Press Kit: A Confident Vanderbilt Team Gears Up For SEC Tournament

Scotty Pippen Jr. Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

After having one of its most successful seasons in recent years, the Vanderbilt men’s basketball team now prepares to make some noise in the upcoming SEC Tournament in Tampa, Florida.

Superstar junior Scotty Pippen Jr., who was recently named to the First Team All-SEC, has led the team in scoring with 20.5 ppg, steals with 61 and assists with 127. He decided to return to Vanderbilt after contemplating entering the NBA Draft at the end of the 2020-21 season.

The Commodores, who hold the No. 11 seed, will take on bottom seeded Georgia who has had an abysmal season, winning only once since Dec. 22. Vandy beat Ole Miss 63-61 to finish the season after dropping three straight games against SEC opponents.

However, their record doesn’t properly represent the real threat this team can be in the SEC Tournament.

Vanderbilt dropped those three games to Alabama, Mississippi State and Florida, losing all contests by five points or less. The ‘Dores also lost to Tennessee twice, the first time by eight and the second time by nine. Both times, Vanderbilt kept the games close until the Vols ran away with it at the end.

This Vandy team, led by head coach Jerry Stackhouse, has a lot to prove and is due for a major win, especially with Pippen most likely leaving at the end of the season.

“I think we’re in a good spot. We know that we had some great opportunities that we didn’t handle well down the stretch ourselves. We could easily be in a different situation,” Stackhouse shared in a virtual press conference. “If you think of not only the earlier games that we had an opportunity to win, but just those three in a row there, that changes where we are tremendously. We start talking about 18-20 wins. That’s a different conversation for postseason and things like that, especially in our league and how tough it’s been this year. 

“For us it’s just about focusing on the stuff within the game and not getting so much into the next game or the next opponent, but just trying to handle our business on a possession to possession basis,” he adds.

Along with Pippen, Jordan Wright will be a key playmaker for the Commodores. Wright averaged 11.7 ppg, with 45 steals and 6.3 rpg–the most on the team.

Defense will be key if Vanderbilt plans to make a run in the tournament and will need major defensive performances from Wright and Quentin Millora-Brown. Millora-Brown had 16 steals, 32 blocks and averaged 5.7 rpg this season for Commodore.

Vandy has one of its best teams in over five years and is built around a strong core of juniors and seniors. This may be their last chance to make some noise and win a few conference tournament games before their college careers are over.

“We’re going to go with our older guys. We’re going to go with our guys that have been around. That’s the hierarchy around here,” Stackhouse said. “This is the time where you count on your older guys and try to go out and get every game you can get.”

Vanderbilt faces Georgia tonight (March 9) at 7 p.m. CT. The winner of the matchup will then play Alabama on Thursday. The Crimson Tide recently dropped out of the AP Top 25.

The winner of that game will then face nationally ranked No. 5 Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 11.

MTSU Turns Season Around, Earns No. 1 Seed Ahead Of C-USA Tournament

Donovan Sims. Photo: Courtesy of Middle Tennessee Athletics

MTSU’s men’s basketball team has had a season for the record books. The Blue Raiders turned its season from a losing one to finish 13-5 in conference and 22-9, earning the No. 1 seed in the Conference USA East.

Led by 2022 C-USA Coach of the Year Nick McDevitt, the Blue Raiders started off 9-6 before going on a 13-1 run. The team dropped its final two games in close matchups to Charlotte and Old Dominion.

As the top seed, alongside North Texas, MTSU will have a double-bye, opening the championship in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 10. This year’s championship features all 14 teams and begins Tuesday, March 8 at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

North Texas has been predicted to be the C-USA’s autobid to the NCAA Tournament, which means that MTSU will need to win out to make it to the dance.

Josh Jefferson led the Blue Raiders in scoring this season, playing and starting in 29 times and averaging 14.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg and shooting 40% from the field. He was named to the All C-USA Second Team. Another ket player for MTSU is freshman Teafale Lenard Jr. who played in all 31 games this season having 106 rebounds, 27 steals and blocking an outstanding 42 shots. He was named to the All C-USA Freshman team. Along with Lenard Jr., DeAndre Dishman will be extremely important for the Blue Raiders defense. Dishman averaged 4.7 rpg, stole the ball 35 times and blocked 20 shots.

