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SEC Basketball Preview: #12 Vanderbilt Commodores

Previewing the No. 12 team in the SEC, the Vanderbilt Commodores

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Vanderbilt Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve followed this space and read my writing long enough, you’re probably aware of my feelings on Jerry Stackhouse as a basketball coach. If you aren’t aware, I think he’s a great basketball coach. So while there were many people out there who found themselves surprised as the 2021-22 Vanderbilt Commodores went on a run to win 12 of their last 15 games, I wasn’t.

Last season the media picked Vanderbilt 12th, they zoomed past those expectations to finish 6th. The change in expectation to finish was the second best in the league behind only Missouri who was picked 11th and finished 4th.

The strong finish didn’t prevent wholesale roster changes in the offseason, however, as it seemed like just about everyone on the roster entered the transfer portal. Some came back, but as much as we revere Stackhouse for his coaching, he’s got a pretty big job in front of him this season.


Previous SEC Previews:

Vandy Preview

#12 Vanderbilt Commodores

Last Season: 22 - 15 (11-7 in conference) No. 81 KenPom

My Prediction: 16 - 15 (6-12, 12th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 5.5 - 12.5 (12th in conference)

SEC Media Prediction: 11th in conference

KenPom Projection: 14-16 (5-13 in conference) No. 79

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Kentucky vs Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Jerry Stackhouse | 5th Season, 61-69

After remarking on how well-respected Jerry Stackhouse is previously, it seems counterintuitive to rank his team 12th. But bear in mind that as much as I think Stackhouse is a really good basketball coach, being a college basketball coach comes with an entire set of problems that all other coaches don’t have to deal with. Namely, recruiting.

Roster building requires a creative approach and never-ending effort. A deluge of phone calls, FaceTimes and text messages are often the baseline of expectations. So far, Stackhouse hasn’t fully succeeded in luring the top-end talent to play for him. Which is funny since he’s shown a real ability to develop players, and quickly. Vanderbilt only has one three-star recruit in their 2024 recruiting class, and Stack’s only landed one top-100 recruit.

While his development spans each and every class, Stackhouse also had trouble keeping those players on the roster. It’s enough to wonder at what level NIL is playing a role. And then there were rumors he was in line for NBA interviews over the summer and you have to wonder, just how invested Stack is in Nashville?

Either way, he’s an ultra-competitive guy and I expect Vanderbilt to be nearly good.

Seat Temp: COOL

vanderbilt 10 year look

As the SEC has ramped up its basketball spending, Vanderbilt has seen its performance fluctuate wildly. Kevin Stallings had a good run but it did coincide with the league being pretty weak overall. From 2007 - 2012 he made the NCAA Tournament five times, all with good seeds. But the SEC TV Network money started flooding in around 2013 and the Commodores have been to the tournament just twice since. Stackhouse took over in 2019-2020 and has yet to make an NCAA Tournament. I’m not sure there is real heat under his seat, but I’ll be curious to see how things go if the record is a bit rocky this season.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Liam Robbins graduation 26 40.13% 14.66% 17.84% 12.87%
Jordan Wright transfer 34 56.24% 13.57% 13.06% 14.66%
Myles Stute transfer 34 58.66% 10.67% 7.67% 10.76%
Trey Thomas transfer 33 51.07% 7.22% 4.79% 7.63%
Noah Shelby transfer 14 8.46% 1.95% 1.16% 1.72%
Quentin Millora-Brown transfer 36 44.77% 4.74% 6.84% 5.86%
Emmanual Ansong graduation 27 19.33% 2.71% 3.10% 2.99%
Malik Dia transfer 20 11.41% 1.92% 1.10% 2.41%
Adrian Samuels transfer 3 0.47% 0.00% 0.00% 0.03%
58.11% 57.44% 55.56% 58.93%

Following Stackhouse’s most successful season in conference play, he had to watch as nearly 60% of his minutes walked out the door either through graduation or the transfer portal. The losses included five players who played at least 40% of their available minutes, and it would have been more had Liam Robbins been healthy all season. Robbins had the biggest impact when he was available due to the combination of rebounding, rim protection, and an offensive punch around the basket. Robbins is the player who helped kickstart the Commodore run from mid-February which lasted through to the end of the year, even without him by that point. He played in 26 games and missed the last 7 due to injury. But he had 5 KenPom.com MVPs in the span of 7 games and just one of those was a loss.

