Our Vanderbilt basketball team finished the season 19-15 after beating A&M and Florida in the SEC tournament, both teams for the third time. With those key victories, and a key victory on the road over Arkansas, and a strength of schedule that was No.1 in the country overall, the committee awarded us with a well deserved 9th seed in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
We will play 8th seeded Northwestern in Salt Lake City, Thursday at 3:30 PM CT/4:30 PM ET on WTBS, which is channel 247 on DirecTV and channel 780 on Charter Spectrum.
This is a classic matchup of two very elite academic schools that have done pretty darn well at sports. Interestingly though, this is Northwestern's first tournament appearance in its history. Northwestern has been playing basketball since 1904, 111 years. The NCAA tournament is in its 79th year. So, it's a huge deal for the Wildcats. But it's just as big of a deal for us.
Northwestern finished their season at 23-11 overall and 10-8 in the BIg Ten. They lost to highly seeded NCAA tournament teams Butler and Notre Dame in their pre-conference season. But both games were close. They lost to Butler, the No.4 seed in the South, 70-68 in Indianapolis. They lost to Notre Dame in Brooklyn at a preseason tournament, 70-66. Notre Dame is the 5th seed in the West Regional. They have a road win over Wisconsin, then ranked 7th in the country at the time and an 8 seed in the tournament in the East, 66-59. They also defeated Michigan at home on March 1st, 67-65, on an electric full court heave and score at the buzzer. Michigan just won the Big Ten tournament and is a 7 seed, which seems a little low, but the committee seems to value the regular season and the early tournament games more than the final games.
The Wildcats reached the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament in D. C. with victories over Rutgers, and a 72-64 upset victory over No.25 Maryland in the quarters. Maryland is a 6 seed in the West. The Wildcats lost to Wisconsin in the semis, 76-48, but I suspect, much like us, they were out of gas by that point.
The Wildcats are led in scoring by 6'3", 185 junior guard Bryant McIntosh, who averaged 14.4 ppg. and 6'5", small forward Scottie Lindsey, a junior, who averaged 14.2 per game. Their other double figure scorer is 6'7", 205 redshirt sophomore forward Vic Law, who averaged 12.4 ppg. Six-foot-8, 235 pound sophomore center Dererk Pardon averaged 8.5 points and 8 rebounds.
They averaged 71 points a game and held opponents to 65 ppg. They out-rebounded opponents 36.2-35.4. They averaged 15 assists on the season against 10.5 turnovers. They shot 44% from the field, 34% from 3, and 75% from the line.
They have a good mix of veterans and younger players and their players are all experienced. We have our work cut out for us to win this ballgame. But we can absolutely win it.
We averaged 71 points and gave up 68. We shot 43% from the field and 38% from 3. We also shot 78% from the stripe, which is outstanding. We averaged roughly 35 rebounds per game. MFD led us in scoring at 13.6 ppg. Luke was next at 13.2, Jeff was at 11 ppg, and Riley averaged 10.5. Riley was so good at the end of the season, and really all year. He shot 49 percent from 3 for the year, 68-for-138, that's outrageously good. He also led us at the stripe at 87%. Luke shot 85%, MFD shot 82% and JRobe shot 79%. We're outstanding from the stripe and from deep.
Nolan Cressler, Joe Toye and Payton Willis were very valuable players for us too. Djerry Baptiste and Clevon Brown will be very valuable pieces for us underneath in the postseason as well. They're both going to be very good players for us, and they need to step up for us now. Djerry can really help Luke out and Clevon can help Jeff out with some valuable minutes off the bench.
The keys to victory against Northwestern are, first, sinking several 3's. I don't want to put an absolute number on it, but 8 or better would help a lot. We have to hold our own on the glass with Luke, Jeff, Joe and our guards boarding well. We need to take care of the ball like we've done such a better job at the end of this season. We need to get some turnovers ourselves. We need to drive and score, which Nolan, Riley and Joe have been so good at and MFD can do. We need to pass it well to set up shooters and get some more backdoor scores, and we of course need to defend well. Keep them at 40% or less from the field and 34% or less from trifecta.
If we do all or most of these things well, particularly shooting, defense and the glass, we'll move on and face the Gonzaga- South Dakota State winner on Saturday. Gonzaga is a prohibitive favorite in that game which tips off at 1 PM CT/2 PM ET in Salt Lake City on TBS.
