Anchor Drop: This Isn’t Good

Women’s basketball dropped a game to Central Michigan. We have nothing else to talk about, so I guess we have to...

Good morning.

We admit to not writing about Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team a lot, largely for the reason that at the moment, it’s just not fun to write about. Earlier this week, the team added Jackie Welch — who just finished her senior season on the soccer team — to the roster. Welch was one of seven Commodores who suited up for Saturday night’s game against Central Michigan.

Welch only played one minute, but the reason behind that — Autumn Newby went down with an injury, and LeaLea Carter fouled out — is a bit telling. Welch got into the game because the other option was to literally play 4-on-5.

Oh yeah, and Vanderbilt lost to Central Michigan, 66-57, dropping its record to 4-6 on the season. Losing to Central MIchigan isn’t inherently bad — the Chippewas are a year removed from a Sweet 16, after all — but the state of the program at present is summed up as, Vanderbilt is legitimately in a situation where it has six players available for its next game against Miami on Thursday night.

In a sport where you’re allotted fifteen scholarships, there is never any excuse to have six players available for a game at any point, much less a situation where you had to borrow a player from the soccer team just to get to six. The injuries have been bad, no doubt — by my count, sophomore Chelsie Hall, freshman Jordyn Cambridge, freshman Brinae Alexander, freshman Isabella Paldrmic, and now sophomore Autumn Newby are unavailable, and senior Bree Horrocks just returned last night. Still, Vanderbilt went into the season with ten players on the roster (and I don’t pay enough attention to know if any of those were walk-ons.) In a sport where you’re allotted fifteen scholarships. Five players being injured at the same time would take a toll on just about any basketball team, but it’s disastrous on a team that started out playing shorthanded.

It’s really hard to figure out where this went wrong. Stephanie White seemed like a good hire on paper, but since a 10-1 start in her first season, the Commodores are 15-45. There seem to be some good individual talents on the roster; this isn’t a roster that should be losing to teams like North Alabama, MTSU, and Central Michigan.

We all know how this ends. Now let’s file this away until sometime around March.

Vanderbilt News

This one flew a bit under the radar, but redshirt junior offensive lineman Jared Southers is going to Georgia Tech as a graduate transfer. Southers had previously announced that he was transferring to Temple, but will apparently follow former Temple coach Geoff Collins to Georgia Tech.

And in case you missed it, the football team got a commitment yesterday.

Pima CC DL Brandon Maddox commits to Vanderbilt

Just a few days from the early signing period, Vanderbilt picks up a commitment on the defensive line.

Four days away from the start of the early signing period, Vanderbilt has added its 20th commitment in the 2019 recruiting class.

Brandon Maddox, a 6’4”, 270-pound defensive lineman from North Augusta, SC, by way of Pima Community College in Arizona, announced his commitment to the Commodores on Saturday afternoon. Maddox had 49 tackles in seven games this season, with three sacks and two forced fumbles. He chose Vanderbilt over competing offers from UNLV, Indiana, and Western Kentucky.

247 Sports ranks him as the #19 defensive tackle prospect in the JUCO ranks; Rivals grades him as a three-star recruit, with some minor disagreement over his position (Rivals considers him a defensive end, while 247 counts him as a tackle.) Either way, Maddox figures to push for immediate playing time on a defensive line unit that projects to lose seniors Dare Odeyingbo and Louis Vecchio.

Here’s Maddox’s highlight tape:

Anchor Drop: Luuuuuuuuuke’s Big Night

Hey! Maybe the Knicks should play Luke Kornet more!

Good morning.

In spite of strong performances for the Westchester Knicks and a promising end to 2017-18, Luke Kornet’s struggled to find a role for the New York Knicks this season. Prior to Friday night, he’d played a grand total of 23 minutes and hadn’t scored a point in seven NBA games this season.

On Friday night, he played 24 minutes — one more than he’d played all season — and scored 13 points, with a +/- of 19, as the Knicks beat the Charlotte Hornets 126-124 in overtime. Kornet wasn’t the biggest reason the Knicks won — Emmanuel Mudiay did have 34 points, after all — but they probably wouldn’t have won without his play in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Hey, maybe they should play him more!

Vanderbilt News

FINALLY, a game of some sort. The women’s basketball team, 4-5 this season, hosts Central Michigan tonight at 5:00 PM CT. The game can be streamed on the SEC Network+.

DO YOU HEAR THAT? We have a AA+ bond rating, still.

Ahead of Monday’s game, Arizona State blog House of Sparky previews, well, us.

Off the West End

Well played, Sacramento Kings.

How the hell does a college football player play an entire season with an outstanding warrant?! You would think, after all, that it wouldn’t be too difficult for the police to locate him...

I know the SB Nation mothership for whatever reason has a bunch of Florida grads working there, but it’s probably not a great look to pick one of them to explain why UCF should accept a 2-for-1 against the Gators. UCF at least gained my respect by telling Florida to pound sand.

(Also, Florida still won’t play a nonconference road game outside the state of Florida, and you’ll never unconvince me that Florida pulled some strings to avoid playing UCF in a bowl game. Or that the SEC office intentionally schedules their road games against Kentucky in September to keep them from having to play in cold weather.)

Oh yeah, here’s today’s bowl schedule. Consider this your open thread for the day.

