Weekend basketball roundup: Vanderbilt freshman can do it all, needs focus

Moments after he recorded one of his five assists in Vanderbilt’s victory over Lipscomb last Thursday, Wade Baldwin was so pumped he really went after the man he was guarding on the ensuing possession.

One problem: The rest of the Commodores were playing zone. Coach Kevin Stallings roared his disapproval, and the 6-foot-3 freshman out of Bell Mead, N.J. got back in position.

“He needs to do what we coach him to do,” Stallings said following the game. “He's a good player.  It's a concentration thing with him. His challenge is to concentrate and be fundamental.”

Perhaps the problem is that Stallings and his staff have asked him to do a little bit of everything in his first college season.

Between that game against Lipscomb and Sunday’s victory over Tennessee State, Baldwin averaged 9.5 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals – numbers good enough that he was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. He became the 11th different Vanderbilt player to earn that award, and the first since Damian Jones got one back in February.

He has not started a game but averages 25 minutes, which is fourth on the team. His 18 assists lead the team as do his four steals, and he has made more than 70 percent of his shots overall (73.3 percent) and 3-point range (75.0 percent).

“I am wherever Coach Stallings wants me to go, to be honest,” Baldwin said.

Well, eventually.

Player of the week: Evan Bradds, forward, Belmont: The 6-foot-7 sophomore scored a game-high 24 points, 16 in the second half as the Bruins rallied from a 14-point deficit with 6:25 to play and defeated Western Kentucky 64-63. He started the comeback with five straight points and his free throw finally put Belmont ahead 61-60 with 43 seconds remaining. In three games last week he averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

Coach of the week: Rick Insell, MTSU women: His team’s 71-65 victory at Ole Miss on Sunday was notable for far more than the fact that the Lady Raiders knocked off an SEC opponent. It was the first meeting in women’s college basketball history between teams coached by a father and a son. Matt Insell is in his second year at Ole Miss. MTSU trailed by 12 early but scored the next 15 points and never trailed again. Three Lady Raiders registered double-doubles. Maybe the father did not teach the son everything he knows. 


Sunday’s games

Vanderbilt 78, Tennessee State 46

Middle Tennessee State 71, Ole Miss 65

Saturday’s games

Belmont 64, Western Kentucky 63
Lipscomb 74, Transylvania 63
Middle Tennessee State 66, Southern 48
Illinois-Springfield 78, Trevecca Nazarene 71

Tennessee State 73, Lipscomb 55
Ferris State 68, Trevecca Nazarene 60

Friday’s games

Truman State 80, Trevecca Nazarene 62

What to watch for this week:

• Belmont and Lipscomb wrap up their annual home-and-home series Monday night at Curb Event Center on Belmont’s campus. Lipscomb leads the all-time series 73-62, but Belmont has won six straight, including this season’s first meeting, 87-62, a week earlier. Tip-off is 7 p.m. Live video is available on the OVC Digital Network and the radio broadcast will be on 94.9 FM.

• Tennessee State’s youthful men’s team will get a real lesson in big-time college basketball Tuesday when it plays at Virginia (6 p.m., CST). The Cavaliers are ranked ninth in the country following an ACC championship in 2013-14. It is the first meeting between the schools.

• Vanderbilt plays at the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Friday and Saturday. The Commodores face Rutgers, which will have serious crowd support, on Friday (6 p.m., NBC Sports Network) and then either Virginia or LaSalle on Saturday.

Nov 24, 2014 1:57 PM

NBA Players Association prepared to appeal Taylor's 'excessive' suspension

The NBA’s 24-game suspension of former Vanderbilt star Jeff Taylor for his part in a domestic violence incident is “excessive, without precedent and a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement” in the opinion of the head of the NBA Players Association.

Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBAPA, issued a statement Thursday that indicated the union is ready to file an appeal if Taylor, a third-year forward with the Charlotte Hornets, desires.

Taylor was suspended Wednesday following his guilty plea on Oct. 29 to charges of misdemeanor domestic violence and destruction of hotel property.

