Stallings needs to value the SEC Tournament

Asked how much importance he placed on the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings answered that he looked at it as a "momentum and confidence opportunity". Excuse me coach but I think there's a little more to it than that.

It's not surprising that Stallings, a coach who has averaged less than one win per season in the SEC-T, would not place a sincere value on the SEC Tournament. While he's done some good things as VU's head coach, his teams have stunk it up in the SEC Tournament. They've stunk it up to the tune of a paltry 8-12 record in 12 SEC-T appearances.

I will never forget the 2007 SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt had one of its finest teams ever with the likes of Derrick Byars and Shan Foster on the roster. The Commodores had earned a first round bye in the tournament and faced Arkansas, who had defeated South Carolina in the opening round, on Friday. I had the hotel reservations set and was ready for Vanderbilt to finally make a run in the SEC-T and maybe even win it for the first time since 1951. The opening game result was a disgusting 72-71 Razorback win that left me scrambling to cancel my lodging reservations before the deadline. I headed back to Nashville that night frustrated and wondering what Vanderbilt had to do to compete in the SEC-T.

Maybe the Commodores just need to value a major conference championship? That value starts at the top with Coach Stallings. SEC teams compete hard for months for the SEC regular season title. The regular season championship is valued despite the Southeastern Conference's practice of giving some teams (like Kentucky) more time to prepare for opponents using the excuse of TV contracts. In the SEC-T, unless they get a bye, each team has an almost equal amount of time to prepare for their opponent. Heck, it's the winner of the SEC-T that gets the automatic bid to the NCAA, not the regular season champion.

Another reason to value the SEC-T is that the NCAA selection committee usually rewards the conference tournament champion with a nice seeding. What if last year Vanderbilt, who actually made a decent showing in the SEC-T, had won the darn thing? I bet they would never have faced Richmond in the first round of the NCAA. Why? It's because they likely would have had a much better seed which usually means a weaker opening round opponent.

Perhaps the most vital reason for Stallings to value the conference tournament is job security. He recently stated that he wanted to coach at Vanderbilt for 20 years. That sounds all good but he might not get that opportunity if he continues to fail to win championships. In case you haven't heard, Vanderbilt athletics is now all about winning championships. Tim Corbin has conference tournament and regular season titles along with super regional championship on his resume. Melanie Balcomb's teams have several SEC-T titles including one in which her team won without the benefit of a bye. The women's cross country team recently won a conference title and the bowling team has their national championship and multiple Final Four appearances. What's missing here? A men's basketball championship of some sort in recent history.

You see, with all the recent success of Commodore sports, including the rise of Vanderbilt football under James Franklin, the powers to be are hungry for championships. Like a starved wolf, they have gotten a taste of that blood and they want more. They believe that Vanderbilt should now be able to win some kind of championship in men's basketball, a sport in which Vanderbilt has been considered to be one of the stronger programs throughout SEC basketball history.

For the first time since 1974 Vanderbilt has two players who are members of the coaches' first team All-SEC team. 1974 was a year the Commodores won an SEC regular season title. Kevin Stallings needs to take advantage of every opportunity to add a championship banner in Memorial Gym. He and his players should get with it and bring home a trophy in 2012. A good place to start is the SEC Tournament in New Orleans and winning it starts with valuing it.

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