So gigantic opportunity for our talented team that has improved so much throughout the season and is playing their best basketball right now, which is what you want. So can't wait.
Here is the video of the team's reaction to the NCAA announcement yesterday on CBS. It's pretty electric.
***NOTE, This is from an email I sent out last night after the Northwestern game, Olivier Sarr is our 4 star 6'11', 225 recruit who we are pursuing intensely. I spelled Olivier's name Oliver. Apologize for the error.
Baseball splits a doubleheader
Our No. 25 baseball team is now 11-6 on the season after splitting a doubleheader with St. Mary's yesterday, losing the first game 5-1, but winning the second game, 9-1. In the first game, Patrick Raby pitched a beauty of a game, but didn't get enough offensive help, hardly any, and had a couple of miscues in the field that didn't help either. Raby went 8.2 innings, throwing 118 pitches with 80 for strikes against 38 balls, an outstanding strike-ball ratio. Patrick gave up 6 hits, 5 runs, 3 earned, with 1 walk and 11 K's. Tough luck loss for Patrick, but like where he's at.
In the second game, the bats came alive and we got another stellar outing from freshman Drake Fellows. Jeren Kendall was 2-for-3 with a stolen base, his fifth, and three runs scored. Julian Infante was 2-for-2 with a ribbie and two runs scored. Third baseman Will Toffey was 2-for-4 with 4 Ribeyes, including a three-run triple. Super work by Will. Ro Coleman was 3-for-4 at the plate.
Fellows went 8, throwing 101 pitches, 69 for strikes against 32 balls, an over 2 to 1 strike-ball ratio, so he was outstanding. Drake gave up 2 hits, one run, which was unearned, walked none and struck out 8. Reed Hayes finished it off in the 9th giving up a hit, no runs with a K. Drake moved t0 3-0 on the season and he now has a 1.00 ERA, which is superb. Raby has a 1.40 ERA and he's now 2-2.
Infante is leading us in hitting at .359. Ro is next at .311. We're playing better, but need to brush up on our fielding. We've committed 22 errors in 17 games. That improvement will happen as we keep developing this season. We're always good in the field and we've got good defensive players, good players period.
Corbs seemed OK with the split. It was hard to hear him in his interview because Born in the USA was blasting out of the speakers at Hawkins Field. Good song, but the volume was intense. He liked the efforts and performances of Raby and Fellows and thought we got it going pretty well with the bats in the second game as we had 12 hits. Overall, he's cautiously optimistic about his team. That's my read on his thoughts.
Next up is Western Kentucky tomorrow @ home, 4:30 PM CT. SEC Network+ will carry the game. Then we open the conference season @ Ole Miss with a weekend set. Friday's first pitch is at 7 PM CT, Saturday's game starts at 1:30 PM CT, and Sunday's game starts at 3 PM CT and will be televised by the SEC Network. Should be pretty electric as we get into the conference schedule.
Some super news; Pedro got picked up by the Orioles on a minor league contract, meaning he'll not start out on the 40 man roster this spring but can get on the team with a good performance during March in the Grapefruit League. There is talk that Baltimore will try Pedro out in the outfield some, and then, when he makes the team, use him out there and at first some to spell starter Chris Davis. Pedro had a good year for the Birds last year, so I'm glad they picked him up again. He has been working out on his own and with a coach on his outfield skills and Pedro is an awesome athlete, so I see him getting the outfield down. He can really play some first, so I'd like to see him still get a shot there, too. His bat is too good not to be in the lineup frequently. I expect Pedro to be an Oriole when the season starts April 3rd.
Mike Minor could be in the KC Royals' rotation this season. I thought Mike looked good in the minors, and his stuff is ML:B starting material. David Price got a scare when his throwing elbow was having a lot of discomfort a couple of weeks ago. But Dave got it checked out and he's OK, and will be ready when the Red Sox open the season in April. ***Note, 3-17, David looks like he'll start on the 15 day DL, so we'll have to wait to see David start his 2017 season. No major injury though which is the good news. David will be back probably late April.
Sonny has been injured a little for the A's, some sort of lat issue, but he should be fine for the season. Dansby has had a little back problem, but he'll be ready when the Braves open the season. Braves are really building for the future. If they play .500 ball this season, that would be good, and get them ready for a big 2018 at their new stadium, SunTrust Park in Cobb County, which opens this season. Should be awesome.
