Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Vandy shows Final Four potential with Maui success

Get the napkins ready and prepare to thrown down on a massive amount of turkey. But before you enter your food coma, you should get caught up on what’s happening in mid-state college basketball.

Don’t worry, if you nod off while eating pumpkin pie, the Three-Point Play will be right here waiting for you when you wake up.

1) Vandy flexes its muscles in Maui

Vanderbilt men's basketball action against Purdue at Memorial Gym. (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings has a realistic Final Four contender this year on West End. PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS

The Vanderbilt Commodores will leave Maui with a bad taste in their mouth. A loss to Kansas in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship game certainly wasn’t what Kevin Stallings and company wanted.

But the takeaway from Vandy’s performance in Maui is very simple: the Commodores are a legit Top 10 team.

The polls won’t show this when they’re released this week. Good news: early-season polls are about as meaningless as it gets.

Anyone who watched the Commodores this week in Maui understands that.

Indiana entered the tournament ranked No. 13 in the nation. The Hoosiers proceeded to lose to Wake Forest and UNLV.

Vandy entered the tournament ranked No. 19 in the nation. The Commodores destroyed St. John’s and Wake Forest before falling just short against what I believe is a top three team in Kansas.

So Vandy fans shouldn’t concern themselves with polls. They should instead concern themselves with the fact that this team has the most potential of any team in the Stallings era.

It wasn’t that Vandy did anything outrageously bad against the Jayhawks. The Commodores simply couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Vandy shot just 22% from three-point range. It also got a combined zero points from Matthew-Fisher Davis and Jeff Roberson.

Those two things will be rare this season. The Commodores are the best offensive team in the country, and there won’t be another game this season where both Fisher-Davis and Roberson are held scoreless.

Hype can be a dangerous thing. Certain teams fold under the pressure, while others rise to the occasion.

Stallings’ team is doing the latter. A seven-point loss to Kansas is nothing to be down about. Sure, it will sting for a while. As it should.

But what ultimately matters is where Vandy goes from here. Do the struggles against the Jayhawks become a recurring theme? Or will coming so close to a championship drive this team towards picking up an even bigger title by season’s end?

Vandy fans have every reason to believe that the second scenario is the most likely one given what they’ve seen thus far this season.

A Final Four appearance is no longer a pipe dream. Vandy basketball has reached new heights.

And how they respond to the Kansas loss will determine just how high they can go.

2) Belmont showing points aren’t a problem in good start

Belmont's Evan Bradds will be a challenge for OVC defenses to contain. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Belmont’s Evan Bradds will be a challenge for OVC defenses to contain. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

With five fewer seconds on the shot clock this season, we knew there would be a bit more scoring in college basketball.

The Belmont Bruins are certainly among the teams that are having no problem adjusting to the shorter shot clock and higher pace.

Belmont is currently ranked 45th in the country in points per game, with the Bruins putting up a solid 85.5 points per contest. That has obviously played a big role in Rick Byrd’s team jumping out to a 4-2 start.

The Bruins have scored 80 points or more in every game this season except for their 83-74 loss at Arizona State. And given Belmont’s offensive balance, we shouldn’t expect them to slow down anytime soon.

While OVC Preseason Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw has been doing his usual thing in scoring 15 a game, it’s been junior forward Evan Bradds that has captured everyone’s attention.

Bradds put up 28 points and snagged 14 rebounds in Belmont’s 93-88 setback at Evansville, and then turned right around two days later and exploded for 30 points in a victory over South Alabama.

This is exactly what Byrd wanted. He knew that for Belmont to live up to the hype, they would need the inside/out combo of Bradds and Bradshaw to excel.

So far, so good.

Belmont will need to continue to score points on Saturday when they visit a BYU team that can also put them up in a hurry. The Cougars are scoring 82 per game themselves.

3) Midstate duo helps Warriors make history

The NBA officially makes its first appearance in the Three-Point Play. The reason? One word: history.

Former Belmont star Ian Clark (left) and Vanderbilt star Festus Ezeli helped the Golden State Warriors get off to the best start in NBA history. PHOTO COURTESY NBA

Former Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli and Belmont guard Ian Clark were a part of history this week when their NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, set an NBA record with 16 straight wins to start the season.

Mid-state basketball fans knew that these two players were special. But little did we know that they would be getting minutes on what could eventually be the greatest team in the history of basketball.

Ezeli already grabbed his championship ring during last season’s spectacular title run by Golden State, and at this rate, Clark will likely get one of his own.

Ezeli continues to be a mainstay in the Warriors’ rotation, as the big man is averaging around 20 minutes per game. Clark is only getting a little less than six, but he’s been extremely effective in the minutes that he has played.

Of course, Steph Curry will keep getting all the attention since he is playing out of his mind these days.

But just remember, the potential best team ever will have two former mid-state college superstars on the roster.

Stallings and Byrd have to be thrilled with that possibility.

Mid-state hoops schedule:

November 26

MTSU vs. Alaska Anchorage (Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, AK) – 8:30 PM CT

November 27

MTSU vs. TBA (Anchorage, AK) – TBA

Lipscomb at South Carolina – 1 PM CT

November 28

MTSU vs. TBA (Anchorage, AK) – TBA

TSU at Kennesaw State – 6 PM CT

Belmont at BYU – 8 PM CT

December 1

Lipscomb at Belmont – 7 PM CT

December 2

Detroit at Vanderbilt – 7 PM CT



Lipscomb faces an interesting challenge over the weekend as they head to South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks are off to a surprising 5-0 start and look to be one of the most improved teams in the SEC.

The Bison struggled in the Men Against Breast Cancer Challenge, but an upset of the Gamecocks before the “Battle of the Boulevard” would certainly be a big boost for Casey Alexander’s team.

Anything else I should know about in mid-state hoops this week? Let me know on Twitter.