Celebration Bowl: Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T, 11 AM CT, ABC

Cure Bowl: UL Lafayette vs. Tulane, 12:30 PM CT, CBS Sports Network

FCS Semifinal: Maine at Eastern Washington, 1:00 PM CT, ESPN2

New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State, 1:00 PM CT, ESPN

Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Fresno State, 2:30 PM CT, ABC

Division II National Championship: Ferris State vs. Valdosta State, 3:00 PM CT, ESPNU

Camellia Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern, 4:30 PM CT, ESPN

NAIA National Championship: Benedictine vs. Morningside, 5:00 PM CT, ESPN3

New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. MTSU, 8:00 PM CT, ESPN

(There’s also plenty of basketball today, too!)

Anchor Drop: Wait and see with new AD

If you think coaches are hard to grade, athletic directors are even harder.

Good morning.

There’s a lot of cautious optimism surrounding new Vanderbilt athletic director Malcolm Turner. Joe Rexrode thinks that Turner can do great things if he’s given the freedom to operate by Nick Zeppos — a big if. Zeppos explained why he went with a nontraditional AD hire.

I think I agree with a lot of the reasoning here. Vanderbilt doesn’t need a functionary right now; it needs a visionary. If Vanderbilt just needed someone to come in and pay the bills for a few years, keep the coaches happy, and do some minor upkeep on facilities, then hiring someone like Turner would be a needless risk. But Vanderbilt needs a lot more than that from its athletic director in 2019 and the coming years.

The good news is that on one front, Turner probably won’t have any major decisions to make any time soon. Tim Corbin isn’t going anywhere. Bryce Drew at least appears to be on solid ground in his third year; some Vanderbilt fans might be a little antsy, but there’s no reason to think the men’s basketball program will need to make a change any time soon. Derek Mason’s footing seems to be a lot firmer than it did a few months ago, and I wouldn’t expect Turner to need to make a move there soon barring a catastrophic 2019. To varying degrees, the non-revenue sports are all pulling their weight. The lone exception is the women’s basketball team, which went an embarrassing 7-24 last year and doesn’t appear to be much improved this year. But a women’s basketball coaching hire is not going to make or break an athletic director’s career.

On the other front, well, there’s a lot to be done. Turner will have to do something about the football stadium sooner rather than later. I maintain that Vanderbilt Stadium isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, but the fan unrest over that issue is to the point that doing nothing about it, or making some minor fixes, simply isn’t an option at this point. And more or less, the football stadium is a flashpoint for a ton of other areas that have been neglected over the years. Vanderbilt has taken a massive beating over facilities since August, including from some on-air personalities on the ESPN family of networks. It’s embarrassing but by and large it hasn’t been unfair. Oh yeah, and Vanderbilt arguably made things worse for itself last year by considering moving the team off-campus to a new stadium for Nashville’s MLS team.

In short, this is the long-term rebuild of athletic director jobs. We probably won’t have a really good idea of how well Malcolm Turner is doing as AD for a while, because so much has to be done, and it probably won’t happen all at once.

Vanderbilt News

With it being finals week, actual sports news has been slow aside from the AD hire. (Vanderbilt did pick a great time to make the announcement considering that it came during a time when we had little else to talk about.)

Basketball signee Dylan Disu scored 51 points in a high school game, though, and he’s currently averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds a game.

Off the West End

Outside the Lines makes me never want to eat food at a sporting event.

Oh look, a professional sports team owner is threatening to move the team in order to get taxpayers to build him a new stadium.

Nick Saban’s Island of Misfit Coaches has a new member.

I’m not really sure how I feel about the PGA Championship moving to May.

The AoG Guide to Houston

If you’re going to Houston for Vanderbilt’s bowl game, we have a guide to the city just for you.

Vanderbilt will play Baylor in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl in Houston later this month. I’ve been a resident of Houston for five years, and my wife has been a Houstonian for a lot longer than that. So, we present to you the guide to everything Houston for your bowl trip.

General information

Houston is large. Really large. Entire states can fit inside of the greater Houston area. We measure distances in time, because two miles might take you 20 minutes at the wrong time of day.

Getting Here

If you’re flying, Houston has two airports. Most — though not all — flights come into the George Bush Intercontinental (don’t call it “International”) Airport, located about 30 minutes north of downtown. If you’re flying Southwest, you’re going to arrive at Hobby AIrport, the older and smaller airport located closer to downtown inside of 610 (frequently referred to as just “The Loop” in these parts; it separates the oldest part of Houston from the vast suburban expanse beyond.)

If you’re driving, well, that’s about a 12-hour drive. Google Maps will tell you to go through Arkansas and down US-59 from Texarkana to Houston; I personally don’t recommend this route as you’ll spend most of the trip stuck behind two 18-wheelers attempting to pass one another. Instead, you’re better off driving I-55 from Memphis into Louisiana and then driving west on I-10; it usually ends up taking about the same amount of time.

Where to Stay

You may be tempted to stay in the area around NRG Stadium, where the games are being played, or possibly near the airport (whichever one you flew into.) In a word: don’t. There’s not a ton to do immediately around NRG Stadium, and both airports are located in areas of town that are best described as “rough.” And Bush, in particular, is located pretty far away from anything you’d want to do, including the game. We also don’t recommend staying in the suburbs; while traffic should be a bit lighter than usual (since, you know, nobody here is actually from here and thus everybody’s out of town for the holidays), I can’t guarantee that it won’t take you 45 minutes to drive anywhere from the suburbs.

Staying downtown will give you easy access to the Metro light rail red line, which will drop you off right at NRG Stadium (and costs $1.25 to ride one-way.) The Marriott Marquis (1777 Walker Street) is expensive but totally worth it; it also has a lazy river in the shape of Texas and Craig Biggio’s sports bar downstairs. If you don’t want to stay downtown, a recommendation is Hotel ZaZa (5701 Main St), a small boutique hotel located in Houston’s Museum District close to Rice and the Texas Medical Center, which also has easy light-rail access.

