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Vandy takes on St. John’s to open the 2015 Maui Invitational Monday, and I’m here in Hawaii covering all the action. I had the chance to talk with Coach Kevin Stallings Sunday, and despite a recording malfunction there were plenty of takeaways.

Coach Stallings showing off that free throw form during a charity event Sunday.
Kevin Stallings showing off that free throw form during a charity event Sunday.

–       Coach Stallings isn’t concerned about how his team matches up with Indiana or Kansas, two high scoring and fast paced teams. As has been the case in the past, Stallings and the coaching staff seem more concerned with self-scouting than on adjusting to the opposition, as they’re worried most about being “the best Vanderbilt we can be.” Kansas ranks eighth nationally in adjusted tempo, while Indiana ranks 44th; both the Jayhawks and Hoosiers also rank in the top 50 in terms of how short their possessions are on average. Just looking at this season, Vanderbilt struggled in the slowest paced game (Stony Brook) but thrived in faster paced (or more accurately, less slow) contests against Austin Peay and Gardner-Webb. It’s quite possible that a quicker tempo plays into the Commodores’ hands, particularly if they get hot from behind the arc and maintain sound floor balance.

–       Stallings does agree that this tournament can act as something of a springboard for the rest of the season – but only if the team plays well. Generally, a 2-1 record is what potential NCAA Tournament teams look for as a bare minimum from these exempt tournaments, and this is very attainable considering VU looks like about the third best team here. A win against St. John’s seems quite likely (an 86% chance according to Ken Pomeroy), and even if Vandy loses to IU it should draw a reasonably good matchup in the third place game. Anything less than 2-1 would be a disappointment, and a run to the championship game could really give the team a lot of confidence heading forward, along with a couple of valuable neutral site wins.

–       As for St. John’s, Red Storm freshman center Yankuba Sima blocks 13% of opponents’ two point shots, which ranks 26th in the country. Sima represents a radically different matchup for Damian Jones than the shorter and less athletic, yet stronger, smarter, and more experienced Jameel Warney. The 6’11” Spaniard is only listed at 205 pounds, so Damian should be able to push him around if he chooses to do so.

–       Freshman Italian point guard Federico Mussini is an NBA prospect, but he’s listed at 6’1” 155 and could have major trouble against Wade Baldwin. I expect Wade to attack Mussini off the dribble early in the game, and if he has success then this one could get out of hand fairly early. It would be huge for Stallings to be able to sit his starters for the last 10 minutes of the game or so, considering the back-to-back-to-back format of the tournament.

–       Vandy left campus at 4 a.m. Friday and had an eight hour flight from Dallas, but they should be acclimated by now. I can’t imagine how these guys can fit on the plane (they weren’t in business class), and it probably wasn’t the most enjoyable flight for them. The flight back on Thursday/Friday will be a bit more enjoyable if they can put together three good performances here on the island.

–       No word yet on Luke Kornet’s ankle and Wade Baldwin’s back, but I assume both players are healthy enough to proceed with a normal allotment of minutes. I’ll try to find out for sure tomorrow morning.

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