Roberts’ statement:

The 24-game suspension imposed by Commissioner Silver against Jeff Taylor is excessive, without precedent and a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). The CBA contemplates a minimum 10 game suspension in any case involving a conviction for a violent felony, including domestic violence. In contrast, Jeff Taylor was charged with a misdemeanor that is likely to be dismissed at the end of a probationary period. The 24-game suspension is one of the longest in the history of the league.  We have a scheme of discipline that was the result of collective bargaining between the parties that has been applied consistently over the years.  While we appreciate the sensitivity of this societal issue, the Commissioner is not entitled to rewrite the rules or otherwise ignore precedent in disciplinary matters. While ultimately this is Jeff's decision, we stand ready to file an immediate appeal on his behalf.

Nov 20, 2014 7:35 PM

Stallings willing to keep it local with VU's non-conference schedule

Kevin Stallings is willing to give nearby programs their shot.

Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball coach has proved that he is happy to schedule games with other Tennessee-based institutions. In fact, his tenure with the Commodores is rooted in that philosophy. His first three contests as Vanderbilt head coach were against, in order, Belmont, Tennessee-Martin and East Tennessee State.

Trevecca Nazarene became the latest when it showed up at Memorial Gymnasium on Sunday.

“That just about covers it,” Stallings said following his team’s 83-56 victory. “I believe we’ve played everybody that’s got a Tennessee address. Or at least it feels like we have — I’m sure there’s another school or two out there that we haven’t played that will be calling us.

“Our first three games this year, they don’t have to leave town.”

Sure enough, Vanderbilt keeps it local when it hosts Lipscomb on Thursday (8 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) and Tennessee State on Sunday (6 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).

A look at Vanderbilt’s non-conference record against in-state programs (not including SEC foe the University of Tennessee) under coach Kevin Stallings:

Austin Peay: 3-0 (last meeting 2013-14)
Belmont: 4-0 (last meeting 2010-11)
East Tennessee State: 5-0 (last meeting 2006-07)
Lipscomb: 4-0 (last meeting 2013-14)
Middle Tennessee State: 4-1 (last meeting 2012-13)
Memphis: 0-1 (last meeting 2004-05)
Tennessee State: 4-0 (last meeting 2009-10)
Tennessee Tech: 3-0 (last meeting 2008-09)
Trevecca Nazarene: 1-0 (last meeting 2014-15)
UT-Chattanooga: 1-0 (last meeting 2001-02)
UT-Martin: 2-0 (last meeting 2007-08)

One of the Commodores’ two exhibition games this season was against Sewanee, a team the VU program hasn’t faced in the regular season since 1909-10. Similarly, it has been a while since Vanderbilt has played Union (1913-14), Carson-Newman (1927-28) and Cumberland (1948-49). Tusculum and Martin-Methodist don’t show up anywhere in the program’s records.

So maybe he has not faced them all. Stallings, though, is willing to do his part to help expose other in-state programs to SEC-caliber basketball.

“We’re going to definitely go over there and give it all we’ve got,” TSU coach Dana Ford. “We’re going to prepare to win the game. Guys are going to play hard and we’ll just let things fall as they may.

“… I would like to play them every year, but it would have to be something that does them some good too. It’s going to do me a lot more good than it does them. … It gives our guys some type of vision and some type of perspective on the level of competition and how they do things that we can measure ourselves against.”

A look at upcoming men’s basketball games between schools in and around Nashville:

Lipscomb at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m.
Fisk at Tennessee State, 7 p.m.

Tennessee State at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m.

Lipscomb at Belmont, 7 p.m.

Dec. 2
Middle Tennessee State at Belmont, 7 p.m.

Dec. 6
Tennessee State at Lipscomb, 4 p.m.

Dec. 13
Lipscomb at Austin Peay, 4 p.m.

Dec. 21
Tennessee State at Middle Tennessee State, 2 p.m.
Austin Peay at Lipscomb, 2 p.m.

Nov 20, 2014 10:09 AM

Former Vanderbilt star suspended 24 games by NBA for domestic violence incident

The NBA suspended former Vanderbilt star Jeffery Taylor for 24 games without pay Wednesday because he recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence assault and malicious destruction of hotel property.

