Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: High expectations for Kevin Stallings and Vandy

College basketball season has officially arrived. Each week at Sports and Entertainment Nashville, I’ll run through Middle Tennessee’s hottest college hoops topics in the Three-Point Play.

What are we waiting for? Let’s jump right in.

1) is Vandy the biggest threat to Kentucky in the SEC?

Damian Jones could lead the Commodores to a huge 2015-2016 season. PHOTO BY JOHN RUSSELL, COURTESY VANDERBILT

From 2004-2012, Kevin Stallings led Vanderbilt to six NCAA tournament appearances. Two of those saw the Commodores make it all the way to the Sweet 16. A lot of talent came through Nashville during that time span.

But could Stallings’ 2015 team be his best yet? There’s a few reasons to believe that it might just be.

For starters, Stallings himself has said that this is the most skilled shooting team that he’s ever coached. That’s as an assistant or a head coach. Stallings has been coaching since 1982.

As if that wasn’t enough, most also believe that 7-foot junior center Damian Jones is the best post player that Stallings has had during his time in Nashville. That’s understandable considering that Jones is considered by many draft analysts to be a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA draft.

So to recap, Vandy may have the best shooters and low post player of the Stallings era. What else do you need?

Well actually, to hang with a team like Kentucky, you need depth. Good news: Vandy has that too thanks to the arrival of Cornell transfer Nolan Cressler and a solid group of freshmen.

Everyone’s love affair with Kentucky is understandable. But anyone that underestimates this Vandy team will suffer the consequences.

Maybe it’s Stallings’ best team, maybe it isn’t. Either way, he’s got a legitimate SEC contender on his hands.

And if everything falls in place, maybe even a Final Four contender.

2) Byrd has Belmont loaded yet again

Rick Byrd is entering year 30 at the helm of the Bruins. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Rick Byrd is entering his 30th season as head coach of the Belmont Bruins. Under Byrd’s leadership, the team hasn’t had a losing season since the 2004-2005 campaign.

There’s little doubt that Belmont’s streak of winning seasons will continue this year.

Byrd may not have his best team ever, but he has a team that is equipped to win a lot of games. Last year was suppose to be a rebuilding year for the Bruins. And in a sense, it was a down year.

But guess what? Belmont still won 22 games and had a magical run to the NCAA tournament.

That’s the type of program that Byrd has built at Belmont. 22 wins is considered a rebuilding year. That’s because the Bruins had won 26 games or more the previous four seasons.

Senior guard Craig Bradshaw (18.3 ppg last season) is easily the top choice for OVC Player of the Year and no other team in the conference will sport the type of inside-out balance that Belmont has.

Is this the year that Byrd and Bruins grab that elusive NCAA tournament win? It may be one of their best shots ever at it.

3) Lipscomb looking to be the Atlantic Sun sleeper

Josh Williams could help Lipscomb play spoiler in the Atlantic Sun. PHOTO COURTESY LIPSCOMB SPORTS

Josh Williams could help Lipscomb play spoiler in the Atlantic Sun. PHOTO COURTESY LIPSCOMB SPORTS

While Byrd and Belmont are playing the favorite, Casey Alexander and Lipscomb will be trying to play spoiler.

The Bison appear to have a roster that will keep them in the top half of the Atlantic Sun, but it will take some work to dethrone conference favorite North Florida and contenders NJIT and Florida Gulf Coast.

Even if Lipscomb doesn’t win the A-Sun, it should find a way to score a winning season for the first time in five years.

Junior guard Josh Williams should be the man to make that happen, as he led the conference in scoring last season and will be expected to carry the bulk of the scoring load for Alexander’s team.

Winning the conference and gaining an NCAA bid may be too much to ask of this Lipscomb team.

But Alexander should have the program headed in the right direction by leading the Bison to a winning season.

Mid-state hoops schedule:

November 13

Belmont senior Craig Bradshaw is the preseason OVC Player of the Year and looks to help the Bruins return to the NCAA Tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

TSU at Loyola (MD) – 6:30 PM CT

Austin Peay at Vanderbilt – 7 PM CT

Belmont at Marquette – 8 PM CT

Lipscomb at Santa Clara – 9 PM CT (Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, CA)

November 14

Lipscomb vs. Milwaukee – 7:30 PM CT (Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, CA)

November 15

Lipscomb vs. Denver – 4 PM CT (Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, CA)

November 16

Gardner-Webb at Vanderbilt – 7 PM CT

TSU at Ohio – 7 PM CT

Belmont at Arizona State – 9 PM CT on Pac-12 Network

November 17

Oakland City at Lipscomb – 5:30 PM CT on ESPN3

MTSU at Murray State – 7 PM CT

November 18

Western Kentucky at Belmont – 6 PM CT

Fisk at TSU – 6 PM CT

And 1

If the above isn’t enough basketball for you, Trevecca women’s basketball kicks off their 2015-2016 season by hosting the Pops Duncan Classic on November 13 at Trojan Fieldhouse.

Trevecca takes on the University of Findlay on November 13 at 5:30 PM CT, and then plays Ferris State University on November 14 at 1 PM CT.

Anything else I should know about college hoops in the midstate this week? Let me know on Twitter.


1 Comment

  1. Chris Lee

    Final Four is always matchup-dependent, and the Commodores will need to get better defensively. Offensively, they’re absolutely a Final Four-type team. Like everyone else, I’ll wait until March to find out!