#6 Vanderbilt Commodores
Last Season: 19 - 16 (10-8 in conference) #33 kenpom
My Prediction: 22 - 9 (11 - 7, 6th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 9.3 - 8.7 (7th in conference)
HEAD COACH: Bryce Drew | second season 19 - 16
Vanderbilt and Bryce Drew look like a pretty good match. For all Kevin Stallings success at Vandy, there were always questions whether or not he could get the Commodores to the next step. Bryce Drew, at least early, looks to be answering some of these questions. After a rocky start to the season he steadied the team and steered them into the NCAA tournament in just his first season. Drew is young, smart, and is showing now he can recruit as well. Drew is recruiting with the same steadiness he led Vandy down the stretch with. Which is a good omen for the fans in Nashville, and a rough omen for the rest of the league. I made an Ole Miss joke in this space last year, and I’m tempted to insert the gif again (of Drew’s game winning 3 in the NCAA tournament years ago), but I’ll skip it for now. For now I’ll just say Vandy hired a... no, not gonna say dandy either... a really good coach and a great fit.
Seat Temp: COOL
Kevin Stallings had success at Vandy, but his up and down nature and penchant for underachieving when he was able to compile the amount of talent to make a run left many fans wanting more. Enter Drew, who in his first year took an experienced team to the tourney and looks to go 2-for-2, which would leave the 2017-18 Vanderbilt Commodores with a chance to tie their most consecutive NCAA appearances in school history with three.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
|Larry Austin, Jr.||transfer||23||19.69%||2.50%||4.16%||3.16%|
One of the biggest holes in the entire SEC was left by Luke Kornet in the middle of Vanderbilt’s lineup. Kornet was a do-everything post for the Commodores last year. He could shoot from outside and rebound with the very best and he provided the anchor for a heaviliy perimeter oriented team. On top of all that Kornet was a very underrated post defender and was solid around the rim and had a nationally ranked block percentage. Nolan Cressler struggled to find a role as a junior but came around to be a solid role guy as a senior. Camron Justice saw enough writing on the wall to see his future was limited with Bryce Drew.
AND, WHO’S BACK?
Matthew Fisher-Davis | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD
When Matthew Fisher-Davis is cold, he’s ice cold. Bryce Drew wasn’t afraid to sit him when he went ice cold and it seemed to prevent MFD’s spells from taking over. He’s capable of playing 36 minutes a night and putting up more than 20 points a game on any given night. When Fisher-Davis is on he can be deadly. He has elite shooting ability which dipped last year below 40% from deep for the first time at Vanderbilt. If he can get his outside shooting to tick up from last year it’s going to make him even more of a challenge to defend at the second level. MFD being excellent this year makes Vandy a solid tournament. Another year like last year and Vandy is looking at the bubble again, at best. No pressure Matthew.
It’s hard to imagine a few years after Riley LaChance broke in as a freshman that he wouldn’t be one of the featured players, but LaChance has proven to simply be solid collegiate player who is capable of shooting the lights out. What’s almost amazing is how LaChance has remained basically the same guy from a usage standpoint, but last year he he jumped his 3-point shooting percentage nearly 10 points. Replicate those sort of shooting numbers again and LaChance makes Vandy very dangerous. Joe Toye is a versatile player who gives Bryce Drew flexibility defensively. Payton Willis played a big role last year and will so again this year. But he’ll be challenged for minutes from Larry Austin Jr who sat out last year after transferring and is more of a natural point guard. Djery Baptiste is the more likely answer for Luke Kornet in the middle, but isn’t nearly as skilled offensively. And Clevon Brown has a lot in common with Joe Toy who has a lot in common with Jeff Roberson. They’re all skilled combo forwards who make defending Vanderbilt quite difficult when they’re at the four.
Jeff Roberson | SENIOR | COMBO FORWARD
If you can average more than 10 points and seven rebounds a game in the SEC and go unnoticed, then your last name must be Roberson. Jeff Roberson is entering his senior year of a distinguished yet barely noticeable career. He played nearly 80% of his available minutes and lost some efficiency over his sophomore campaign, but Roberson so so many things you have to keep him on the court whenever possible. You can see Drew trying to groom some of their younger players to be the sort of guy Roberson is: tough defender, aggressive on the glass, efficient shot taker. The world of college basketball needs more players like Jeff Roberson.
THEN, WHO’S NEW?
The recruiting class may not be super heralded but quite frankly it doesn’t need to be. Saben Lee is a good point guard prospect who will have ample time to develop behind Payton Willis and Larry Austin. I like Ejike Obinna’s ceiling, long arms and quick feet could help him contribute early. Maxwell Evans is an athletic long armed combo guard who is strong enough to help out early but will have a lot of competition ahead of him. The big haul may have been in the transfer market as Drew picked up Matt Ryan and Yanni Wetzel. Ryan is a big skilled wing who left Notre Dame after struggling to find a role as a sophomore. Yanni Wetzel is the perfect case of a late bloomer, a 6’10 stretch four who will be able to help out in 2018-19.
|(1) Point Guard||Darius Garland||Maxwell Evans|
|(2) Combo Guard||Saben Lee||Aaron Nesmith|
|(3) Wing||Joe Toye||Matt Ryan||Matthew Moyer|
|(4) Combo Forward||Clevon Brown||Ejike Obinna|
|(5) Post||Simisola Shittu||Yanni Wetzell|
It’s hard to see the threesome of LaChance, Fisher-Davis and Roberson not starting. But the center and point guard position will be fought out between a group of Willis, Austin Jr, Lee, Evans and Obinna, Baptiste and maybe Brown and Toye. Ultimately I could see Drew going all SMU from last year and going very small but having all five positions as lights out shooters, it could happen. I’d expect to see a lot from Willis and Austin at the point no matter who starts though.
