Adams: Fan support vs. WKU appalling

Coach Stallings was torn in his post-game conference following Vanderbilt's 76-69 loss to Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Classic. He knew that some of his players had given him everything they had. Regardless, Stallings knew that a few weren't playing up to par. At the end of the day, he recognized that the Commodores fell apart.

"If you're going to have a good team, you need to know what to expect," Stallings said. "I hoped we would win, but hoping isn't good. Hoping isn't everything. It's up to the coaching staff to get it right. We have good kids, some played really, really hard. We're coming off two hard losses and we were a broken mess after Illinois. We have two days to put it back together and on the third day, we played and we lost. We were a broken mess again tonight."

This "broken mess" was described the by media and fans alike in a lot of negative ways. Some called it an upset, a disappointment, shocking, or frustrating. The most appropriate way to categorize the defeat was as a total embarrassment.

Usually, an embarrassing loss has more to do with the poor quality of the opponent than anything else. That wasn't the case against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have a very solid team this season, coupled with a rich basketball history and passionate fan base. Above all, they have a leader who took the game over in the clutch. Senior A.J. Slaughter scored 27 points, many coming in the closing minutes, negating any attempts by the Commodores to close the gap.

The embarrassment that Vanderbilt suffered comes in three specific areas: the response of A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal to not being in the starting lineup, the coaching staff's inability to find a rotation that will play defense, and the noticeable lack of Vanderbilt fans that attended the game.

Even though he didn't go into specifics about the two players, Stallings addressed why Ogilvy and Beal did not start.

"You have to acknowledge effort or lack thereof," Stallings said. "Your most talented guys, if they're not playing with the effort that is needed, tears the fabric of the team apart. It's not a team-wide thing. We've got guys giving great effort, but we have key guys not giving the effort we need."

Beal played 27 minutes, but still struggled from behind the arc. He had 12 points and four assists on the night. He likely would not have played as much, but John Jenkins was in foul trouble the entire night. Ogilvy was basically a non-factor. Stallings had the big man sit out the first eight minutes of each half. He scored eight points in only 15 minutes of action.

The problem with their performance was more about leadership than actually basketball. The coaching staff had to be hoping that not starting would light a fire under both players. Nothing changed in either players' demeanor and both seemed to be lacking a sense of urgency. Both players have passed the torch to Jeffery Taylor to lead the team.

Things are getting bad on the defensive end. The team may have been in rough shape before, but Coach Stallings used terms that make you glad you're not going to be at practice this week. He said that opponents no longer "respect their defense", which is never a good thing. In a close game throughout, Vanderbilt had 11 players who were on the floor more than nine minutes. With the constant substitutions, the team could never get in any sort of rhythm. While the coaching staff was trying to find a lineup that worked, it caused the team to look dysfunctional. There were many points in the game, when the ‘Dores only had two viable scoring options on the floor. Defense is a team concept, and if players haven't played together a lot, things are going to fall apart.

Vanderbilt's depth is an advantage, but on Friday night, the substitution pattern seemed to be picking players from a hat. At this point in the season, you don't need to be playing a 10 or 11-man rotation. The coaches need to play a smaller core group and allow them to gel and get accustom to their roles.

Finally, the lack of Vanderbilt fans that were at the game was appalling. The game was listed as being played on a neutral site. Since the game was in Nashville, it was safe to assume that the Commodores would have a distinct advantage. That couldn't have been further from the truth. As scores of Hilltopper fans poured into the Sommet Center, Vanderbilt fans were nowhere to be found. At the start of the game, WKU fans likely outnumbered Vandy fans by a 10-1 margin. It's amazing that a team could give up home court advantage only two miles away from its own gym.

Up Next for the ‘Dores

Vanderbilt does not play again until next Saturday. They will host Tennessee State at Memorial. In a normal week, you could expect the coaching staff to work this team harder than they ever have. The saving grace for the team is that it is Finals Week. Stallings and his staff will respect the high academic standards of the university and only practice a few times.

Those small windows that have with the team will probably be very intense. There will be a lot of soul searching and trying to find an identity. With Florida and the beginning of the SEC schedule looming less than a month away, Vanderbilt better get things together very soon.

Read more of Adam's articles at DorePosts.com.

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