ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes, who coached before entering the television industry, worked Tuesday’s Vanderbilt-Tennessee game at Memorial Gym.
The day after VU’s 72-69 win over the top-ranked Volunteers, The City Paper spoke with Dykes about the game and several topics on Commodore basketball.
TCP: How did Vanderbilt win the game Tuesday?
Dykes: Shan Foster was the difference in the ballgame. He wasn’t one-dimensional like he’s sometimes been and wasn’t just a 3-point shooter. He scored off the bounce, was able to go by his guy and score off the dribble a couple times, he posted up once or twice and scored and he went to the free throw line 11 times. He was only averaging two or three free throw attempts per game, so that shows you how active he was.
The unsung hero in the game was Jermaine Beal. He went up against a Tennessee team that was forcing over 20 turnovers a game, and he didn’t have a turnover in 33 minutes.
TCP: Tennessee shot only 32.8 percent Tuesday. What were your thoughts on Vanderbilt’s defense?
Dykes: Kevin [Stallings] said himself a month ago that they weren’t even close to being a top 15 team defensively, and they’ve kind of turned the corner in the past couple of weeks. They contested a lot of shots against Tennessee. [UT guard Chris] Lofton had two or three open looks, but other than that he had a hand in his face and they forced him to take some bad shots. Defensively, Vanderbilt has improved by leaps and bounds in the past few weeks.
TCP: You’ve been praising Stallings during some recent broadcasts. What exactly have you been saying?
Dykes: I said he’s one of the four or five best offensive minds in college basketball.
TCP: Elaborate on that, please.
Dykes: Every coach in the country, when you bring up Vanderbilt, their first thought is, ‘We’re going to have to be really good to beat them.’ Kevin Stallings brings an imaginative mind and the ability to be flexible based on his personnel from one year to the next. He keeps teams off balance and he’s not predictable.
Earlier in the year, he was running a lot of set plays, and they were at times having trouble reversing the basketball because of that. He’s gone to more of a motion offense now. I think he has a really good feel for how he wants to get shots and who he wants to have them.
TCP: Vanderbilt is ranked No. 18 right now. Too high, too low or just right?
Dykes: I think their ranking is about right. They are anywhere between 13 or 14 and 20th. So many teams look similar right now, so you have to project how they will play on a neutral floor in March. You have to have some size around the rim, which Vanderbilt has with [A.J.] Ogilvy, [Ross] Neltner and [Alan] Metcalfe. They have a difference-maker as a shooter in Shan Foster. They have a dependable guard in Beal. Offensively, they are going to be able to score enough to win ballgames on a neutral floor in March. It comes to how consistent they are defensively, but they are very deserving of where they are ranked right now.
I think the SEC has three teams that are very capable, and I think the odds are with them, to make it to the Sweet 16 – Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
TCP: Do you agree with those who say Stallings does more with less than most coaches?
Dykes: I think there’s a lot of truth to the fact that he’s done more with the less. In the years he’s been there, I don’t think you can say he’s had one of the two or three most talented teams in the SEC, yet he continues to go to the Sweet 16 and continues to be ranked at the top of the SEC East.
His team right now, with the exception of Foster and maybe Ogilvy, is a bunch of guys who know their roles. They play hard and he coaches the socks off of them. He has them in the right positions to have them do what they do best. He gets the most out his personnel, and that’s about the highest compliment you can give a coach.
TCP: During your ESPN broadcasts, you’ve encouraged Indiana to consider hiring Stallings. Tell me why.
Dykes: You look at his track record. There’s not even a hint of NCAA problems. He comes from a high academic school. He’s not just a fit for Indiana, but also a fit for a lot of jobs out there. I’m not plugging him to get the Indiana job, because I think he’s great for the SEC and the SEC is the league I cover. But if I’m Indiana, he’s on the short list. He’d be one of the first guys I would call.
TCP: How much better is coaching at Indiana than coaching at Vanderbilt?
Dykes: Vanderbilt is a great job. Even if Indiana were to offer, I don’t think it’s a guarantee he would take it. He’s in a great city to recruit to. Obviously a great home court. Terrific basketball success. A great education that speaks nationally. The lifestyle that he has there. The friends he’s plugged into in the music industry.
I think it would be very difficult to get Kevin Stallings to leave Vanderbilt, no matter who calls. But I would certainly call him and make a sales pitch to him.