Alternatively, you can stay in one of the many hotels near Houston’s Galleria, including the Westin Galleria (5060 W Alabama St), which is attached to the mall itself (and also is, reportedly, where the team is staying.) There are plenty of hotels in Houston but as long as you stay inside of 610 (and west of downtown) you should be within easy distance of the stadium. We also recommend taking Uber to and from the stadium if you’re not taking the light rail, because Houston traffic is a bitch (and also because, as a Vanderbilt football fan, you are probably drinking heavily.)

Also, avoid 290 like the plague.

Recreation

Houston has several parks with good running trails, including Buffalo Bayou, which has great views of downtown, though you may want to hold your nose while running underneath the bat bridge under Waugh Street. If you’re looking for a running trail with less relief and a gravel trail rather than asphalt, there’s Memorial Park and Hermann Park. Both of those also have a golf course (and yes, there’s a decent chance the weather will be warm enough to play golf even in late December), and Hermann Park is also home to the Houston Zoo.

If you want to be cultured

Try the Museum of Fine Arts (1001 Bissonet St), the Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr), or the Children’s Museum of Houston (1500 Binz St) — all located in the appropriately-named Museum District. And yes, the Space Center (1601 NASA Parkway) is still here, too. You can take a tram tour through NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

If you don’t want to be cultured

Go to Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co (5301 Nolda St), a local microbrewery that will let you sample their brews on-site. So, too, will Saint Arnold Brewing Company (2000 Lyons St) and 8th Wonder Brewery (2202 Dallas St.) You’re welcome. (Karbach Brewing Company would have made this list as well, until they sold out to Anheuser-Busch.)

Where to Eat

We’re mostly going to skip the usual recommendations that you can find on various travel sites on the internet, because you can find those pretty easily anywhere, and if you’re down for spending $250 on dinner for two at Brennan’s of Houston (3300 Smith St)... well, I’m not really going to argue with you because it is really good.

Local Foods (2555 Kirby Dr, plus four other locations) is a casual restaurant that we usually go to once a week, which has a selection of sandwiches and salads and also has some dinner specials. As the name implies, their food is sourced locally as much as practical. Rebekah recommends that you get the crunchy chicken sandwich with the chips as one of your sides, or she’ll root for Baylor to win. (Ed. note: as a Methodist preacher’s daughter and Texas Tech grad, she is not going to root for Baylor, regardless of how much she claims “Texas nationalism” is a thing.) I personally haven’t eaten the crunchy chicken sandwich, though, so I can’t speak for the accuracy of this recommendation.

If you’re wanting breakfast, try Snooze A.M. Eatery (3217 Montrose Blvd., among other locations), but if you get there after about 8 AM you’re probably going to be waiting for a table (but they do have free coffee while you wait). It’s sort of a modern breakfast joint, with your classic breakfast items along with some more creative entrees. Oh yeah, and they also will serve you booze with breakfast, which is what you really came here for.

For Mexican food, there’s the original Ninfa’s on Navigation (2704 Navigation Blvd), located east of downtown. For Mexican-ish, we like Velvet Taco (907 Westheimer Rd or 4819 Washington Ave), which has a more... creative selection of tacos, like the Cuban Pig taco (#7, Tom’s personal favorite) or the Picnic Chicken Taco (#3.5, Rebekah’s favorite.) They’ll also have the “WTF” (Weekly Taco Feature) which is usually worth a try. Basically if you ever wanted to answer the question “what would it be like if you put shrimp and grits on a taco?” then this place is for you.

If you want barbecue (WARNING: you will not find pork on the menu; this is Texas) and you don’t mind a bit of a drive, try Killen’s (3613 E. Broadway, Pearland.) If you do mind a drive, go to The Pit Room (1201 Richmond Ave) — but be forewarned that parking is tight, and if you go too late they might have run out of barbecue (this has actually happened to us before.)

Quote from Rebekah about barbecue (that I do not endorse): “I don’t know what that stuff is all you other people call BBQ, but in Texas, we eat beef. Get the brisket, but don’t slather it in sauce until you try it first. True BBQ needs no sauce.”

For pizza, try Bollo Woodfired Pizza (2202 W Alabama St) and get the Diavolo pizza. Or something else, but if you don’t listen to my recommendations, why do you read this blog?

Houston also has the usual selection of chain restaurants if that’s your thing. I’m not going to write any recommendations for them because you’ve probably already eaten them before.

Where to Drink

I recommend Christian’s Tailgate (multiple locations), which has a wide selection of beer, good chicken wings (and also burgers, tacos, and nachos), and lots of TV’s. Rebekah recommends Eloise Nichols (2400 Mid Ln), which has, uh, cocktails. Or, as she puts it, “a more elevated experience.” She also says that they make a “killer margarita.” There is also Sonoma Wine Bar (2720 Richmond Ave), which, as the name suggests, is a wine bar. Most of you reading this are probably going with the first recommendation.

There is also our local neighborhood watering hole, Piggy’s Kitchen & Bar (3412 W Lamar St), which has great drink specials and a better than average menu for bar food, but which does not seem to have much pork on the menu in spite of the name.

Parking

It sucks. Unless you’re tailgating, don’t bother parking at NRG Stadium, and instead either take the light rail from downtown or Uber. There are plenty of parking lots located near the downtown light rail stops if you’re not staying downtown, and it’s probably cheaper than the parking at the stadium.

Also note that Houston restaurants have an obnoxious tendency to have valet parking, even at restaurants that you would not think should have valet parking, so you may want to carry cash.

