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A new coach means a new outlook at Vanderbilt for the first time in a long time

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Vanderbilt tries to recover from a disappointing season a year ago with the freshly hired Bryce Drew. Previewing the #5 Vanderbilt Commodores.

Vandy Preview

#5 Vanderbilt Commodores

Last Season: 19-14 (11-7) #31 in KenPom

My Prediction: 10 - 8 (5th in conference)

AnchorOfGold’s Prediction: 13 - 5 (3rd in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 9.4 - 8.6 (4th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: NIT-Semifinals-Valparaiso vs BYU Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Bryce Drew | First season 0 - 0

Kevin Stallings found an out. After a rocky season that started with such promise, Stallings jumped to Pitt and got himself out of the fire at Vanderbilt. The reasons why are complex, he had a deeply talented team that failed to live up to their expectations which was a common issue for Stallings. He did a good job of exceeding expectations with lesser talented teams and falling short with more talented ones. So Vandy reportedly told him he might want to find new work, so he did. Then the Commodores went out and hired a guy most basketball fans are innately familiar with in Bryce Drew. Sorry Ole Miss fans:

Sorry Ole Miss fans.

Drew is known for hitting that shot, but he got the job because of what he did at Valparaiso after taking over for his father. In five seasons at his alma mater Drew turned the Crusaders into a powerful Horizon league school, going to the NCAA tournament twice and going 58-13 in his final two seasons. Drew put himself squarely in the crosshairs of much bigger schools with the job he did, and had the opportunity to stick around and wait for the right job. I think the fit for Drew at Vandy is about as good as you can get. A private school with the money to support a top tier program, a good history with expectations to win, but also a patient one that gave Kevin Stallings the time to rebuild time and again. Drew found a very good fit at Vandy for himself, let’s see how good of a fit Vandy found in Drew?

SEAT TEMP: COOL

Vanderbilt 10 year look

Six NCAA appearances in 10 years is a solid run for Vanderbilt standards, as the only other period where they earned as many appearances was if you go back and include 2004. As a school the Commodores have had 14 appearances total, and Kevin Stallings accounts for half of those. I would imagine the expectations for Drew are heightened because Stallings heightened them.

WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov
Wade Baldwin IV Professional 33 .753 .186 .303
Damian Jones Professional 33 .651 .182 .116
Josh Henderson Graduated 32 .245 .045 .034
Samir Sehic Transfer 22 .078 .010 .009
Carter Josephs Graduated 21 .073 .001 .017
Nathan Watkins Graduated 11 .021 .001 .002
33 .364 .427 .483

The disappointment of last season was in large part because of the depth of young talent on the roster, and a huge part of that was Wade Baldwin IV. Baldwin was an incredible NBA prospect after exploding onto the scene as a freshmen. Listed as a shooting guard as a high school prospect, Baldwin worked on his ball handling and became a top tier point guard prospect. His ascension almost overshadowed the growth and production of first round draft pick Damian Jones who went from a top 80 4-star prospect to an All SEC big man and a spot on the Golden State Warriors roster. Josh Henderson seemed to be a Commodore for the last decade, but he finally exhausted his eligibility. Carter Josephs walked on and became a reliable player off the bench for Kevin Stallings. Vandy might miss Samir Sehic, the versatile big man transferred to Tulane after not playing much as a freshman.

WHO’S BACK?

name year pos GP %min %pts %ov
Matthew Fisher-Davis junior wing 32 .659 .123 .097
Jeff Roberson junior cf 32 .645 .118 .093
Luke Kornet senior post 28 .576 .099 .090
Riley LaChance junior cg 33 .616 .091 .135
Nolan Cressler junior wing 30 .278 .057 .048
Camron Justice sophomore cg 26 .194 .035 .021
Joe Toye sophomore cf 30 .193 .041 .027
Phillip McGloin junior cg 10 .013 .004 .002
Djeri Baptiste r-freshman post REDSHIRT
33 .364 .427 .483
NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Tennessee vs Vanderbilt Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Riley LaChance | JUNIOR | COMBO GUARD

After bursting onto the scene as a freshman and shot the lights out on his way to multiple freshman of the week honors, and somehow it felt like he fell off a cliff last season. His numbers fell all the way around as the Commodores struggled to find consistency, and you can look around the roster and point out the production they didn’t get from LaChance as one of the reasons why Vandy disappointed last year. A new year, a new coach and a new outlook may be just what LaChance needed to get things turned around and find his way back to being the sniper he was as a freshman.

Jeff Roberson emerged as an effective do-everything combo-forward last year, even to the point of becoming the primary small forward down the stretch. Roberson was sort of my alternate for a player to watch and he’ll be as important of a cog on this years squad as anyone. Part four of the “almost got featured on the player to watch” list is Luke Kornet, a guy who was an afterthought as a recruit but a guy who has developed into a very good college player. Kornet can shoot it from deep and, while he’s not the most physical player, he affects shots in and around the basket making him a valuable defender. Nolan Cressler was expected to have a larger role but never broke through last year. This year he could play a larger role, or he could get laped by Camron Justice, a solidly built sharp shooting combo guard who showed flashes in limited time last year. Joe Toye also could take on a larger role, he’s an athletic combo forward who’s more comfortable on the wing. One guy to watch out for is Djery Baptiste who redshirted last year but has a huge ceiling and could make a major impact this year.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Fisher-Davis | JUNIOR | WING

A deadly shooter, Matthew Fisher-Davis has stepped his all around game up incrementally, but cannot be left alone from outside as it’s all but guaranteed to drop. He’s an adequate ball handler, but Fisher-Davis is the sharp-shooting specialist, and when he and LaChance are on target Vanderbilt is incredibly hard to beat. Fisher-Davis will have to take over a much more focused role this year, he’ll have to be just as effective in smaller windows in order to take the step. If he can, Vandy will be tough to beat.

WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Clevon Brown 6'8 215 121 POST
Fr Payton Willis 6'4 175 152 CG
Fr Larry Austin 6'2 175 TRANSFER -- Xavier PG

Larry Austin left Xavier after two seasons of low impact play for a program strongly rising. He’ll have to sit out but should factor into the rotation as a junior. Clevon Brown is a long armed and strong post player who pledged to Kevin Stallings and stuck with Vanderbilt after the coaching change. Brown should be ready to provide minutes as a freshman. Payton Willis is a skilled combo guard from Arkansas who is in a similar mold of Fisher-Davis and Wade Baldwin as a skilled and somewhat undervalued player coming out of high school, but one who could be an unexpected light on the roster this season.

DEPTH CHART

Point Guard Combo Guard Wing
Riley LaChance Matthew Fisher Davis Joe Toye
Payton Willis Camron Justice Nolan Cressler
Combo Forward Post
Jeff Roberson Luke Kornet
Clevon Brown Djery Baptiste

It’s entirely possible that both Baptiste and Kornet start this year, moving Roberson to the wing, and sliding Toye to a backup role. This would make Vandy a bigger more physical team, but this lineup above makes them a dangerous offensive team, which is why I like this group. I imagine Drew will have no problem finding some minutes for most of these 10 players, depending on matchups.

SCHEDULE

My Record Projection: 19 - 11 | KenPom Record Projection: 16 - 14

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Non-Con: Marquette (n), Belmont, Butler (n), Arizona/Santa Clara (n), Minnesota (n), Dayton, @ MTSU, UT-Chatt, Iowa St

Vandy has, what I’d call, a manageable schedule. Dayton is gonna be good again, but you get them at home which should make the game winnable. Butler should be better than Dayton, and if I’m tracking (and I am) I’m marking this as a loss. The game in South Dakota against Minnesota could be a potential pothole, as the Gophers were terrible a year ago but should be much improved. Vanderbilt should be favored in every other game outside of possibly Marquette, which is a tough way to start the season as it leaves little room for error. Nine non-conference wins seems about where the Commodores would want to end up if they don’t drop any unnecessary games.

Conference: Kentucky (2x), Florida (2x), Arkansas (2x), Texas A&M (2x), Tennessee (2x), @ Georgia, @ LSU, South Carolina, Ole Miss

The SEC schedule makers did not take it easy on Vanderbilt. Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M are only the top four ranked SEC teams according to kenpom. Tennessee is lagging a bit behind but that’s a rivalry game where anything can happen. Travelling to Georgia and LSU is no cakewalk, but the rest of the schedule I guess isn’t too bad. I’ve got Vandy winning 10 games in the conference and looking over their schedule that feels generous, if they can get to nine I think that’s a solid season considering having to confront the best of the league with home and homes.

OVERVIEW

So with Kevin Stallings gone and Bryce Drew taking over it’s a little hard to make sense of what Vanderbilt can be. After the struggle of last season most inside the program were looking for a breath of fresh air and Vandy fans are hoping Drew can be just that. There was internal strife with Stallings and Vandy gets to hit the reset button. Certainly losing two NBA level players will challenge the confines of the roster, but there’s still plenty of good leftovers for Drew to work with.

Vanderbilt returning players shot chart

So what does Bryce Drew bring other than just something different? He made his mark at his alma mater of Valparaiso by being a solid offensive team, but it was his defense that became elite by the end of his tenure. Drew’s last season at Valpo they were a top 10 defensive team by efficiency. He’s taking over a roster that was very good last year defensively, and despite Stallings rep as an offensive coach Vandy was just okay. Vandy fans are hoping that Drew will be able to take a stale message new, and revitalize the excitement in the program. And he’ll largely have to do it with a somewhat experience roster.

Vandy could be an NCAA bubble team this year, as evidenced by their 64th ranking in kenpom’s preseason ranking. They’re one of seven teams I’ve targeted as having a realistic opportunity to reach the tournament. But breaking in a new coach is never easy, particularly one who hasn’t coached in the SEC or at the Power 5 level. Drew is a guy who we all think is going to be good for the future in Nashville, but we’re just really not sure. If Drew struggles to adapt to the level of play and has trouble facing off against a difficult schedule it can turn the potential of a good season south in a hurry. If players, most of whom pledged to play for Kevin Stallings, don’t invest in Drew the season will head south. So with any new coaching hire you’re taking his success on faith.

I guess I have faith because I think Vandy will be fine. If they’re 10-8 with the slate of games on their schedule you’ll hear Vanderbilt in the conversation for an NCAA tournament birth. Ultimately I think they’re left out, I just don’t feel good enough about their depth and the top end guys aren’t there. They’re stacked with good players, but they need one or two guys who can go get it when they need it. I feel pretty good being somewhat high on Vanderbilt this year though it wouldn’t surprise me to see Vandy disappoint, but it would surprise me to see them win fewer than eight games this season. I just expect more.


About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:


GLOSSARY

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team