A prime example of Stackhouse and his development was Jordan Wright. Coming out of high school Wright was only rated by 247sports.com as a sub-300 player. But Stackhouse found him and found a place for him and got double-digit points out of him each of the last two seasons. Wright graduated and transferred to his hometown school LSU.

I said in the South Carolina preview that I found the move by Stute to enter the transfer portal puzzling, and his reasons even more so. He’s a limited player athletically, but a good shooter from distance and he succeeded in his role at Vanderbilt.

Quentin Millora-Brown played the role of a reserve big man well over his three years at Vanderbilt. Trey Thomas was a bit of an undersized shooting guard who started 17 games but was limited offensively. Noah Shelby transferred to Rice after seeing limited action his freshman season. Emmanuel Ansong used the last of his eligibility to play a bit role off the bench, and Malik Dia flashed a little outside shooting ability before transferring to Belmont for an expanded role.

THEN, WHO’S BACK

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Tyrin Lawrence JR CG 36 70.00% 17.66% 60.16% 17.77%
Ezra Manjon G-SR PG 37 70.87% 14.54% 54.07% 16.22%
Colin Smith SO CF 36 40.60% 6.39% 55.02% 6.23%
Paul Lewis SO WING 25 16.78% 2.74% 55.34% 2.88%
Lee Dort SO POST 17 7.45% 1.09% 59.43% 1.28%
Miles Keefe* SO WING 6 1.74% 0.15% 40.98% 0.13%
Graham Calton* JR WING 6 2.01% 0.00% 0.00% -0.07%
41.89% 42.57% 44.44%
NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Kentucky vs Vanderbilt Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrin Lawrence | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

The tale of Tyrin Lawrence’s offseason is an interesting one. He entered the transfer portal and seemed destined for Auburn at one point, Georgia for another, and then ended up back at Vanderbilt. A breakout player for the Commodores, Lawrence went from playing in just 5 games as a freshman to averaging 13 points as a junior. He turned himself into a 36% three point shooter with a 111.8 offensive rating with a true shooting percentage of nearly 60%.

While he’s improved his three point shooting, that isn’t Lawrence’s game. It’s attacking the rim. He’s, in a lot of ways, the modern day wing. Per Synergy he attempted 329 shots last season. 46.8% of them were at the rim, 43.5% of them were jump shots with just 33 shots inside the 3 point line not at the rim. He’s progressed each season leading to the breakout last year. And Vanderbilt needs him to continue that line of progression and have a standout year.

If you want to keep an eye out for the next under-recruited player to break out for Jerry Stackhouse, a good name to watch would be Colin Smith. A 6’8 215 lb wing, Smith only played about 40% of his minutes for the Commodores last season but his ability to flex from the three spot to the four spot and maintain a high level of efficiency while still defending well earned him more and more playing time as the season wore along. That includes him starting the last 5 games of the season. He wasn’t a big scorer for much of the season but did have a few games where he made some big shots. I’d look for that trend to continue this season.

Vanderbilt returns only two other players who saw anything more than walk-on level minutes. The first is Paul Lewis, a sophomore guard who only attempted 66 field goal attempts and 83% of those were jump shots, per Synergy, with 40 of them being from behind the arc.

The other returner is Lee Dort, a former top-50 recruit whose ranking slipped a bit his senior season. Dort struggled to find consistent minutes playing behind Liam Robbins, and then when Robbins got hurt Stackhouse seemed to trust Millora-Brown more than the younger post players. But the physical profile, at 6’10 and 255 lbs, fits if he can put it all together on the court. Plus Miles Keefe and Graham Colton are back as walk-ons.

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ezra Manjon | SENIOR | POINT GUARD

The season for Vanderbilt seemed to run once Ezra Manjon, a slippery but sturdy transfer point guard from UC-Davis, was inserted back into the starting lineup in early February. That move spurned a 12-3 run to finish the season, which included 9 top 100 wins. With Manjon running the offense, Vandy ramped up their efficiency by relying upon him to run late clock pick and rolls. Manjon jumped his output with a larger role offensively, averaging 13.1 points per game and a 54.2% eFG.

