the planet. I cannot stand folks who are like this.
SA: Probably a good thing you don’t live in Nashville, then. Speaking of Nashville, where you going to brunch Saturday, pal?
HJ: Pal, I don’t know, but I am looking forward to it. I have heard good things about Henrietta Red and Marsh House but I am down for wherever you want to go. Drinking early before Alabama Basketball plays at Memorial Gym is definitely a great idea.
Williams oversaw the most successful era of Commodore athletics.
David Williams, the de facto athletic director who oversaw the most prosperous era of Vanderbilt University sports, has passed away. The trailblazing figure had been at Vandy since 2000, becoming the SEC’s first African-American athletic director — even if his official title started off as Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics — in the process.
David Williams II, trailblazing former vice chancellor and athletics director at Vanderbilt University, died Feb. 8 https://t.co/uoxo1mzGvt— Vanderbilt University (@VanderbiltU) February 8, 2019
The timing is bittersweet. Williams announced his intentions to step down from his post and return to teaching back in September. After one final football season — one that featured the program’s sixth bowl bid since 2008 but, in true Commodore fashion, ended with a heartbreaking defeat — the man affectionately known as “the Goldfather” turned his reins over to former NBA G League president Malcolm Turner. Tonight, February 8, was scheduled to be his retirement party.
“David Williams stood tall on this campus, in this city and in college athletics nationally as an incomparable leader, role model and dear friend to me and so many others. We are devastated by this loss,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said in a statement Friday. “His impact on our community is immeasurable and will be felt for generations to come. We offer our deepest condolences to Gail, his children and the entire Williams family on this immense loss.”
Williams left behind difficult shoes to fill. His reign oversaw the only four NCAA championships in university history — women’s bowling in 2008 and 2018, baseball in 2014, and women’s tennis in 2015. His work identifying coaches like Bobby Johnson, James Franklin, and Derek Mason helped restore the credibility of one of the NCAA’s worst football programs. He oversaw a successful revival of the Vanderbilt basketball program, which topped out with a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances over a four-year span.
Most importantly, Williams had the interpersonal finesse to unite people. The law professor exuded warmth as he lumbered through the concourses or pre-game tailgates across Vanderbilt’s spectrum of sports. He found a way to make even the most disinterested or disenfranchised fans feel at least a modicum of hope. At no point did he make the job seem too big, or Vandy’s place in the SEC seem too small.
“David Williams stood tall on this campus, in this city and in college athletics nationally as an incomparable leader, role model and dear friend to me and so many others. We are devastated by this loss."— Vanderbilt Athletics (@vucommodores) February 8, 2019
- Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos pic.twitter.com/GCakY9oEDr
Rest in peace. Goldfather. You meant more to Vanderbilt than you could ever imagine.