My Projected Record: 22 - 9 | KenPom Projected Record: 18 - 12
|Nov 16||Home||Alcorn State||336||W|
|Nov 23||Home||Kent State||211||W|
|Nov 27||Home||Savannah State||317||W|
|Dec 1||Neutral||NC State||46||L|
|Dec 5||Home||Middle Tennessee||45||W|
|Dec 17||Home||Arizona State||49||W|
|Dec 22||Away||Kansas State||42||L|
|Dec 29||Home||Tennessee State||198||W|
|Dec 31||Home||UNC Asheville||187||W|
It seems to be the usual case that Vandy plays a pretty good non-conference schedule and this year it’s no different. It’s fortunate for Commodores fans, and for Bryce Drew they’ve got some very pivotal games at home. Belmont is always a tough game due to the fact that Belmont is good and it’s an intra-city matchup. They also host USC, who is likely a preseason top 10 or 15 team. Hosting the Trojans though should give Vandy the edge. But going up against Virginia is never fun, even when Tony Bennett won’t have the elite team he’s had in the past, they’ll still be good on both sides of the ball, and the second round matchup in the preseason NIT would be against either Rhode Island or Seton Hall. Going 1-1 in that tournament would be a nice achievement. Plus Kansas State, TCU, Middle Tennessee, and Arizona State, with only the Sun Devils being on the road.
|Jan 5||Home||Ole Miss||108||W|
|Jan 16||Home||South Carolina||80||W|
|Jan 19||Home||Mississippi St||54||W|
|Mar 2||Away||Texas A&M||29||L|
Vanderbilt has the easiest of the home and homes of all the teams who ended up 11-7 which is why they’re in the sixth spot. Florida and Kentucky are not exactly fun to match up against, but they get LSU and Mississippi State which has the potential for a sweep. The Commodores should be better than Tennessee but the rivalry aspect makes me think they split. They also get Alabama, Missouri and Texas A&M all at home, which means home games against five top teams. Plus winnable road games at Ole Miss, South Carolina, Auburn and Arkansas. It’s easy to see Vandy getting past my projected 11 wins.
A funny thing happened last year. Vanderbilt lined up a good out of conference schedule, fought through adversity and a new system and looked up on February 11th with a 12-13 record after an embarrassing 20 point loss to the cellar dwelling Missouri Tigers. The chances of making an NCAA tournament were essentially dashed. Yet the Commodores weren’t dead yet, they were mostly dead but a magic pill in the form of Bryce Drew and some needed offensive changes and Vanderbilt managed to 7-2 down the stretch before landing a 9 seed in the SEC tournament. Drew proved his mettle by steering his team out of their swoon and into the NCAA tournament despite long odds.
It was probably the three victories over Florida which did it. The Commodores proved to be kryptonite for the Gators last year, and it was enough to propel them into the tournament, where they bowed out in the first round to Northwestern.
Still, it was a pretty successful first year for Bryce Drew. He took over a Kevin Stallings assembled team and made it his own, by embracing certain elements of Stallings system all the while taking the team in a new direction.
Another year in, and the bulk of the roster is still a lot of guys who Stallings recruited. And the leaders, Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, and Jeff Roberson are entering their final year to truly stand out. It would appear they’ve got enough to go out on top, or at least towards the top. But questions remain.
Luke Kornet leaves a big hole in the middle of the floor, and I’m not entirely sure how Drew fills it. The options are there but require faith in guys who haven’t exactly proven their mettle just yet. I like Djery Baptiste as a player, but is he a guy you can count on for nearly 80% of the minutes at the five, which Kornet played. If it’s not Baptiste you hope Ejike Obinna can answer the bell. Either way I do think both will be good enough to get Vandy about 80-85% of the way there. The rest of the way the Commodores are going to have to find answers for.
And there in lies the problem for me. I like most of what Vandy offers but not enough to give them the benefit of the doubt against the top of the conference. You’re counting on guys who we’ve seen plenty from being even better. You’re asking Matthew Fisher-Davis to go up another level. And MFD is a damn good ball player, but is he going to be the guy on a nightly basis he’s yet to be in his career. He’s good, but as option #1 he’s been faulty. LaChance was better when he was moved off the ball and not asked to initiate offense but rather participate in it. If he’s able to avoid the point guard position and allow Payton Willis and Larry Austin to go, I like the offensive position that puts Vandy in.
There’s a lot to like, don’t get me wrong. I’ve clearly got Vanderbilt in the upper tier of the league and in a solid position for an NCAA tournament bid with 11 league wins. I will be pretty surprised if they exceed that this year though.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one 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, click here for the Google Form we used.
* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team
%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.