Last season: 21 - 14 (9-9 in conference)
My Prediction: 13 - 5 (in conference)
AnchorOfGold's Prediction: 13 - 5 (in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 11.7 - 6.3
After a rough couple seasons of Vanderbilt having roster issues and problems winning games, Kevin Stallings seat was probably starting to warm up. Stallings was never likely in that much trouble considering the wealth of success he’d had just 3 years prior when he led Vandy to an SEC tournament championship and a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Heading into last season, I certainly had doubts about whether Vandy would be able to turn things upward a season ago, particularly because they were going to have to play so many freshmen. After a rough start, Stallings and company righted the ship and the Commodores went from 1-7 in conference to finish 9-9 and made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT. Credit Stallings for getting the kids ready to play, and not just play but perform at a high level after a tough start.
WHO THEY LOST
Why most everybody around SEC basketball is excited for the future of the Vanderbilt program is because the turnover from last season was minimal. The biggest loss was that of James Siakam, who was a starter and the emotional leader for a young team a season ago. He played a big role for the Commodores throughout the season, was huge down the stretch, provided great rebounding along with plus interior defense. Shelton Mitchell is a more interesting case, he was a late add to the roster (ultimately choosing Vandy over Mizzou if you remember) after decommitting from Wake Forest following a coaching change. Mitchell was a solid player for the ‘Dores who was a highly rated recruit, but was more a high ceiling guy who never quite found the consistency of the other freshmen, and struggled even more following a concussion mid-season. Shelby Moats was a 4 year bench guy who was never more than a bit player.
WHO IS COMING BACK?
|Wade Baldwin IV
|REDSHIRT -- transfer from Cornell
After Jones, the emergence of the now sophomore class last year was so important to the rebound of the basketball program. For most of the year the Commodores started three freshmen on the perimeter. That's not something schools outside of Kentucky or Duke get away with and still win games. Riley LaChance was one of the young breakout stars. His ability to knock down shots was incredibly vital. But as much credit as LaChance got, Wade Baldwin was just as important. He took over most of the primary ball handling duties when Shelton Mitchell got sidelined, and performed well. Matthew Fisher-Davis was outstanding beyond the three point line (really the entire roster was incredible from deep last year) and improved his defense as the season went along. Luke Kornet provides another lethal shooter and big body on defense, his ability to stretch the defense from the forward spot will be instrumental to keeping defenses away from Jones so he can operate. The last guy to mention is Nolan Cressler, who was a scorer from the wing for Cornell before transferring to Vandy before last season. He should impact the team right away and could challenge the others for a starting spot.
WHO ARE THE NEWCOMERS?
This is a striking similar class to what Stallings brought in a season ago. A group of solidly rated players who have been mostly overlooked. The gem of the class is 4-star post Djeri Baptiste, a physical specimen who is ready to contribute day one for some rebounding and defense, but might take a while to develop into an offensive threat. At this point, Vandy won't need him to be one. Samir Sehic is another big body with good feet, soft hands and passes well out of the post. He's not the most athletic guy, but does enough with what he has. Both bigs play hard and could factor into the rotation early. Cameron Justice is naturally an off the ball wing moreso than a combo guard, but he can handle the ball well enough in a pinch that I've listed him as a combo. He loves to catch and shoot and is strong and physical enough that he too could press for playing time early. Joseph Toye is an ok shooter who played a bit of a combo forward role at LaLumiere in Indiana, and finished high school at Whitney Young in Chicago. Depending on the service he's been ranked as high as a 4-star, but 247sports has him as a 3-star. With a developed shot and some added weight he could help out Vandy in a multitude of roles this season.
It’s difficult to find too many flaws with this Vanderbilt team. They roster is solid with good depth on both the perimeter and in the post. There are multiple players who can flex positions, giving Kevin Stallings all the ammunition he should need to get this team rolling and rolling early. When the shots are falling they should be able to beat anyone in the country, and as usual their home gymnasium should be able to provide them a steep advantage once again.
Eight or nine losses is about where I would think they end up overall. I’ve got them projected to lose 5 in conference, and that feels about right. Even in Stallings best years at Vanderbilt that was about the ceiling. And with increased competition in the league it’s possible they drop one or two more, but I doubt it gets that far. The top half of the league is pretty solid and the schedule didn’t necessarily break Vandy’s way as they have both Kentucky and Texas A&M twice, as well as a new look Florida team. And Shaka Smart’s revamped Texas squad gets the ‘Dores in the SEC/Big12 Challenge. Purdue, St. Johns, Dayton and Baylor also feature the non-conference schedule and should provide a good challenge.
