NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Vanderbilt basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse bleeds black and gold through and through these days, but the former North Carolina All-American still has some Carolina blue coursing through his veins.
Stackhouse’s heartstrings were pulling for good friend Hubert Davis and his alma mater to make it to a record 21st Final Four Sunday, a feat UNC accomplished with a 69-49 win over Cinderella No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s.
“I was definitely excited,” Stackhouse said on NewsChannel 5 Sunday Sports Central. “I was joking that it was time for the slipper to come off Saint Peter’s foot tonight. They had a heck of a run, but I thought the size we had with [Armando] Bacot would get them over the hump.”
North Carolina will now face arch-rival Duke, which made it to the Final Four in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season as head coach. It will be the first time the two Tobacco Road powers meet in a NCAA Tournament game.
“All the years they’ve made the tournament and they’ve never met,” Stackhouse said. “For them to do it in his last season, it’s going to be historic. We going to send them home crying again, just like we did in Cameron. We’re trying to spoil the day.”
Meanwhile, Stackhouse is looking forward with optimism after the best of his three seasons on the Vanderbilt bench. The Commodores had their first winning record in five years and returned to the postseason with a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals.
The season ended with a 75-73 loss at Xavier last Tuesday, but Stackhouse believes the team’s late-season surge will pay dividends.
“There was a lot of opportunities that we just didn’t handle well down the stretch [early in the year],” Stackhouse said. “And by not handling those it allowed us to grow, and when we saw those same situations later in the season we handled them a lot better. It just coincided with getting Liam [Robbins] and Rodney [Chatman] back in the mix. I thought we were a tournament team with those guys. It was great for us to get into the postseason. The NIT was a great experience and we’re looking to expound on that.”
Scotty Pippen Jr. led the SEC scoring more than 20 points per game this season, and became just the second player in the league to post back to seasons averaging 20 points per game in the last 30 years. Pippen elected to pull his name out of the NBA Draft and return to school last year and will be forced to choose between those two options yet again this spring.
Unlike a year ago when he encouraged him to return to school in an effort to improve his draft stock, Stackhouse doesn’t believe Pippen has to make his decision one way or another. But he also doesn’t feel like his star guard’s in a hurry to leave Nashville.
“I think he’s really enjoying school, man,” Stackhouse said. “He enjoys his teammates. He enjoys school — he’s doing well in class. And really he has two years left with the COVID year, so he could come back and set some records that could last a long time. He’s doing okay, I mean he drives pretty much the same truck I’m driving right now, so his dad does okay. So hopefully he decides to come back, but, if not, then he’s had a heckuva ride for us and he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do.”
Whether or not Pippen returns remains to be seen, but Vanderbilt will have a healthy Liam Robbins back with Jordan Wright and Quinton Millora-Brown. It will also get a top 20 recruiting class that will be the best of the Stackhouse era.
That influx of talent along with the experience from this season makes Stackhouse believe his program is set to turn the corner. Next season the goal will be clear.
“We should be a tournament team,” Stackhouse said. “I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anybody anymore. If Scotty comes back, if we’re able to add another piece to compliment him, and the incoming class that we have, I don’t think that we’ve had that type of competitive depth throughout our roster since I’ve been here. So I’m excited about pushing the pedal down a little but harder because I think now there’s going to be some expectations and we’ve got to be ready to exceed those expectations.”