If you had told me that at this point in the college basketball season that the Vanderbilt Commodores would be 5-4 in SEC play and have a top 70 RPI, I’d have probably laughed at you and thought you were some crazed die-hard fan who had no idea what they were talking about.
The entire 2012 recruiting class had left the team in the offseason; AJ Astroth transferred to the Towson Tigers, Sheldon Jeter left the program to transfer to the Pittsburgh Panthers, Kendren Johnson didn’t enroll at Vanderbilt, and Kevin Bright went to play with the Fraport Skyliners, a professional team in Germany. After losing their entire 2012 recruiting class, the Commodores would be lucky to even make it to .500.
Never count out Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. He may look just like Kevin from the Office, but Stallings is the best coach of underrated talent in all of college basketball. He takes teams of two and three star recruits and teaches them to compete with the best teams in the SEC. Remember, in early January he dismissed the team’s leading scorer Eric McClellan for an academic issue; he’s a no nonsense coach that you play his way and by his rules, or not at all. He brings a mentality and toughness to his basketball team that very few coaches in all of college basketball can.
At 13-8, Vanderbilt is in prime position to not only try and seal an NIT berth, but potentially a 2014 NCAA Tournament berth as well. One thing that is strongly in the Commodores’ favor is their lack of bad losses. The Butler Bulldogs were their lowest ranked RPI loss with the others coming against potential 2014 NCAA Tournament teams. With good looking wins over the Tennessee Volunteers and Missouri Tigers, Vanderbilt isn’t so far off from a trip to the Big Dance.
Rod Odom has taken the SEC by storm; he’s averaging nearly 15 points and six rebounds a game. Freshman Damian Jones has also transformed, as he averages nearly 11 points and five rebounds per game. Kyle Fuller has become a jack-of-all-trades, scoring when he has to, rebounding when he has to, and passing when he has to. Whenever this team needs someone to step up, they do.
Whether Vanderbilt makes it to the tournament or not, what Stallings has done with this team is nothing short of spectacular. He not only deserves SEC Coach of the Year, but he deserves consideration for National Coach of the Year. Don’t sleep on Vanderbilt, because with a few more wins, they might make it all the way to the 2014 NCAA tournament. They don’t call it March Madness for nothing.