Avoid

290, The Woodlands, parking in and around NRG Stadium, and large chain restaurants in general.

Join the 2018 Anchor of Gold Bowl Pick’em contest!

Win ...something? Maybe?

The holiday season is a blessed time. Not only do the football gods gift us a bowl slate that ensures a handy distraction from up to 80% of our awkward Christmas break family conversations, but we also get the chance to root for Vanderbilt in an honest-to-goodness postseason game.

The Texas Bowl is the crown jewel of 2018’s bowl games, slapped smack-dab in the middle of the post-Christmas bell curve so that all other bowls can be judged against it. The Commodores will face a university who dared ask “what if we placed an institution of higher learning in a complete vacuum of culture” and then scoffed when the answer was “a whole bunch of sexual assaults.” Baylor University rebounded from last year’s 1-11 record to go 6-6 this fall, but that still doesn’t mean I’m gonna pick them to beat the Commodores.

Oh right, the pick’em! So we’ve got a little tradition for the Texas Bowl and the other 39 bowl games set to kick off Saturday. A test of knowledge ultimately decided by luck, much like the ACT. All you’ve got to do is pick the winner of every bowl game this season and rank your choices based on how confident you are in the outcome. Whoever finishes with the most points after the national championship game is the winner, and he or she will walk away with ...

well, probably just bragging rights. We’ve been trying to come up with some good Vandy prizes, but it turns out no one is super interested in donating promotional gifts to our 30-person contest.

Anyway, here’s where you sign up:

http://sofachamps.com/bowl-pickem/2018/league/62/join?rid=50

SofaChamps is run by a pair of Vandy grads, so you know it’s well made (and condescending to users who graduated from state schools). You’ve got until early Saturday morning to make your picks for the entire bowl season. Then, you get to sit back and act like you’ve got a dog in the fight when UAB and Northern Illinois go to war.

Go, click that link, and prove you know more than the people who wrote about college football all year long. You’ll find it’s surprisingly easy to do.

Malcolm Turner’s G-League tenure speaks for itself

Seriously, how can you not like this hire?

When Malcolm Turner took over as President of the NBA Developmental League in 2014, the league had 14 teams and was mostly seen as a backwater, a place where post-college basketball players went when they just couldn’t let the NBA dream die and accept a professional career in Europe as their fate in life.

In 2018, the NBA G-League — renamed due to sponsorship reasons (orchestrated by Turner) — has 27 franchises, each of them affiliated with (and often owned by) a parent NBA franchise, and thanks to increased pay and increased opportunities for promotion to the NBA, it’s begun to hoard the kinds of players who in the past would have become stars overseas. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that Luke Kornet and Jeff Roberson would have been plying their trade in Italy, with no realistic options to make a living playing basketball outside the NBA. Instead, Kornet is currently playing for the New York Knicks — after spending much of last season with the Westchester Knicks — while Jeff Roberson plays for the Maine Red Claws. All but a handful of the Red Claws’ games are available to be streamed, and a few are even on real television.

What’s more, Malcolm Turner had no particular reason to want to leave his current job. That Turner is Vanderbilt’s new athletic director suggests that (a) Vanderbilt really, really wanted Turner to be its new athletic director, and (b) Turner sees potential in the Vanderbilt brand.

Which is why it’s so strange to see takes like this floating around the internet:

What’s there to be perplexed about? Well...

It’s telling that in Dan’s phrasing, Malcolm Turner wasn’t the “obvious candidate;” he was the guy that Vanderbilt “ended up with.” (If you really want it spelled out, the Midday 180 today apparently had it covered, regardless of whether you believe what they said. They also apparently went to a place I didn’t think they would go.)

The “obvious candidates” were athletic directors at other “Power 5” universities. It’s a real concern that Malcolm Turner has zero experience at a college athletic department, but it’s not as big of a concern that the revolving door of athletic directors — who come and go at various universities every few years and often seem to be working as much for their next job as their current one (remember that guy at Pitt who decided it was a good idea to hire Kevin Stallings as his basketball coach? Oregon State hired him a few months later) — would have you believe.

It’s at a point where anyone who doesn’t have experience working in a college athletic department will be questioned, and hiring Generic AD from Power Five University will be automatically accepted. What does that sound like to you?

For a long time, college football was a place for exciting, innovative offenses, while the NFL was a staid, boring league where everybody did the same thing that had been long accepted as The Way Things Are Done. Now, the NFL (at least in some quarters) has exciting young coaches with exciting innovative offenses — largely because they got away from hiring the same pool of retread coaches over and over again. Meanwhile, college football has become the land of the retread, and if you’re not hiring a retread, you’d better make sure that your new coach has the correct references on his resume.

Malcolm Turner might or might not do big things as Vanderbilt’s athletic director, but it’s strange that the opposition to the hire is only because the insular world of college athletics wanted someone else from inside the world of college athletics to get the job. If he doesn’t succeed, it certainly won’t be because he did not come from the Accepted Pool of Candidates (as determined by members of the Accepted Pool of Candidates.)

Report: Malcolm Turner to be named Vanderbilt AD

Vanderbilt may have found its replacement for David Williams.

UPDATE: It’s official, Malcolm Turner will be Vanderbilt’s next AD.

According to a report in Sports Business Daily, NBA G-League President Malcolm Turner is leaving his position to become Vanderbilt’s athletic director. Turner will replace David Williams, who announced his retirement in September.

Turner has been in his current role since November 2014. Prior to that, he headed the golf division at Wassermann Media Group. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina and a J.D. and M.B.A. from Harvard.

