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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

From one VU to another

Bryce+Drew+is+introduced+as+Vanderbilt+Mens+Basketball+Head+Coach+April+6.+2016
Ziyi Liu
Bryce Drew is introduced as Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball Head Coach April 6. 2016

On Selection Sunday, the world awaited the NCAA Tournament bracket reveal while a pair of Vanderbilt coaches — old and new — sat in different parts of the country, awaiting their respective teams’ fates.

As CBS unveiled the bracket, it didn’t take long for Kevin Stallings’ Vanderbilt team to show up: The Commodores had somehow parlayed a 19-13 season deemed a disappointment by many into an NCAA Tournament berth. In northwest Indiana, Bryce Drew, now expected to be the new Vanderbilt head coach, watched in dismay as his 26-6 Horizon League champion Valparaiso team was passed over in favor of underachieving large-conference squads such as Michigan, Syracuse and his own future team on West End.

“It’s a sad day for mid-majors,” Drew said on Selection Sunday. “If you look at all our numbers compared to other teams’; if you didn’t know the names of those teams, you might look at the numbers differently.”

On Wednesday, Bryce Drew is expected to be named the 26th head coach in Vanderbilt history. The brother of Baylor coach Scott Drew and the son of former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew, Bryce starred as a player for the Crusaders before being selected in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft and playing for three NBA teams in six seasons.

Vanderbilt vs. Valparaiso

Simply looking at this season’s bracket provides insight into why Bryce Drew accepted the job at Vanderbilt. Top teams outside the major conferences such as Saint Mary’s, Monmouth and St. Bonaventure joined Valparaiso in the consolation prize National Invitational Tournament, underscoring how difficult it is to succeed on a national level at a non-power conference school.

“The unfortunate thing is, at [Valparaiso’s] level, for 60 days you win the league, and you have one bad day … and the other team has the game of their life and you can’t get the automatic bid,” Drew said following Valparaiso’s loss to Green Bay in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals on March 7. “In the big scheme of things, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

In Nashville, Drew won’t have that problem as Vanderbilt’s conference affiliation assures that a top-flight finish in the SEC standings will result in an NCAA bid.

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Instead, Drew will be charged with taking the Commodore program to another level.

While Vanderbilt has had seven appearances in the Big Dance since 2004, success in the Tournament itself has been rare. Aside from Sweet 16 runs in 2004 and 2007, the Commodores carry an ignominious 1-5 record since. Blowouts at the hands of double digit seeds Siena, Richmond and Wichita State haven’t helped the program’s image.

“I think that there are things we want to maintain and things that we want to get better at, and I think if you ask anybody, everybody wants to do better than they could,” Vanderbilt Director of Athletics David Williams said. “So obviously we won 19 games last year; we’d like to win more. We’d like to go further in the NCAA Tournament.”

[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#FFFFFF” width=”50%” align=”left” size=”2″ quote=”Vandy just got one of the best young coaches in the NCAA, and he is getting better and better as the years have gone on.” cite=”Tom Mantice, sports editor of The Torch” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]

 

 

Drew’s record and style

In his five seasons at the helm of Valparaiso, Drew certainly had his fair share of success. The Crusaders won the Horizon League regular season title in four of Drew’s five seasons and made NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2015. Drew took over the head coaching job from his father in 2011 after six seasons as an assistant. His career record of 124-49 includes a 65-19 mark in conference play, as well as three Horizon League Coach of the Year honors.

Fans will see a different approach from Drew compared to that of Stallings. Drew’s offense features fewer intricacies than Stallings’ and follows a simpler plan of attack that will be easier for young players to catch on to. Defensively, Drew’s last two Valpo squads ranked in the top 35 of Division I in efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy, despite the school’s lack of access to elite recruits.

“[Drew]’s dad, Homer, preached defense when [Bryce] played back in the 90s and that is what he builds his team around,” Tom Mantice, sports editor of The Torch, Valparaiso’s student newspaper, said.