All of these players will need to play their best basketball over the week when facing some of the toughest programs in the nation.

The Blue Raiders will take on the winner between University of Texas El Paso and Old Dominion on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT and can be watched on Stadium.

Belmont Women’s Basketball Team Wins Second Straight OVC Tournament Title

Pictured: The Belmont Women celebrating its win over Tennessee Tech in OVC Finals. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics.

For the sixth time in seven years, the Belmont women’s basketball team has won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, punching its ticket to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The Bruins wiped the floor with Tennessee Tech, winning 51-29 on Saturday, March 5 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.

“I can’t be more proud of these young ladies than I am right now,” said head coach Bart Brooks in a postgame press conference. “With the ups and downs of the season, this was a grinding, tough and difficult season. We really challenged these players in our non-conference and got knocked down more than knocked other people down, but we kept getting up, fighting and competing. I think this group just has an unbelievable resiliency and toughness and when they got to the end of the season, they started playing their best basketball.”

Brooks has now led the Bruins to four OVC Tournament wins in his five seasons as coach and was named the 2022 OVC Coach of the Year.

Belmont’s defense paved the way for another OVC title, limiting Tech to shooting 9-of-52 from the field and forcing 17 turnovers. Belmont nearly held Tennessee Tech scoreless the entire final 10 minutes, scoring the first 13 points of the fourth quarter before a Golden Eagles 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.

“Defense wins championships and we all know that. Honestly, I can’t take the charges unless they make those girls drive into the paint. They do all the work on the outside and I’m just waiting for it,” said senior captain Conley Chinn in a postgame press conference. “It’s just incredible to be on the floor playing defense with these girls, especially when we have that fire energy, make them turn it over and steal it from them causing bad shots. Like anything it’s just a great feeling to be out there.”

Sophomore Destinee Wells dropped 22 points and was named the OVC Tournament MVP for a second consecutive year.

The team didn’t miss a beat throughout the game and shot 56% from the field in the second half, with nine players scoring. Wells also scored 20 points and shot for 50% from the field in the Bruins win over Austin Peay in the tournament semifinals.

Wells, along with fellow sophomore Madison Bartley, were named to the OVC All-Tournament team. Bartley averaged 13 points on 57.1% shooting and seven rebounds in the tournament.

“We worked so hard for this all season. To see it pay off with this great group of girls and amazing teammates is amazing,” said Wells in a postgame press conference.

Next up for the Bruins is the NCAA Tournament. On ESPN’s latest bracketology, Belmont is predicted to be a No. 13 seed. The Bruins won its first ever NCAA Tournament game in 2021, taking out No. 5 seed Gonzaga 64-59.

Selection Sunday for the Women’s March Madness is March 13 at 7 p.m. CT and can be watched on ESPN.

SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview: Can Vandy Make Something Happen?

Pictured: Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball team celebrating its win over ranked Florida. Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

The SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament is set to begin today (March 2) with Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team taking on Texas A&M at 11 a.m. at Bridgestone Arena.

The highly anticipated tournament will feature some of the country’s best teams and programs from across the nation, such as No. 1 and SEC favorite South Carolina, No. 18 Tennessee, No. 23 Florida and No. 24 Georgia.

Though the Commodores are the 12th seed out of 14, they aren’t the same Vandy team from recent years. Behind first year head coach Shea Ralph, the team has been able to pick up a few key wins against Auburn, Kentucky and ranked Florida just last week on Feb. 24.

Vanderbilt holds a record of 13-17 and had one of the worst SEC records, but lost five conference games by less than 10 points. This team has played excellent at home, finishing the season with a record of 11-5 at Memorial Gym.

Though they won’t be playing at Memorial, they will be playing right down the street at Bridgestone. If they can carry that home game energy and momentum into the tournament, they could win a few games and make some noise.

The squad currently has three All-SEC players–Jordyn CambridgeIyana Moore and Sacha Washington–that will be vital to any success Vanderbilt may have in the conference tournament.

Cambridge was named to the All-Defensive Team for the second time in her career for her defensive prowess. She is currently 10th in program history for career steals (214) and fourth for single-season steals (109). The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year watch list honoree is second in steals and third in steals per game nationally in addition to leading the SEC in steals. Cambridge led the Commodores in minutes played per game (33.5), defensive rebounds (105), assists (122) and steals. On Feb. 20, she became the only Division men’s or women’s player to reach 100 steals and 100 assists this season.