While his resume is impressive, the lone drawback is that he’s never worked in a college athletic department before. Hopefully he’ll bring in some assistants with relevant experience.

2019 OL Donald Fitzgerald Commits

Fitzgerald is very imposing.

With a little over a week to go until the early signing period, Vanderbilt picked up a big addition to its 2019 recruiting class, and by “big” we mean “6’9” and 275 pounds big.”

Donald Fitzgerald, who plays just down the road at Hillsboro High School, announced his commitment to Vanderbilt via Twitter on Monday, shortly after picking up a scholarship offer from the Commodores. Fitzgerald is listed as a three-star recruit and the #148 offensive tackle prospect on 247 Sports (at least, their in-house ratings; the composite ranking doesn’t have a ranking for him yet.)

Now, if you’re wondering why he doesn’t have a composite rating yet, well, his Rivals page only lists an offer from East Tennessee State... to play basketball. Fitzgerald only started playing football this year, but his size and performance at offensive tackle and defensive end for Hillsboro was good enough to land an offer from Derek Mason.

Here is Fitzgerald’s highlight video, courtesy of Hudl:

Saturday Open Thread

What the hell, talk about whatever you want.

It’s Saturday, and while Vanderbilt is in the middle of finals — and the football team awaits its bowl game — there’s plenty of other stuff going on.

There is the Army-Navy game, which will be televised on CBS at 2:00 PM CT. There are also lower division playoffs. Let’s start with the FCS quarterfinals (Maine beat Weber State last night, so there are only three games today):

  • Colgate at North Dakota State (11:00 AM, ESPN/WatchESPN)
  • South Dakota State at Kennesaw State (1:00 PM, WatchESPN)
  • UC Davis at Eastern Washington (3:00 PM, WatchESPN)

Also, the Division II semifinals:

  • Notre Dame (OH) at Valdosta State (11:00 AM, WatchESPN)
  • Ferris State at MSU-Mankato (2:00 PM, WatchESPN)

And the Division III semifinals:

  • Johns Hopkins at Mount Union (11:00 AM, WatchESPN)
  • Wisconsin-Whitewater at Mary Hardin Baylor (2:00 PM, WatchESPN)

There is also the Heisman ceremony, which will be televised on ESPN at 7:00 PM CT, and plenty of college basketball and soccer. Talk about whatever you want.

Resetting Vanderbilt’s 2019 recruiting class

A little over a week away from the early signing period, let’s take a look at what Vanderbilt might need to address.

College football is in the second year of having an early signing period, which will begin this year on December 19 and run through December 21. Last year, we learned that basically anyone who is (a) committed prior to the early signing period and (b) does not sign a Letter of Intent during the early signing period, is probably going elsewhere.

On the other hand, last year all but two of Vanderbilt’s commitments at that time did, in fact, sign early. Miles Jones didn’t sign, and ended up at Nebraska, while Rayshad Williams flipped to UCLA literally at his signing ceremony at Whitehaven in February.

So, here’s a list (courtesy of Rivals) of players who are committed to the program as of today, December 7:

  • TE Joel DeCoursey (Zionsville, IN)
  • TE Jeffrey Blake (Norcross, GA)
  • DL Christian James (Memphis, TN)
  • QB Jamil Muhammad (Madison, AL)
  • Justin Ball (Washington, DC; currently listed as a TE, but rumored to be recruited as an OL)
  • DB Justin Harris (Attalla, AL)
  • RB JR Tran-Reno (Birmingham, AL)
  • DL Daevion Davis (Madison, AL)
  • WR Devin Boddie (Memphis, TN)
  • WR Jayden Harrison (Nashville, TN)
  • LB Anfernee Orji (Rockwall, TX)
  • RB Delbert Mimms (Indianapolis, IN)
  • DB Jaylen Mahoney (Rock Hill, SC)
  • OL Julian Hernandez (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
  • DB Gabe Jeudy (Charlotte, NC)
  • LB Kendall Young (Bentonville, AR)
  • K Jared Wheatley (Indian Trail, NC)
  • OL Brayden Bapst (Washington, DC)

I’m mostly going off the positions that Rivals has listed, though I’m kind of projecting the players they have listed as athletes. Jamil Muhammad was definitely recruited as a quarterback, and JR Tran-Reno was recruited as a running back. Devin Boddie and Jayden Harrison could end up at either WR or DB, but since both play WR in high school, we’ll keep them there for now. On the other hand, no, Vanderbilt didn’t actually recruit three tight ends in this class, and Justin Ball will probably end up on one of the lines.

I’m not going to engage in any speculation over who might or might not flip between now and February. Assuming everyone ends up on campus — and, let’s say for argument’s sake, that Joejuan Williams, Jared Pinkney, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn all leave for the NFL — here is what Vanderbilt’s roster breakdown by position would look like entering 2019:

QB: 3

RB: 5

WR: 11

TE: 5

OL: 12

DL: 12

LB: 13

DB: 14

K/P: 2

TOTAL: 77

There are a handful of things to note in here. The offensive line looks pretty thin here (and at least two of the incoming freshmen will need to spend a significant amount of time in the weight room before they’re ready to contribute), but rising junior Braden Kopp, currently listed as a tight end, could move back there, as could current true freshman Tyler Steen, who’s on the defensive line for now. With that said, the offensive line is one place where I’d look for Vanderbilt to add another commit or two before February, but there’s probably nobody who would provide immediate help; that’s definitely a place where you’re looking a year or three down the road. The fact that Vanderbilt would have 11 wide receivers on scholarship — which is quite a lot for a team that doesn’t often run sets with more than three receivers on the field at a time — could increase the odds of Devin Boddie and/or Jayden Harrison moving to the defensive side of the ball.

