Press Conference Notes: Stackhouse previews Memphis, Lea talks football’s bye week

A pair of head coaches met with the media on Tuesday to discuss their team’s recent developments.

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Miguel Beristain

Liam Robbins jumps for the opening tip against Belmont in the NIT (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Bryce Smith and Brett Needelman

Both Jerry Stackhouse and Clark Lea met with members of the media on Tuesday, Nov. 1 afternoon to talk about their respective teams in what will be a busy November on West End.

Stackhouse’s squad opens up play against Memphis on Monday, Nov. 7, at Memorial Gymnasium. The recently-extended head coach previewed the matchup against the Tigers. Lea expanded on his team’s bye week and mindset for their upcoming game against South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 5, at FirstBank Stadium. 

Men’s Basketball: The dawn of a new season 

Stackhouse met with the media for the first time since the end of September on Tuesday. The fourth-year head coach addressed his team’s opening night matchup against the Memphis Tigers. Memphis is coached by fellow NBA alum, Penny Hardaway. 

“We’ve been talking about [playing Memphis] for a while. It’s an exciting one for the state of Tennessee, obviously have two former NBA players coaching with an opportunity to compete against each other,” Stackhouse said. “We feel like they’re a great team to have on our schedule and, hopefully, on our resume.”

Stackhouse added that Vanderbilt would likely be making a return trip to FedExForum in Memphis next season to complete the home-and-home series. 

“Yeah, I think we’ll go back there next year. Hopefully, this is something that generates excitement for both sides of the state [of Tennessee]” Stackhouse said. 

Memphis amassed a 22-11 record last season, earning a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they were defeated by No. 1 seed Gonzaga. The Tigers will have to replace several members from that team including freshman center Jalen Duren (selected No. 13 by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Draft), leading scorer Landers Nolley II (transfer to Cincinnati) and former five-star recruit Emoni Bates (transfer to Eastern Michigan). 

“We know that they’ve been able to get a lot of talent there over the last couple of years and, obviously, had some kids exit as well,” Stackhouse said. “So, I’m pretty sure like everybody, they’re trying to onboard some young guys and some new guys that have come in from the transfer portal.” 

Speaking of the transfer portal, Memphis added Kendric Davis, a dynamic scorer from SMU, over the offseason. Davis averaged 19.4 points per game last season for the Mustangs and scored 21 points in a 84-72 win over Vanderbilt on Dec. 4, 2021. 

“We are gonna prepare for the Memphis Tigers, not just one player,” Stackhouse said. “We’re very aware of him [Davis], we know that he’s a big talent in a small package similar to how we see Ezra [Manjon]. A lot of quickness, ability to get into the paint and do some different things—a really good point guard, but we’re gonna focus on how to handle them as a group, and I’m pretty sure that we will pay some special attention to his special talents but it’s Vandy against Memphis.”

Football: Recapping Mizzou and bye week, looking ahead to South Carolina 

Lea only addressed the media briefly following the Commodores’ bye ahead of this week’s home matchup against the recently-but no-longer-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Before the bye, Vanderbilt nearly pulled off a comeback win against Mizzou, falling short 17-14. In the loss, true freshman quarterback AJ Swann left the game with an undisclosed injury and is questionable for Saturday.

“We’re heading in the right direction with AJ, who was able to practice today, so felt good about that. He still needs to make it through the week, but so far so good,” Clark Lea said when asked about Swann’s status.

Backup and fan favorite Mike Wright outplayed Swann when he subbed into the game last week but there did not seem to be any indication that Wright would start, barring injury. 

Last season, Vanderbilt lost in heartbreaking fashion to South Carolina despite being in control of the game for the majority of the second half. South Carolina was down 6 with 90 seconds to go and they subsequently ran a near-flawless two-minute drill to score the go-ahead touchdown and win 21-20. 

“We haven’t really spent much time on a year ago, it’s a different team. There’s a number of guys obviously that were there in the locker room that felt the sting of it. It’s painful, but we’re not going to carry that with us onto the field. We’re focused on this [Vanderbilt] team playing at its highest level, and I think we have a chance to do that,” Lea said. “Those of us were there, were there, but we’re not going to use that as emotional leverage this week.” 

As Lea stated, this South Carolina team is quite different in play style and roster composition than last season. Transitioning from a former graduate assistant to a former five-star recruit under center, Lea has to make adjustments for this new-look Gamecock offense.  

“[Spencer Rattler] had spurts of really impressive play. I think they [South Carolina offense] have good skill, big receiving targets, and, obviously, a really talented run game, and that makes for a good offense,” Lea said. “We’re going to be stressed to be in the right positions to have the verticals capped to make sure that we’re not giving up those explosive throws that he’s been able to find this year.” 

Special teams are often overlooked; however, they are still a large part of any contest and can have the ability to completely alter the trajectory of a game. The special teams units may be especially impactful this Saturday as South Carolina boasts the top-ranked special teams group in the NCAA, according to Football Outsiders

“So much of the pressure they put on you is that you can’t make mistakes against this team. They’ve proven they’ll capitalize on those mistakes: they build on that momentum, they build on that positive play. There’s a ripple effect there.” Lea said. “We’re going to need to be on point, on our game in that phase. If we’re not, they’ll make us pay for that.” 

As a defensive-minded coach, the success on that side of the football has commonly been used as a metric for Lea. Though the Commodores have had some tough matchups thus far against some stellar offenses, Lea appears to remain hopeful. 

“Our defensive unit has had ups and downs this season. I feel like even though it hasn’t shown in results, I have seen gradual improvement there, so I am excited to continue that. I think they’re growing confidence and they’re growing confidence together. We have to be detailed in our execution to give us a chance to play good defense.” Lea said. “When we played with identity, we’ve been, at times, able to dictate the terms of play.”