And I expect Carson Fulmer to be a starter for the White Sox. I'm saying very likely this season.
There will be some other guys who might be in the big leagues this year. Ryan Flaherty should be back with the Orioles. Will keep you posted.
Sorry I'm late to report this but better late than never and certainly in this case. Alex Stump, a 2015 4 star wide receiver, has transferred to Vanderbilt from Ohio State. Alex is 6'3", 210, and his film in high school is superb. He played a game last year for the Buckeyes and caught a pass for 8 yards. But watching his high school film shows me that Alex is going to be exceptional for us. He will have to sit out this year, but will be eligible in 2018 and 2019. That's good news because we'll be losing C.J. Duncan, Trent Sherfield and Caleb Scott after this season. We have some young studs on the perimeter in Kalija Lipscomb and Donaven Tennyson, and we have some freshmen studs coming in, 6'4", 212 Chris Pierce and 6'3", 200 James Bostic. And with Jared Pinkney and Sam Dobbs at tight end, we should have some good weapons on offense in 2018 as well. But 2017 is here and we've got Duncan, Sherfield and Scott set for big senior seasons.
I spoke with Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig about 3 weeks ago, but have decided to wait until after spring practice is over and talk to him then, so he'll have a better handle on how the offense looks coming out of spring. We are having a Spring Showcase instead of a Spring game this year. It will be held Saturday, March 25th at 10 AM in Vanderbilt Stadium. In the past we've done kind of a goofy offense versus defense format, and coach Mason wants to get more out of the workout. So we will practice and do some scrimmaging. Excited to see what this team can do in 2017. We have a lot of good players back, and should be stellar on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, we'll keep improving in special teams too. We open the season Saturday, Sept. 2nd on the road against Middle Tennessee, in Murfreesboro. No time or TV yet. We play Alabama A&M at home, Kansas State at home and then open the SEC schedule at home against Alabama. Will be tough, but I just say bring it on. I have confidence in our coaches and our players.
We'll also play @ Florida, @ Ole Miss, @ South Carolina and @ Tennessee. We'll have home games against Georgia, Western Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. If things go right, we'll go 8-4, though we want to win'em all.
Here are highlights of Alex Stump. We're going to like him.
The No.1 Men's Golf team will be in Statesboro, Georgia this weekend playing at the Schenkel Invitational. No.2 Florida will also play with a host of other teams including Kentucky, North Carolina State, Notre Dame and UAB, Should be super competition for the team as they keep matriculating towards the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. The SEC Tournament will be held in Sea Island April 21-24.
We won this event last year as Will Gordon shot a 63 on the final day and we finished -41 to win by 10 shots over second place finisher Wake Forest. Matthias Schwab, Patrick Martin, Will and company will have to play well as we face a tough field led by Florida. Note***Matthias is playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week. He is close to making the cut. Matthias earned the exemption by getting the sportsmanship award handed out by the tournament. Great stuff for Matthias.
In the pros, Luke List finished tied for 27th at the Valspar Championship yesterday, shooting -2 for the tournament. Adam Hadwin won at -14. Luke is now 21st in the Fed Ex Standings so in really good shape, and with a victory before the Masters, Luke will get in the Masters. So you never know and Luke's been playing better this year after starting off the season really well at the end of 2016. Brandt is 35th in the standings and both Brandt and Luke will play this weekend at the Arnie Invitational at Bay Hill. Jon Curran is not playing and stands 154 in the standings, so he has work to do. The top 125 qualify for the 2017-18 season, and there is a lot of golf left, so several opportunities to make up ground. Luke plays all the time, Brandt plays a lot for a star on the tour, and Jon probably needs to pick up the workload to get back to relevance on the Fed Ex list.
The No.10 women kept the machine rolling this weekend with a 5-2 victory over No. 23 Ole Miss. We improved to 9-4 overall and 4-0 in the SEC. That's outstanding. We won the doubles, and in singles, No.5 Astra Sharma got her 80th career victory at Vanderbilt, and Georgina Sellyn, Fernanda Contreras and Emily Smith all won.
Next up, we'll be on the road @ No. 20 Kentucky 4 PM CT this Saturday.