Manjon isn’t a 3-point shooter with just 35 attempts from deep on the season. But he excelled at getting down hill and to the rim where nearly half of his shot attempts came from. He was also solid in the mid range and on runners, and enough of an offensive threat to draw defenses in where he then had a 27.7% assist rate. Putting this altogether means Manjon played like an all league point guard down the stretch.

AND, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
FR Jason Rivera-Torres 6'7 190 ★★★★ 114 WING
FR Malik Presley 6'6 185 ★★★ 167 WING
FR Carter Lang 6'9 245 ★★★ 181 POST
FR Isaiah West 6'2 190 ★★★ 206 CG
FR JaQualon Roberts 6'8 210 ★★★ NA CF
SO Jordan Williams 6'3 205 TRANSFER Texas A&M PG
SO Ven-Allen Lubin 6'8 225 TRANSFER Notre Dame CF
G-SR Evan Taylor 6'6 205 TRANSFER Lehigh WING
G-SR Tasos Kamateros 6'8 240 TRANSFER South Dakota POST

With a fair amount of production to replace, Stackhouse essentially split his additions between freshmen signees and the transfer portal. Another year without a top 100 signee means the expectation of big contributions from freshmen should be low. But there are some good additions from the portal who should help right away.

At the top of the list is Ven-Allen Yuben, a Notre Dame transfer and former top-75 prospect from Florida who put up respectable numbers as a freshman and could project as a starter at the second forward position. At 6’8 and 230 lbs he has the physical size and athleticism to compete, and his skill level looked good last year.

There’s also Tasos Kamateros, a 6’8 post from South Dakota who put up 12 points and 6 rebounds last year for the Coyotes. They’re also getting a grad transfer year from Lehigh wing Evan Taylor who averaged 1.39 points per attempt on his catch and shoots. And while Jordan Williams didn’t play much at Texas A&M, he has the size, speed, and physical profile to be a solid point guard in the SEC.

The freshmen include a 4-star wing, Jason Rivera-Torres, a talented scorer in high school and likely the most college-ready player, and Carter Lang, a skilled perimeter big who could see early minutes as well. The rest of the class is a bit of a crapshoot to see who might get on the floor. Malik Presley is a rangy wing, and Isaiah West is a solidly built combo guard. Last is JaQualon Roberts who is an intriguing combo forward prospect.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Ezra Manjon Jordan Williams Isaiah West
(2) Combo Guard Tyrin Lawrence Paul Lewis
(3) Wing Colin Smith Evan Taylor Malik Presley
(4) Combo Forward Ven-Allen Lubin Jason Rivera-Torres JaQualon Roberts
(5) Post Tasos Kamateros Lee Dort Carter Lang

Depth should be a little concerning, but the backcourt is looking pretty solid. Manjon starting at point guard and Lawrence at another guard spot is a pretty solid starting point. If Colin Smith is capable of breaking out then you have three spots locked down. Even with Evan Taylor, there are at least four guys you know what you’re going to get from a nightly basis. But this is where it becomes a guessing game.

Tasos Kamateros brings shooting but far from elite size and he’s making the jump from the Summit League to the SEC as a 6’8 post. Lubin also has breakout potential and the versatility Vandy needs in the post with them being undersized. Lee Dort has the size, but again he lacks experience.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 16-15 | KenPom Projected Record: 14-16

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 7 Home Presbyterian 317 W
Nov 10 Home USC Upstate 280 W
Nov 14 Home UNC- Greensboro 106 W
Nov 17 Home Central Arkansas 319 W
Nov 23 Neutral NC State 61 L
Nov 24 Neutral BYU / Arizona State 36 / 81 W
Nov 29 Home Boston College 128 W
Dec 2 Home Alabama A&M 340 W
Dec 6 Home San Francisco 93 W
Dec 16 Neutral Texas Tech 43 L
Dec 19 Home Western Carolina 180 W
Dec 23 Away Memphis 32 L
Dec 30 Home Dartmouth 267 W
180.50 10-3

This is a completely navigable non-conference schedule. The key for Vandy is to avoid hiccups, which is something they have not done in previous years. Last year they lost 6 non-con games, the year before they lost 4, and they lost 2 of 6 games in the shortened 2021 season. The Commodores don’t face an opponent they shouldn’t beat until NC State at the Vegas Showdown on November 23rd. Then they’ll play either BYU or Arizona State. Those are all beatable opponents. They were all rated ahead of Vanderbilt last season, but the way Vandy played down the stretch is a different thing.