Both Moore and Washington were named to the All-SEC Freshman team as Moore averaged 11.8 points per game and Washington averaged 6.2 rebounds per game.

Moore leads the team in made 3-pointers and free throw percentage and is ranked inside the top-100 nationally for minutes played, 3-pointers made and 3-point field goal percentage. In the SEC, Moore is ranked in the top 25 for scoring, points per game and 3-pointers made.

Washington had back-to-back double-doubles which were instrumental in Vanderbilt’s win over No. 15 Florida and aided the Commodores down the stretch in the regular-season finale against Alabama.

Along with these three players, senior Brinae Alexander will need to come up huge against the Aggies. She leads the Dores in scoring at 14.8 points per game due to her shooting precision from behind the arc. She leads the team in points per game, 3-point percentage (36%).

Vandy and Texas A&M met three weeks ago in College Station, Texas, where the Aggies won 76-58. Texas A&M (14-14) has dropped five straight coming into the postseason.

Tip-off is set for 11 a.m. today at Bridgestone Arena and can be watched on SEC Network.

TN Sports Authority Shares Final Report On A Professional Women’s Sports Team In Nashville

2021 WNBA champion Chicago Sky. Photo: Courtesy of the Chicago Sky

CAA Icon’s Brain Slater laid out his final report on the viability, interest and success that a women’s professional sports team would have in Nashville at the Metro Sports Authority Board Meeting on Feb. 17.

As outlined in the first report, CAA Icon found that either a professional basketball team (WNBA) or soccer team (NWSL) will be the best options for the city if they were to add a professional women’s team.

This final report answered many questions in regards to league interest, market analysis, focus group data, and economic impact analysis.

The findings from the web-surveys were overwhelmingly positive with 53% of residents supporting the initiative and 26% saying they may support it. About 52% of the survey participants were male, while only 43.4% were female. According to this survey, out of 5, the interest for a NWSL team was 3.4, while NWBA was 3.09.

Nashville’s market demographics for the NWSL compare well with Portland and Kansas City, both of which have teams. For WNBA, Music City compared well with Las Vegas and Indianapolis, who also sport WNBA teams.

“The [NWSL] said they could be expanding over the next four years,” Slater explained. “There have been numerous ownership groups around the country that have expressed interest in a potential franchise, so that does create some sense of urgency.”

One of the pros of the NWSL coming to Music City is that Nashville has become a booming soccer town with the impressive growth of Nashville SC. With a new soccer-specific stadium opening on May 1, adding another team to the brand new facility would make a lot of sense. Not to mention that much of the support for NSC could bleed over to a NWSL team.

The league also saw a 216% increase in viewership last year from 2019, and the 2019 Women’s World Cup was viewed by a record 1 million people globally.

Some of the cons of an NWSL team, though, could be an over-saturation of soccer in the market, according to the CAA Icon study. The soon-to-open Nashville SC Stadium will be the largest soccer-specific stadium in North America, which may be difficult to fill for a NWSL match. The study also mentioned the recent treatment of its players being a potential issue.

WNBA makes sense in a lot of ways too, but isn’t clear of cons.

Viewership for the WNBA jumped 51% in 2021 from 2020, and the WNBA’s presence in media and live game coverage has dramatically increased as well. On Feb. 4, the WNBA announced the closing of a $75 million capital raise, with a reported implied value of $1 billion. It is not a reach to say that the WNBA is in the early stages of peaking as a league and only looking to grow.

The study looked to the popularity of both the Lady Volunteers basketball team as well as MTSU’s women’s basketball teams as examples of the sport’s viability. Another important thing to mention is the growth of Belmont’s women’s basketball team as it becomes one of the best programs in the nation.

The 2019 Belmont women’s basketball team. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Vision/Colby Crosby.

Also, because there is no other professional basketball team in the city, WNBA would own the market. The league’s season takes place in the summer so, if played at Bridgestone Arena, it wouldn’t interfere with the Predators schedule or any college tournaments.