Taylor has been absent from his team, the Charlotte Hornets, since the incident Sept. 25 at East Lansing, Mich. in which, according to a league investigation, he had an altercation with a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship.

The 25-year-old forward has missed the first 11 games of this season and will sit out another 13 before he can rejoin the Hornets. The suspension will cost him $267,000 of his $915,000 salary this season.

From NBA.com:

According to a release by the NBA, Taylor and the woman were drinking heavily at a hotel room and a loud argument ensued, prompting guests to call security. The argument escalated and Taylor shoved the woman violently into the hallway where she fell to the ground and struck her on an opposite door leaving a bump on her head.

The release also stated that Taylor slapped her arm, leaving marks, and punched a hole in his hotel room.

Taylor was arrested by East Lansing police officers and according to NBA investigation was "belligerent and uncooperative."

As part of his plea agreement he was sentenced to 18 months probation and ordered to complete 26 weeks in a domestic violence intervention program.

Taylor faces the possibility of additional punishment if he fails to meet the terms of his probation, which include participation in an outpatient alcohol treatment program and 80 hours of community service. He will perform alcohol sensor tests for 60 days and will subject to random tests after that.

If he complies completely with the terms of his probation, the domestic assault charge will be dismissed.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement:

“This suspension is necessary to protect the interests of the NBA and the public's confidence in it. Mr. Taylor's conduct violates applicable law and, in my opinion, does not conform to standards of morality and is prejudicial and detrimental to the NBA.”

The Hornets drafted Taylor in the second round in 2012, and he missed the majority of 2013-14 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He has averaged 6.6 points and two rebounds for his career.

Nov 19, 2014 6:38 PM

One half of solid play enough to lift Vanderbilt in season-opener

Kevin Stallings joked about needing to watch the film.

The truth was that anyone who witnessed Vanderbilt’s season-opening 83-56 victory over Trevecca Nazarene Sunday at Memorial Gymnasium knew at first blush that the Commodores were much better in the second half than they were in the first.

“I would like to think – in my more rational moments – that part of that’s having a team as young as our team is but 3-for-12 in the first half from the foul line and 18-for-23 in the second half,” Stallings said. “That kind of just tells you all you need to know.

“As a coach, at least for me, I kind of like to know what to expect and I don’t quite know what to expect yet, or at least as much as I’d like to know.”

Vanderbilt started two sophomores and three freshmen, and the top two subs, in terms of minutes played, were freshmen.

It wasn’t until after halftime that the newcomers got to experience a comfortable lead. Sure, they were up by 11 briefly in the first half but were outscored 11-2 over the next four and a half minutes. The lead at intermission was three points, 33-30.

The Commodores scored the first 13 points of the second half and led by at least 13 the rest of the way.

“We came out with more intensity,” sophomore center Damian Jones, who led all players with 24 points and 12 rebounds, said. “Free throws were better. And we just got after it more. … We just didn’t do well in the first half so we had to turn it around in the second.”

A comparison of how Vanderbilt performed in a number of key statistical areas in the first and second halves of Sunday’s game against Trevecca Nazarene:

Field goals: First half – 14-30 (46.7 percent); second half – 14-26 (53.8 percent)
3-point field goals: First half – 2-9 (22.2. percent); second half – 4-13 (30.8 percent)
Free throws: First half – 3-12 (25 percent); second half – 18-23 (78.3 percent)
Rebounds: First half – 24 (8 offensive); second half – 29 (7 offensive)
Assists: First half – 5; second half –10
Blocked shots: First half – 4, second half – 5
Steals: First half – 1; Second half – 1
Field goals allowed: First half – 11-34 (32.4 percent); second half – 8-31 (25.8 percent)
3-point field goals allowed: 3-12 (25 percent); second half – 3-7 (42.9 percent)
Rebounds allowed: First half – 20 (8 offensive); second half – 9 (2 offensive)
Turnovers forced: First half – 6; second half – 6

“They became a little more physical, more than anything,” Trevecca coach Sam Harris said. “It was kind of like we expected. … I thought our execution was better in the first half. We talked about it becoming more physical in the second half. When we couldn’t score they got some breakaways and it kind of made the spread get big quick.”