On the other hand, assuming that Jared Pinkney is off to the NFL, here are the tight ends that Vanderbilt will have on scholarship next season: Gavin Schoenwald, Ben Bresnahan, Braden Kopp, Joel DeCoursey, and Jeffrey Blake. Kopp could move back to the offensive line, and the other four have combined for (I believe) zero snaps. It seems like Vanderbilt has loaded up on tight ends in the last couple of classes, but it turns out there was a reason for that. Though I will point out that Vanderbilt has gotten some mileage out of walk-on Cody Markel here, so maybe they won’t take any additional tight ends. (And, of course, Justin Ball could always stay at tight end for the time being.)

Aside from the obvious areas, Derek Mason does tend to prefer to have a lot of depth in the defensive back seven, so taking another linebacker or defensive back isn’t out of the question. Going into the season with three scholarship quarterbacks is, of course, dangerous, but any addition is much more likely to be a graduate transfer than another developmental guy.

Vanderbilt’s Limbaugh to Coach US at Palmer Cup

Vanderbilt’s Men’s Golf Coach Scott Limbaugh will coach the US team at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Cup held at the Alotian Club in Roland, Arkansas.

The Palmer Cup is an international team event held annually. The teams are made up of collegiate golfers from around the world in a Ryder Cup style format and scoring.

Historically, the field is elite. According to the Palmer Cup site, “Since its inception, over 100 former Arnold Palmer Cup alumni have gone on to earn cards on either the PGA Tour, European Tour or LPGA, 28 have represented Europe or the USA in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, and more than 50 have claimed over 200 victories on the PGA or European Tours. The United States leads the series 12-9-1.”

Limbaugh is a perfect choice as a coach. He has raised the status of Vanderbilt golf since he joined the program in 2012. His teams have 20 tournament victories (including a 20 stroke victory in their last tournament of the Fall season), contended for SEC and National titles, produced conference Player of the Year, and talent for the Euro and Web Tours. As much as it is a coaching position, it is an honor of good work and trust to shepherd young talent for the US. Plus, he gets a cool bag.

The Palmer Cup will be contested June 7-9.

Another De Facto Mailbag: Is This The Best Rebounding Team We Can Remember?

Hey, let’s answer another commenter’s question with a front page post!

In last night’s game thread, commenter UncleMorti asked this:

Uncle Morti is 40. Let’s say I remember clearly the last 25 years of Vandy Basketball. (Clearly is a strong word here.) Is this the best rebounding team that Uncle Morti can remember.

First of all, “clearly” is a strong word. Since this is Vanderbilt we’re talking about, booze was definitely involved in some of those memories.

Anyway — let’s go to KenPom! (Notices that KenPom only goes back to the 2001-02 season.) All right, let’s go to sports-reference.com!

According to KenPom’s numbers, this year’s team has an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.1%. That ranks 72nd in the nation; if that number were to hold up all season, it would be the highest raw offensive rebound percentage of the last 17 years, and also the best national ranking in that statistic in that time frame.

But that’s only one end of the floor. On the other end, Vanderbilt is allowing opponents to rebound 29.4% of their own misses, ranking 192nd in the country. That’s actually worse than the 2008-09 team, which also happened to be the best offensive rebounding team of Kevin Stallings’ KenPom-era teams. That team only allowed opponents to rebound 28.2% of their own misses, ranking 62nd in the country.

So now, let’s jump to sports-reference and... oh. The first team I look at on there, Stallings’ 2000-01 team, rebounded 35.1% of its own misses — though they also allowed opponents to grab 33.2% of their misses. Jan van Breda Kolff’s last team in 1998-99 rebounded 36.3% of its own misses; his 1997-98 team rebounded 35.6% of its own misses. (Anthony Williams, apparently, was a monster on the offensive glass.) You get the idea.

Now, here’s where things get complicated. This year’s team has allowed opponents to rebound 29.4% of their own misses, which ranks 192nd in the country. On the other hand, well, Kevin Stallings’ 2004-05 team allowed opponents to grab 30% of their misses — and that mark ranked 72nd in the country. One long-term trend in college basketball is that many teams are opting to chase fewer and fewer offensive rebounds, instead opting to send more players back on defense as soon as a shot is attempted in order to prevent transition baskets going the other way. Kevin Stallings was pretty well ahead of the curve on this — his teams often ranked in the bottom half of Division I in offensive rebounding — but the success of John Beilein, who’s regularly fielded excellent offenses that nonetheless ranked near the bottom of Division I in offensive rebounding, has been a bigger driver in this trend. (Of course, this only works if your teams are as good at making shots as Beilein’s are.) This year’s Vanderbilt team is actually making an effort at chasing its own misses, which is leading to an inflated offensive rebounding percentage — on the other hand, the defensive rebounding has been frustrating.

So the answer is inconclusive, for now. It’s hard to remove context and say that this year’s team is better at rebounding than, say, the 2008-09 team, or any of the VBK teams.

Vanderbilt beats down MTSU, 79-51

Amazing what happens when the shots are falling.

After an awful shooting performance against NC State on Saturday, Vanderbilt needed to see some shots fall.

That happened in a big way on Wednesday night. The Commodores shot 9-of-21 from three and made their first 17 free throws in a 79-51 beat down of Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders came into Memorial Gym having won two straight against the Commodores — 71-48 in Murfreesboro two years ago, and 66-63 at Memorial Gym last season — but it wasn’t happening on Wednesday night as Vanderbilt played lockdown defense and looked much less disjointed on the offensive end.