Some of the cons included in Slater’s report were that the league hasn’t defined any plans to expand. Bridgestone Arena was voted the most preferred event space for a possible WNBA team, but Bridgestone may be too big for the average WNBA attendance and could affect the game day experience.

Another huge factor to consider is the economic impact on the city. The CAA Icon study looked at the 20-year net present value (NPV) of both leagues and found the NWSL’s output was at $140 million and the labor income was at $71.6 million. Meanwhile, the WNBA’s output was $235.6 million and labor income was $119.5 million.

On the surface, the WNBA could be more profitable for the city and the jobs created. However, this study did not include fan spending before and after the games (hotels, bars, restaurants, etc.), nor did it include the potential revenue made in sports betting.

The support from the top executives of Nashville’s three professional sports teams–the Titans, Predators, and Nashville Soccer Club–was overwhelming and made clear at the board meeting.

Titans CEO Burke Nihill, Ingram Industries (Nashville SC) CFO Mary Cavarra and Predators President and CEO Sean Henry all showed huge amounts of support in the Sports Authority’s effort to bring a professional women’s team to the city.

“Our organization is owned by, I believe, one of the best owners in professional sports who also happens to be a female, so we’re in,” Nihill shared at the Sports Authority board meeting. “From your report, our venue seems to be the least helpful to attract a women’s sports league, but whatever we can do to help–by using my network, by using our influence–we are absolutely happy to help.”

“We are certainly 100% behind this. We support women’s sports, whatever they are,” added Cavarra. “Clearly right now we have our hands full with our new stadium…  but we are still behind this 110% so please let us know what else we can do.”

“Like my partners, we’re in this. Period. I think we’ve shown that time and time again with the women’s SEC [basketball] tournament, the All-Star game for the NWHL–the first time it was ever produced and in a big venue–so we’re in,” said Henry.

With all this information, the next clear step would be for the city to start pursuing an ownership group. Information gathered from focus groups indicated fans would want an inclusive ownership that would consist of women, as well as minorities.

At the time of reporting, there are no prospective owners or ownership groups.

College Corner: Jill Jelnick, UTK’s Kennedy Chandler, MTSU Football

Jill Jelnick Joins Belmont’s Bruins Sports Network

Belmont University Athletics has announced that Fox Nashville’s Sports Director Jill Jelnick will serve as a contributing broadcaster for Bruin Sports Network’s baseball and softball broadcasts on ESPN+.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jill Jelnick to our Bruin Sports Network broadcasts on ESPN+,” says Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcasting & Media Relations Greg Sage. “Jill’s experience and enthusiasm will enrich our broadcasts and the overall presentation of our softball and baseball programs.”

Jelnick will serve as lead play-by-play announcer for select Belmont softball and baseball games. She served as play-by-play broadcaster for the 2021 Texas Collegiate League and color analyst for the American Athletic Conference, UTSA and Incarnate Word.

“I am ecstatic to be joining the Bruin family in the booth this year,” says Jelnick. “Looking forward to sharing the excitement of Belmont softball and baseball with the fans, as well as telling the personal stories of Belmont’s remarkable student-athletes.”

Jelnick joins WTVF’s Steve Layman and WKRN’s Emily Proud as Nashville television affiliate broadcasters within the Belmont Athletic’s broadcast team.

 

Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler Named Bob Cousy Award Top 10 Finalist

Kennedy Chandler. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Tennessee Athletics

The University of Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler has been named as one of 10 finalists for the 2022 Bob Cousy Award.

This season, Chandler is the team’s second-leading scorer and assists leader this season, averaging 13.2 points and 4.7 assists per game. Chandler has scored in double figures 11 times this season and has led the Volunteers in scoring four times.

Chandler’s 4.7 apg ranks fourth in the SEC, while also ranking seventh in the SEC in field goal percentage and third amongst guards. His 1.75 assist/turnover ratio is seventh-best in the SEC. Chandler has also posted elite defensive numbers this year. Through his 19 games this season, Kennedy has posted a team-high 43 total steals.

The Bob Cousy Award is awarded each year to the top point guard in college basketball. Chandler is the only true freshman among the top 10 finalists. The list will be narrowed down to five finalists in late February.

 

 

MTSU Football Opens 2022 Season At James Madison 

The Middle Tennessee State University football team has announced it will face James Madison University in its 2022 season opener on Sept. 3.