Nov 17, 2014 5:10 AM

Vanderbilt sophomore post player named to preseason All-SEC first team

It remains to be seen how well the six freshmen on Vanderbilt’s basketball team will play this season.

It is clear, though, that Southeastern Conference coaches like what they saw from the Commodores’ top 2013-14 newcomer.

Sophomore post player Damian Jones today was named to the preseason All-SEC first team, as determined by conference coaches.

Jones was the only Vanderbilt player among the 17 named to the first and second teams. Eleven of the conference’s 14 schools were represented, and Kentucky (five), LSU (two) and Florida (two) all had multiple selections.

According to the SEC, the coaches’ preseason All-SEC first and second teams consist of a minimum of eight players on each squad, voted on by the SEC Head Men’s Basketball Coaches. No ties were broken and no predicted order of finish was made.

First Team All-SEC
Dorian Finney-Smith – Florida, F, 6-8, 218, Jr., Portsmouth, Va.
Michael Frazier II – Florida, G, 6-4, 194, Jr., Tampa, Fla.
Aaron Harrison – Kentucky, G, 6-6, 212, So., Richmond, Texas
Andrew Harrison – Kentucky, G, 6-6, 210, So., Richmond, Texas
Damian Jones – Vanderbilt, C, 6-10, 240, So., Baton Rouge, La.
Charles Mann – Georgia, G, 6-5, 215, Jr., Alpharetta, Ga.
Jordan Mickey – LSU, F, 6-8, 235, So., Dallas, Texas
Bobby Portis – Arkansas, F, 6-11, 242, So., Little Rock, Ark.
Jarvis Summers – Ole Miss, G, 6-3, 186, Sr., Jackson, Miss.

Second Team All-SEC
Alex Caruso –  A&M, G, 6-5, 184, Jr., College Station, Texas
Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky, F, 7-0, 240, Jr., Olathe, Kan.
KT Harrell – Auburn, G, 6-4, 212, Sr., Montgomery, Ala.
Jarell Martin – LSU, F, 6-10, 236, So., Baton Rouge, La.
Alex Poythress – Kentucky, F, 6-8, 238, Jr., Clarksville, Tenn.
Josh Richardson – Tennessee, G, 6-6, 200, Sr., Edmond, Okla.
Sindarius Thornwell – South Carolina, G, 6-5, 215, So., Lancaster, S.C.
Karl-Anthony Towns – Kentucky, F, 6-11, 250, Fr., Piscataway, N.J.

Often Vanderbilt’s only healthy post player last season, Jones started 27 of last season’s 31 games. He averaged 11.3 points and team-high 5.7 rebounds and was named to the All-SEC Freshman team. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week once.

Nov 13, 2014 12:24 PM

Vanderbilt basketball signing class includes top 10 players from Texas, Illinois

Kevin Stallings ought to have his recruiting pitch down pat at this point.

Vanderbilt’s basketball coach has had to do more than his share of recruiting in recent reasons as a handful of players have left early for a variety of reasons that ranged from disciplinary action to pursuing professional careers.

Wednesday, he and his staff received national letters-of-intent from four players, including two top 10 prospects from their respective states. Those players will join the Commodores in 2015-16.

“We're real excited about the four kids that we've signed,” Stallings said in a release from the VU athletics department.  “We feel like all of them in very different ways fulfill needs that our team had going into this recruiting season. … We were real pleased from top to bottom with this recruiting class.  All four are outstanding young men, and that will be a very welcome thing as well.”

The rundown of Vanderbilt’s latest signing class:

• Djery Baptiste, a 6-foot-11, 245-pound center, attends Prestonwood Christian School in Plano, Texas, and is ranked the eighth-best player in the state, according to ESPN. Originally from Haiti, he speaks four languages and hopes to one day be a diplomat in his native country.