The two teams got off to a slow start; Middle led 3-2 at the first media timeout with under 16 minutes left in the first half. But then, Matthew Moyer sparked the offense with an off-balance three with the shot clock running out, and Vanderbilt was off to the races. The Commodores held Middle without a point for six minutes in the first half and raced out to a 42-21 halftime lead, never allowing the Blue Raiders within striking distance in the second half.

Simi Shittu led Vanderbilt with 15 points and six rebounds, while Matthew Moyer scored 14.

Game 8: Blue Raiders at Commodores

Oh great. These guys, again.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (3-5) at Vanderbilt Commodores (5-2)

When: 6:30 PM CT, Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tennessee

TV: SEC Network/WatchESPN

Radio: Vanderbilt IMG Sports Network

As Vanderbilt continues its adjustment to life without Darius Garland, a familiar foe comes to town. The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, who have beaten Vanderbilt in each of the last two years, visit Memorial Gym tonight for Vanderbilt’s last game before exams begin.

The good news? Well, MTSU is not even close to the same team it was over the last few years under Kermit Davis. Most of the team’s major contributors from last season are gone, and so is Kermit Davis, who’s now the coach at Ole Miss. The Blue Raiders are 3-5 on the season, with two of those wins coming against non-Division I foes Lees McRae and Milligan. They’re currently ranked #206 in KenPom under first-year head coach Nicholas McDevitt; should that hold up, it would be the worst team MTSU has fielded in the eighteen years that KenPom has been doing this.

Vanderbilt is a pretty significant favorite in this one — 14.5 points according to the oddsmakers — and a blowout win tonight would do a ton to restore the team’s confidence in itself after losing their star player.

Anchor Down.

The Case for Vanderbilt Basketball Without Darius Garland

Or: why you shouldn’t give up on this season.

Rewind to about a year and a month ago. Let’s imagine a world in which Darius Garland decides that instead of playing for his hometown team, he wants to go to Indiana and play with Romeo Langford instead. Let’s also imagine that everything else that’s happened within the last year — Simi Shittu signing, Matthew Moyer coming in as a transfer, Larry Austin, Payton Willis, and Djery Baptiste leaving the program, and no other players signing with the program — remains true. Vanderbilt enters the 2018-19 season with a starting five of Saben Lee, Aaron Nesmith, Joe Toye, Matt Ryan, and Simi Shittu; with Max Evans, Clevon Brown, Yanni Wetzell, and Matthew Moyer coming off the bench.

Here’s a question I have: if this was the roster that Vanderbilt had coming into the season, would you see this as a potential NCAA Tournament team?

You probably would, or at least you would talk yourself into it. Simi Shittu, after all, is a five-star recruit and future NBA lottery pick in his own right; Saben Lee is a capable point guard himself; and the supporting cast looks pretty solid on paper. Which is why it is a bit odd that many are now writing off that team after Darius Garland came in, played four games and two minutes of a fifth, and then was lost for the season with a knee injury.

We’ll grant that two of Vanderbilt’s three performances since losing Garland for the season have been very bad. We can chalk up the Kent State loss to having to adjust on the fly to not having Garland on the floor. The NC State loss was a bit more concerning, though the Commodores happened to have an awful shooting night — 3-for-22 from three, and 18-for-30 at the foul line. Still, it was a two-point game with eight and a half minutes left against a pretty good opponent.

Here is where I remind you of the fact that five of the nine players for Vanderbilt are in their first season playing for the Commodores (though two of those were with the team last season.) Both the offense and the defense look disjointed right now, but the problems don’t appear to be a lack of talent. They’re mostly the problems that you would expect to see with a bunch of guys who haven’t really played together before — and to a larger degree, they look like the sort of problems you’d expect to see with a team that spent the preseason and the first four games of the regular season operating under the assumption that Darius Garland would be playing for them.

There’s a difference between “this team doesn’t have the talent to compete” and “this team has a lot of glitches that need to be worked out,” and Vanderbilt’s 2018-19 team falls very much into the latter category. Guess what? Following tonight’s game against MTSU, Vanderbilt will have twelve full days before its next game. In Bryce Drew’s first season, the team looked very disjointed early in the season, then had a chance during finals break to work on some things and put things together enough to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

That could be the path we’re now on this year. If Vanderbilt comes out and lays an egg against Arizona State and Kansas State after finals break, we can reevaluate this position. For now, though, it’s reasonable to think this team can still make a run at the tournament.

AOG Commenter De Facto Mailbag: Will They Stay Or Will They Go?

Confusing enough title for you?

Commenter ArtlessWobbler (nee MuzzleOfBees) posted the following:

Next year

is going to be interesting to watch unfold. Maybe not good interesting but…a lot of variables right now: QB is obviously a big ? but I feel really good about that WR corps moving forward. Not a thing I’ve been able to say very often around here.

In fact, looking at the roster, it’s possible that quality depth I’ve heard so much about could mean far less of a regression than I thought. Especially if Vaughn/Pinkney/Williams stay. Speaking of, anybody care to speculate on those odds?