The game is a late replacement for the previously scheduled home game against Missouri. The Tigers recently informed the Blue Raiders they would not be coming to Murfreesboro.

“We lost the Missouri game last fall as they chose to contractually buyout the game,” says Director of Athletics Chris Massaro. “Every avenue was taken in order to keep the game but to no avail. Missouri will have to pay us $800,000 to exercise the buyout part of the contract. There were not a lot of options so we are thankful JMU was willing to work with us.”

This will be just the second time these two programs have played each other. JMU won the first meeting 24-22 during the 1994 season.

The complete 2022 schedule will be announced at a later date by Conference USA.

Lipscomb’s Ashan Asadullah Sets Career ASUN Record In Points, Assists & Rebounds

Ashan Asadullah. Photo: Courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics

Lipscomb senior Ahsan Asadullah has spent all season breaking records, but has now made history in the Atlantic Sun Conference accumulating 1400 points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists in a career.

Asadullah set this record on Saturday, Jan. 29 in the Bisons 77-74 win over North Florida. He finished with a line of 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals. He also set another record for most double-doubles this season, now with seven.

The Georgia native has made an impact on Lipscomb’s basketball program since he was a freshman, having been named to ASUN All-Freshman selection.

He’s been named to the All-ASUN First Team twice in 2019-20 and 2020-21 and the ASUN All-Tournament Team in 2019-20.

This season, he’s averaging 15.5 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game with 14 steals and 11 blocks.

College Corner: Belmont’s Grayson Murphy, Vanderbilt & Tennessee Baseball Preseason Poll Rankings

Belmont’s Grayson Murphy Breaks OVC All-Time Assist Record

Grayson Murphy. Photo: Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

Belmont senior Grayson Murphy has broken the Oho Valley Conference’s all-time assist record with 702 assists. He picked up five assists in Monday’s (Jan. 24) win against Eastern Illinois University.

The point guard broke Bruce Jones‘ record from Eastern Kentucky, who held the record for 41 years. Murphy has been one of the pillars of Belmont’s current squad and averages 8.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 5.8 apg.

The Franklin, Tennessee, native has led the Bruins in assists and steals in each of the past three seasons. He is a two-time OVC Defensive Player of the Year and was the 2021 OVC Preseason Co-Player of the Year.

 

 

Vanderbilt Ranked No. 2 In Baseball America Preseason Poll

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

As the college baseball season is just about a month away, Vanderbilt has been ranked No. 2  in Baseball America‘s preseason top 25 rankings.

Vanderbilt made its second straight trip to the College World Series in 2021, eventually losing to Mississippi State. The Commodores are among six other SEC teams in Baseball America‘s top 10: Mississippi State (No. 3), Florida (No. 6), Arkansas (No. 8), Ole Miss (No. 9) and LSU (No. 10.)

The Dores will welcome back some of the best players in the nation, including D1Baseball’s 2022 Top 100 MLB Draft Prospects Carter Young (No. 25), Spencer Jones (No. 60), Dominic Keegan (No. 66) and Nick Maldonado (No. 74).

Recently extended head coach, Tim Corbin, will lead Vanderbilt back on to the field on Feb. 18, when the Commodores welcome Oklahoma State, who is ranked No. 19 in Baseball America’s preseason poll.

 

 

University of Tennessee Ranked No. 17 In Baseball America‘s Preseason Poll

Photo: by Andrew Ferguson/University of Tennessee Athletics

Along with their cross-state rival, Vanderbilt, the University of Tennessee was also included in Baseball America‘s preseason top 25, being ranked No. 17.

The Volunteers had one of their most successful seasons ever in 2021, finishing with an overall record of 50-18 and an SEC record of 20-10. UTK hosted a regional for the first time since 2005 and hosted a super regional for the first time ever, posting a perfect 5-0 record in the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds before making the program’s fifth trip to the College World Series.

This season, the Vols are slated to play five of the top 10 teams in Baseball America‘s rankings, including a College World Series rematch with No. 1 Texas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston on March 4.

Tennessee will also returns 24 letterwinners from last season’s team, including “Super Seniors” in Evan RussellLuc Lipcius and Redmond Walsh.