• Camron Justice is a 6-foot-2 shooting guard from Hindman, Kentucky, where he plays at Knott County Central High School. Justice is known as one of the top shooters in the class of 2015 and was named a First-Team All-State selection as a junior, averaging 24.8 points while shooting 54 percent from the floor, 41 percent from 3-point range, and 88 percent from the free throw line.

• Samir Sehic is a 6-foot-9 forward from Cy Woods High School in Cypress, Texas. Originally from Bosnia, Sehic thrives as a bruising skilled forward who can score inside and out. As a junior last season, he averaged 17.6 points, 13 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game.

• Joseph Toye is a 6-foot-7 wing man from Chicago who attends Whitney Young High School, where he is regarded as one of the most explosive athletes in the 2015 class.  Ranked as the sixth-best player in Illinois and a four-star prospect by ESPN, Toye is also ranked as the 113th-best prospect in the nation by Rivals.com. His twin sister Elizabeth signed with Wisconsin.

Nov 12, 2014 8:54 PM

Two wins, little clarity for Vanderbilt in hoops exhibitions

Anyone who hoped two exhibition games would provide a clear picture of what to expect from Vanderbilt’s basketball team had to be disappointed by the second, played Tuesday against Sewanee.

Other than the fact that the Commodores won, the 67-38 victory was decidedly different than their 82-63 triumph over Illinois-Springfield five days earlier.

Vanderbilt shot just 41.4 percent from the floor against Sewanee, made just six of 25 3-point shots (24 percent) and converted only 13 of 23 free throws (56.5 percent).

“It was an OK performance for not shooting the ball worth a darn,” coach Kevin Stallings said, according to VU’s athletics website. “We didn’t shoot it at all really from the foul line or from the three. We defended and rebounded, particularly towards the end of the game. Towards the end, I thought we started getting more aggressive on the offense.”

Against Illinois-Springfield, Vanderbilt made 46.2 percent of its 3-pointers and 50 percent of its shots overall. It out-rebounded Sewanee by a wide margin (47-31) after having come up short against Illinois-Springfield (42-39).

Freshman Riley LaChance, the leading scorer in the opener with 24 points, managed just eight in the second go-round.

The games count beginning Sunday when the Commodores host Trevecca Nazarene University (2 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium). At this point, it’s tough to count on anything from this team, which likely will have three freshmen in the starting lineup.

“Usually that's what happens with freshman — they can go all over the map,” Stallings said. “[LaChance] goes 6-9 in threes the other night. And he's not going to go 6-9 every night. He's 8-16 overall now. It just so happened that now was the correction to put him back 50 percent, but he's a very good shooter.

“Is the team ready? I hope so. … I hope we’re ready on Sunday because we have no choice but to be.”

Nov 11, 2014 11:28 PM

Media (not surprisingly) picks Kentucky as SEC's top basketball team

The question was posed to a panel of 20 regional and national media members.

The answer was the same from each one. Kentucky is most likely to win the Southeastern Conference regular season basketball title. No shock there.

The SEC released its preseason media poll and all-conference teams Wednesday and not only were the Wildcats considered the best team, their roster included some of the best players. Guard Aaron Harrison was named preseason player of the year and one of five on the preseason All-SEC first team. His teammates filled four of the five spots on the second team.

(First-place votes in parentheses)

1. Kentucky (20), 280 points
2. Florida, 258
3. Arkansas, 226
4. LSU, 223
5. Georgia, 204
6. Ole Miss, 168
7. Missouri, 123
8. Auburn, 113
9. Texas A&M, 111
10. Alabama, 109
11. Vanderbilt, 89
12. South Carolina, 86
13. Tennessee, 75
14. Mississippi State, 35

Kentucky has enhanced its reputation in recent years through its ability to rely on freshmen and remain a top program.

No one who was asked expects Vanderbilt to accomplish similar things with its current roster, which includes five freshmen, three of which are expected to start.

The Commodores pegged 11th, ahead of only (in order) South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State.

“With normal-aged teams, normal-experienced teams you know when the first game gets there that if you have some younger guys that get in the game and can’t figure it out for whatever reason then you can always revert and just throw in the older guys that have been through it,” coach Kevin Stallings said recently. “We don’t have that. We have some younger guys that are going to play, are going to have to play and are going to have to have the answers by the time Nov. 16 [and the season-opener against Trevecca Nazarene] gets here.”