“He also knows how to use his star players on offense,” Mantice added. “There is almost no one-on-one offense, he uses a lot of motion and passing. The ball barely touches the ground.”

Drew’s players also succeeded academically, as Valpo showed steady improvement in its Academic Progress Rating — a metric used by the NCAA to measure athlete eligibility and retention of its member schools — during Drew’s tenure. A private Lutheran university, Valparaiso held its athletes to high academic standards. Based on data provided from the school, the Crusaders performed similarly to Vanderbilt in terms of APR under Drew.

“We consider Vanderbilt to be a very special place, and … this is a place where not only do you think about coaching experience but you also think about fit,” Williams said. “This is not the right place for everybody. And so we do spend a lot of time making sure people understand what Vanderbilt is about and what Vanderbilt expects.”

Drew himself is known as a legend at Valparaiso for his game-winning shot in the 1998 NCAA Tournament that gave the Crusaders an upset victory over Ole Miss. Reports suggested Drew’s preference for a smaller, more family-like community led him to choose Vanderbilt over previous offers from larger schools both this spring and in past years.

“He basically makes this university tick,” Mantice said. “He’s beloved by everybody, even students who don’t care about basketball. He is very engaging and very available on campus. Many students heard about this university because of the shot in 1998, so he was a big deal around here.”

Drew and the Commodores

With a strong roster returning, Drew will face immediate pressure from fans to show that he can take the Commodores to heights that Stallings ultimately couldn’t.

Guard Wade Baldwin IV declared for the NBA Draft Tuesday and Damian Jones could follow, but Vanderbilt is still expected to return three starters and eight of the 11 scholarship players who saw playing time in 2015-16. Redshirt freshman D’jery Baptiste will help bolster the Commodores’ depth up front while incoming true freshmen Payton Willis and Clevon Brown could fight for playing time as well if they choose to stick with Vanderbilt instead of heading elsewhere.

Similarly, Drew could look for a graduate transfer who would be eligible immediately to shore up the point guard spot or to add another productive frontcourt player. Valparaiso forward Alec Peters and point guard Keith Carter, the Crusaders’ two leading scorers in 2015-16, could both potentially follow Drew to Vanderbilt, although Carter would have to win an appeal to the NCAA to do so.

“It makes all the sense in the world for Alec Peters to transfer,” Mantice said. “He came to Valpo because of Bryce. They have a special relationship that basically brought him to Valpo.”

One concern might lie in Drew’s lack of experience recruiting in the southeast, as he has largely recruited throughout the midwest and internationally at Valparaiso. Drew’s nine-man rotation in 2015-16 included four players born outside the United States and four Illinois natives. The ninth, Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson, hails from Atlanta.

Vanderbilt showed a propensity to pursue foreign players under Stallings, including Festus Ezeli and James Siakam. Current Commodores Riley LaChance and Joe Toye are natives of the midwest. Although Drew will represent a significant departure from the style and personality Stallings brought to West End, his proven ability as a coach bodes well for Vandy’s chances of building upon the previous regime’s success.

“Vandy just got one of the best young coaches in the NCAA, and he is getting better and better as the years have gone on,” Mantice said. “One thing that is different about Drew is his ability to work an official without swearing. He is a very devout Christian, so you better get use to hearing ‘We’re blessed’ at every press conference. He knows the game really well and has recruited well. It is a great hire.”

Drew will have the full support of Williams and Chancellor Nick Zeppos, and nothing about his track record suggests he won’t find success in Nashville. In leading Vanderbilt into a new era, however, Drew faces high expectations.

“You know, I think the way we evaluate is that it’d be wrong for me to say, ‘this is the standard that you have to meet,” Williams said. “But we will say our expectation is to win. Our expectation is to win the right way. Our expectation is to graduate student athletes. Our expectation is to run a clean program. But our expectation is to win.”

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Ziyi Liu, Author

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