Vanderbilt and the Weird California Paradox

Vanderbilt basketball team huddles

SEC basketball fans shouldn’t care about what happens in the Pac-12. No one should frankly care what happens in the Pac-12 unless it has bubble implications. I wouldn’t want you to watch Pac-12 basketball or think Pac-12 basketball is a remotely pleasant way to spend even two hours of one’s life. No. You should not want to have anything to do with it.

By Matt Zemek

Yet, something interesting happened in the Pac-12 this past week which lends a new twist to what is happening and has happened at Vanderbilt this season.

That twist: The California Golden Bears won a Pac-12 basketball game, and they loved winning so much that they then won another game.

Cal was headed for the 0-18 conference-play iceberg the Vanderbilt Commodores are on the verge of hitting. However, at 0-14 in the Pac-12, just when no one expected it, Cal defeated the Pac-12 regular-season champion, the Washington Huskies, this past Thursday night. Invigorated and inspired by that triumph, Cal then doubled its pleasure by taking down Washington State, a team which had crushed bubble-hugging Arizona State on the road a few weeks earlier.

Naturally, there is a sense of relief in Berkeley now that the Bears won’t go 0-18. Just as naturally, there is a sense of satisfaction — as is appropriate — that a team got off the deck and managed to put a few complete games together. Winning is good — don’t get me wrong.

However, this point needs to be considered as well: If you talk to a lot of people who follow Cal basketball regularly (remember, this program was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament not THAT long ago), a good portion will tell you that the win over Washington, a likely NCAA Tournament team, merely showed how much the Golden Bears had been underachieving the previous two months. Cal also defeated San Diego State in non-conference play in late 2018, so it’s clear this team had some ingredients which, if mixed together properly, could have created a sweet-tasting season. Head coach Wyking Jones has failed miserably in the attempt to make Cal more than the sum of its parts.

Aaron Nesmith
Aaron Nesmith
This does raise a fascinating and counterintuitive question about Vanderbilt basketball and Bryce Drew, as this final week of SEC regular-season play arrives: Would it reflect poorly on Drew if VU somehow beat Arkansas by 15 and took LSU to the wire? I’m not saying you should answer that question with a “yes,” only that it is sometimes true that good talent hibernates in bad circumstances. It IS sometimes true that an impressive performance, stuck in the middle of a long and miserable season, can reveal or magnify the failures of a coaching staff to bring the talent together on the court.

This isn’t ALWAYS true, but it sometimes can be.

My personal thought: No, it wouldn’t reflect poorly on Drew. I don’t think talent has been “hibernating” on the team this season, or at the very least, if it WAS, the hibernation was not the result of Drew failing to develop players. (Drew HAS failed to develop players to their fullest extent, but not in a way which makes me doubt his coaching acumen.)

If talent has been hidden on this team, it has been hidden and remained hidden (at the offensive end of the floor) because the guy who was best suited to unlock the talents of his teammates and make them better got hurt. Darius Garland was simply the right player at the right time with the right roster configuration for 2018-2019 Vanderbilt basketball. Removing him from this delicate arrangement caused the larger operation to come crashing down. Some rosters depend that much on one player. Vanderbilt had that kind of roster this season. I don’t think that if VU beat Arkansas with a dominant performance, it would reflect poorly on this coaching staff the way many California fans do.

No, this basketball season has not been fun to watch at Vanderbilt University. The best way to deal with that reality is to pose complex and layered questions which demand reflection, right? Chew on this notion of good performances revealing a coaching staff’s deficits. It might create enough basketball debate to get you through these final few games of the SEC season.
Joe Toye

About 682 Articles Serving SEC Football, Basketball and Baseball fans since 2016.

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