Similarly, Tennessee, under first-year coach Donnie Tyndall, has five true freshmen and three other newcomers.

“I like my team,” Tyndall said last week. “With that being said, I don't like that we're the least experienced team in the league. I don't like that we don't have a point guard in our program and I don't like that we're going to play three true freshmen on our front line. But those guys are all busting their tail for us, they're working extremely hard, they're coachable. … It's good group thus far, it really is.”

As selected by a panel of 20 regional and national media members:

First Team
Bobby Portis - Arkansas, F, 6-11, 242, So., Little Rock, Ark.
Michael Frazier II - Florida, G, 6-4, 194, Jr., Tampa, Fla.
Aaron Harrison - Kentucky, G, 6-6, 212, So., Richmond, Texas
Jordan Mickey - LSU, F, 6-8, 235, So., Dallas, Texas
Jarvis Summers - Ole Miss, G, 6-3, 186, Sr., Jackson, Miss.

Second Team
Charles Mann - Georgia, G, 6-5, 215, Jr., Alpharetta, Ga.
Willie Cauley-Stein - Kentucky, F, 7-0, 240, Jr., Olathe, Kan.
Andrew Harrison - Kentucky, G, 6-6, 210, So., Richmond, Texas
Alex Poythress - Kentucky, F, 6-8, 238, Jr., Clarksville, Tenn.
Karl-Anthony Towns - Kentucky, F, 6-11, 250, Fr., Piscataway, N.J.

SEC Player of the Year: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky


Oct 22, 2014 2:27 PM

Stallings says responsibility for steady steam of player departures is his

Kevin Stallings did not run from the fact that more than a few players have walked away from, or been ushered out of, Vanderbilt’s basketball program in recent years.

Half a dozen players have transferred, left or been kicked off the team in a little more than a year. As a result, this year’s starting lineup figures to include three freshmen and a sophomore.

Tuesday, as the Commodores prepared for the third official day of practice, Stallings took the blame for the current state of affairs, which has resulted in consecutive losing seasons after the program won the SEC Tournament in 2012.

“I just have to do a better job of making sure when I’m recruiting a guy that he’s a guy who fits here,” Stallings said. “Whether that means fits in our program or fits in our university … that’s where the failings have come. I know everybody likes to try to say that guys don’t want to play for me. Well, everybody inside of this program knows that nothing could be further from the truth.

“I have made mistakes in some instances of bringing in guys that probably didn’t belong here. There’s nobody to blame for that but me. So I take responsibility for that and I have to do a better job of making sure we bring in guys that fit.”

A look at the issues that have had an impact on the roster over the past 18 months:

• In July 2013, guard Kevin Bright, the team’s best 3-point shooter in 2012-13, signed with a professional team in Germany so that he could be closer to his mother.

• Earlier in 2013, guards A.J. Astroth and Sheldon Jeter transferred.

• In January 2014, guard Eric McClellan was suspended at the start of SEC play. Two days later, as a result of "newly discovered information," he was kicked off the team permanently.

• In August 2014, Stallings announced that guards Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker failed to meet 'standards that were clearly set forth' to remain with the program. Both players transferred, with the NCAA having just ruled Johnson eligible to play at Memphis.

The current roster includes five freshmen, three sophomores and just two seniors. Only one of the seniors, James Siakim, has any significant experience as a starter. He started 28 of last season's 31 games.

"I think we've got guys that are going to do what they're supposed to do when they're supposed to do it, and they're going to try their best to do what we, as coaches, want," Stallings said. "For that reason, I think the future is really bright for this group of guys because our entire team is that way. I haven't had to worry about something on the weekend. I haven't had to worry about anything in the classroom. I haven't had to worry about anything in the dorm.

"It's a pretty fun job when the biggest thing I have to worry about every day is trying to get them better on defense. That's where we're at, and that's where we're going to stay."

Oct 7, 2014 2:54 PM