If they can find a win in Vegas, and slip past either Texas Tech or Memphis, there’s a real chance they could surprise this season.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 6 Home Alabama 10 L
Jan 9 Away LSU 47 L
Jan 13 Away Ole Miss 82 L
Jan 17 Home Auburn 15 W
Jan 20 Away Mississippi State 27 L
Jan 27 Home Tennessee 8 L
Jan 31 Away Auburn 15 L
Feb 3 Home Missouri 55 W
Feb 6 Home Kentucky 18 L
Feb 10 Away South Carolina 66 W
Feb 13 Home Texas A&M 24 L
Feb 17 Away Tennessee 8 L
Feb 21 Home Georgia 57 W
Feb 24 Away Florida 39 L
Feb 27 Away Arkansas 14 L
Mar 2 Away LSU 47 W
Mar 6 Away Kentucky 18 L
Mar 9 Home Florida 39 W
avg 32.72 6-12

Good news, bad news here. The good news is the schedule provides quite a few opportunities for big wins. The bad news is that means the schedule is difficult. They open with a tough home game against Alabama and then go on the road for two games against LSU and Ole Miss. Those three games, again, are winnable games for Vanderbilt. And in the SEC where you end up in the Conference standings usually comes down to just a few results. Flip three results and 6-12 becomes 9-9.

But the home and home opponents being Kentucky and Tennessee, plus road trips to Arkansas and a home game against Texas A&M means the top four (projected) teams in the league provide little room for big wins.

OVERVIEW

As a fan of Jerry Stackhouse, this is another long-shot year. At the top of the roster the talent level is good, but not great. There are no surefire NBA picks, nobody is showing up on NBA draft boards at this point. But Manjon, Lawrence, Smith, and Taylor are good college players.

After those guys, it becomes guesswork as to how Vanderbilt will stack up with the rest of the league.

Last season their run centered around the emergence of Ezra Manjon as a facilitator, Liam Robbins as the man in the middle, and then some shot-making from Tyrin Lawrence and Jordan Wright. Without Robbins, the pressure switched to the 3-point shooting, where the Commodores collectively shot 40% or better in 8 of their last 15 games, unsurprisingly they won all 8 of those games.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

So while so much of the last leg of the run came down to shooting, Vanderbilt needs to figure out how it’s going to hold up on the interior. And there are just too many unknowns on the interior and behind the top guards to expect Vanderbilt to build too much off their run from last year.

The key for Vandy will be more about avoiding the potholes they’ve busted tires on the last few seasons. Early in non-conference play and then in conference play. A year ago Vanderbilt was 10-12 and 3-6 in conference play before starting their run. They had dug themselves a hole too big to truly earn a spot in the NCAA tournament despite looking like a tournament team the last 6 weeks. So how do they change that fortune?

A lot of pressure is going to come down upon Manjon continuing his trajectory, Lawrence taking off, and getting something more than anyone expects from Colin Smith.

It’s possible, and as we’ve said in the past, there are few programs at this level that run as good of an offense as Jerry Stackhouse. There is enough outside shooting and a few players who can attack off the bounce which makes Vandy difficult to defend. But without Liam Robbins or a reliable defensive presence around the rim, it makes the rim pretty vulnerable to its own attack. And that’s another question.

Last year Vandy was terrific on offense for most of the year but they struggled to get stops. They had the 3rd worst defense ahead of just South Carolina and LSU who were clearly the two worst teams in the league. Now you’re looking at two challenges, improve drastically on defense and find solutions for depth and the forward position.

It won’t be unheard of, but it makes it difficult to buy in too much on this roster.

Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC

If you want to be optimistic then you have Jerry Stackhouse, who has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in all of college basketball at designing and executing game plans. Vanderbilt is always a difficult team to play against and if they’re making shots they’re really hard to beat.

Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC

While Stackhouse is a great game coach, his offseason was a bit bumpy and the rest of the roster doesn't have anyone who looks like a pro right now. There’s too much emphasis on Manjon and Lawrence being elite and then counting on a lot of unknowns beyond that. For anyone that’s a tough ask, even for Stackhouse.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for 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 Masses” picks. 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.


GLOSSARY

* - 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.