I was pretty wrong on Vandy last year, I fully admit that. I thought the young guards being forced into primetime roles too early would melt them a bit against the tougher more physical competition. But what happened instead was that the veteran coach helped the young players keep focused once they hit a few bumps, and before long a team that was built on offense started making shots and being much more effective. I certainly have come around and expect the Commodores to be one of the clear top 3 teams in the league.
With basically everyone back (minus James Siakam) the Commodores are going to be a very formidable team this year. Perhaps the biggest question is that this offensively blessed team can continue its hot streak and pump in the points to overtake some of the more experienced or more talented teams in the SEC this season. From the outside, Vandy has everything you could want. A heap of returning players from a team that grew progressively throughout the season last year, a veteran coach to guide them, and a big potential lottery pick in the middle with Damian Jones. Kenpom even has them ranked in his preseason top 20, CBSsports has them at 22, ESPN has them at 18. So the national writer types all see the same thing, this Vandy team could be pretty good, and now I’m saying the same thing.
I really do want to tamp down my expectations for this season, because as a Vandy fan… we’ve seen our team get saddled with high expectations in the preseason and not live up to them. (See: 2012.) But even if I take off my gold-tinted glasses, I still wouldn’t be able to see any obvious holes on this team. Big man? Check, and could be a double-check if Luke Kornet starts playing like a big man and not just a tall guy who shoots threes. Point guard? Check. Shooters? Check. Depth? Check.
The only potential weaknesses I’m seeing with this team are perimeter defense and the lack of a wing who can score off the dribble, but the latter is something that can be hidden in Stallings’ offense and the former can be covered by the post defense (to some degree.) I’m just really trying to contain my excitement over what might be Vandy’s best team since 1993.
|Anchor Of Gold
Seemingly every year there is a team that finishes really strongly and they become the super sexy pick to do something big, nay HUGE, the next year so long as their student athletes are returning. And Vanderbilt fits that role to a "T." The Commodores ended the season very hot, winning 5 in a row down the stretch and shooting an absurd percentage from three. For Mizzou fans, you'll remember that cold February afternoon where Vandy wore those horrid uniforms in that horrid gym and just shot the lights out. Damian Jones is a star in the making and having already made his intentions known that this will be his last year in Nashville before heading to the Pros expect him to make the most of his final year in Nashville. Add on top of that the lose almost no one from said hot team from last year, it would appear that the stars have aligned for the Commodores to make their mark this year. But what could possibly trip them up? I mean, you've got players missing games due to injury, that happens, or grades, again not uncommon, back talk and even wearing the wrong hat at the wrong time, all very run of the mill. No, there are two big things that could torpedo (see what I did there?) Vandy's season and they are as follows:
- Kevin Stallings makes good on his threat to end his point guard (or really any other player or fan for that matter) in a fit of rage for not "playing the right way."
- If Memorial Gymnasium loses some of its magic.
Of the two, we're not even going to discuss number 1. But we most certainly are going to discuss the second option. You see the NCAA in it's infinite wisdom has decided, that yes, Vanderbilt's court set up is mostly dumb. They didn't go as far as to say it was 100% dumb, but baby steps. Coaches are now not required to stand under the basket they can roam the sideline up until mid court as is the case everywhere else. Players still must sit under the basket, hence the not 100% fixed issue. Anyway, I'll be interested to see what effect this has on games played at Memorial Barfnasium and if this advantage being taken away from the Fancy Pirates affects their home record at all. Because the team is expected to be quite good this year it may not matter, but in coming years, well the chickens are coming home to roost Vandy and it's only a matter of time...
About the preview: Each SBNation site was asked for one representative to submit a Game-by-Game pick of the upcoming SEC season to get a different look than if we just asked them to submit a ranking by team, or a prediction for their record. It yielded some interesting results as you can see. If you'd like to see your own results on how the SEC would break down, feel free to take a whack at our Pick 'Em form on GoogleForms. Just email/tweet at me or Chris and we'll send you the results.
GP: Games Played
%min: Percentage of team minutes played that were available
%poss: Percentage of usage, when a player is the cause of the end of possession (turnover or shot)
%points: Percentage of points scored vs team points
%rbds: Percentage of rebounds vs team rebounds
eFG%: Field Goal percentage with added weight of 50% for three point shots made
%3pm: Percentage of 3-point makes to team 3-point makes
ORtg: Average points scored per 100 possessions (if the player was responsible for each possession)
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Coming tomorrow: the Georgia Bulldogs