Seeing as I have some time during office hours right now, I thought I’d take a stab at it.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn - 50% stay. This one is honestly a coin flip, as Mason and Ludwig will make him the centerpiece of their “re-recruitment” efforts. He has to know he will be the feature back, and will likely be the focal point of the offense. He will wait to see his NFL draft grade from scouts this spring. If they give him a top 3 round grade, he will go. They might. They might tell him to show what he can do as the feature back in ‘19 to improve his stock. They certainly will tell him to improve upon his pass blocking (*call back to Tom claiming at the beginning of the season that Vaughn had not earned more carries due to poor pass blocking, and my repeated mocking of Tom for this POV). Vaughn boasts a 1,000 yard season, 7.0 YPC, and 10 TDs... all while languishing on the bench for a good chunk of the season, and then missing time due to injuries and Chugger headhunting. Vaughn has an “eye of the beholder” thing going. Some will see an injury prone smaller RB who struggled to get carries early, and others will see, well... Alvin Kamara. I tend towards the latter view, but NFL scouts might need to see more. Again, it’s 50/50.

Jared Pinkney - 85% leave. I’m not sure Pinkney has anything left to prove, and he has a lot to lose by staying. He was 2nd on the team in receiving (to Kalija “Bisons” Lipscomb), with 45 catches for 698 yards and 7 TDs. He is a sure-handed, seam-destroying pass-catching tight end. The NFL seems to like those. I’d bet he gets a top 3 round grade and bolts. There is just too much uncertainty with returning, as he will have to develop a relationship with a new QB--one who may not be as proficient at exploiting the TE as Shurms McKenzie has been. Lipscomb is coming back, but I would guess Pinkney is playing on Sundays next year.

Joejuan Williams - 95% leave. Unless he has a fervent zeal for getting his degree on time, he’s gone. He should be a top 2 round DB, and the league craves DBs who can do what Joejuan can do. He was first on the team in INTs (4) and PBUs (10), and that was with teams trying to avoid throwing it his way. Unless Mason is more loquacious and persuasive than we think, he’s gone.

Josh Henderson - 100% returning for his 9th year of basketball eligibility.

Why is Vanderbilt pursuing a graduate transfer QB?

Ball State’s Riley Neal was on campus yesterday. Let’s talk about this.

Vanderbilt has had a very capable passing attack for the past couple of years behind QB Kyle Shurmur. But Shurmur, you might have heard, is graduating after this season.

That leaves a lot of questions for the 2019 season. The quarterbacks currently projected to be on the 2019 roster have combined to attempt 28 passes at the college level, and 22 of those were by Deuce Wallace, who is not currently on the team. (We’ll get to that.) The other six attempts came from Mo Hasan, a walk-on who’s occasionally been used as a situational quarterback for his running ability — which isn’t great, but it’s better than Shurmur’s.

So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Vanderbilt might pursue a graduate transfer who’s immediately eligible.

Riley Neal, listed at 6’6” and 225 pounds, at the very least solves the “experience” problem. In four years at Ball State (he got a medical redshirt after playing three games in 2017 before getting hurt), Neal completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 7393 yards, with 46 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also ran 325 times for 1363 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career at Ball State. In 2018, he completed 194 of 335 passes for 1917 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

With that said, he also missed the last three games of Ball State’s season with an injury, and his two worst performances of the season came against Notre Dame and Indiana — you know, the kind of teams he’d be facing at Vanderbilt.

Still, there are a lot of question marks at quarterback.

For one thing, going into a season with two or three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster is dangerous. Vanderbilt got away with having only two scholarship quarterbacks in 2018 simply because one of those was Kyle Shurmur, an established SEC quarterback, and Shurmur managed to get through the season without getting injured. That meant that Vanderbilt never even had to consider going to Mo Hasan for an extended period of time, or pulling the redshirt off talented freshman Allan Walters.

Next season, Vanderbilt does not have that luxury. Deuce Wallace, who’s currently suspended from the university but is expected back in 2019, should enter spring practice neck and neck with Walters for the starting job, with incoming freshman Jamil Muhammad a likely redshirt. What happens, though, if Wallace is ineffective? What happens if Walters isn’t ready for the starting job? Vanderbilt might be headed for a long season in 2019 either way, but poor quarterback play would pretty much guarantee it.

Bringing in a graduate transfer, whether Riley Neal or someone else, would at least give Vanderbilt an insurance policy. Neal might not beat out either Wallace or Walters for the starting job, should he come to Vanderbilt, but having a quarterback on the roster with Division I starting experience is not a bad idea in this situation. If Wallace beats him out for the starting job, that’s good on him; and if Vanderbilt views Walters or Muhammad as the future at the position, Neal might be able to provide a one-year bridge between Shurmur and the future.

Anchor Drop: Bowl Game Edition

If you haven’t heard, Vanderbilt is playing in the Texas Bowl against Baylor.

Good morning.

If you haven’t heard by now, Vanderbilt will play Baylor in the 2018 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston on December 27. Tickets from Vanderbilt’s ticket allotment are available through vucommodores.com. I’d encourage you to buy through Vanderbilt if you’re going as it looks good for future bowls if we sell out our allotment.

Women’s basketball lost 72-61 at Kansas State on Sunday in spite of 21 points from Mariella Fasoula. The women are now 3-5 on the season.

The Tennessean has some thoughts on three Vanderbilt juniors — Jared Pinkney, Joejuan Williams, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn — who might be off to the NFL after the Texas Bowl. Derek Mason evidently set up a meeting with an agent to see about their draft stock. (Kalija Lipscomb has already announced he’s returning to college next season.)

Also tying up another loose end, Colorado is hiring Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to be its head coach. Derek Mason had been mentioned as a candidate for that job.

Off the West End

Your playoff: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma.

There was a massive screwup in slotting the at-large New Year’s Six games, though, declining us the opportunity to see UCF vs. Florida and instead giving us Florida vs. Michigan for roughly the ten millionth time. I’m sure Florida didn’t chicken out of playing UCF because when have they done that?

Bill Snyder is retiring, finally.

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