It’s no secret that Vanderbilt has been the butt of the jokes in the SEC basketball landscape. After making the NCAA tournament in the 2016-17 season, the Commodores have been on a sharp decline, averaging three conference wins in the past three seasons including an 0-18 campaign that saw former head coach Bryce Drew get fired. New head coach and former NBA legend Jerry Stackhouse was brought in to right the ship, and last season showed a bit of promise, with the Commodores winning their first conference game (99-90 over LSU on February 8th) since March 3rd, 2018, and the ‘Dores ended the regular season strongly with a two straight victories (@Alabama and South Carolina) heading into the SEC tournament. Stackhouse will be looking to continue the positive turnaround heading into this upcoming season as the Vanderbilt program attempts to rise from the ashes and return to the days of Kevin Stallings, which saw them go to five of six NCAA tournaments.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
Vanderbilt has been hit by the injury bug over the past few seasons. First G Darius Garland in the 2018-19 season and then G Aaron Nesmith last year were hit with season-ending injuries halfway through the season. Garland ended up being a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and Nesmith was drafted by the Boston Celtics last week. Nesmith is also joined by fellow potential draftee G Saben Lee, who terrorized Alabama in their win over the Crimson Tide, going for 38 points and 8 rebounds and made a real case for himself to be drafted. Lee and Nesmith are also joined by a duo of outgoing transfers in C Oton Jankovic (Tulane) and F Matthew Moyer (George Washington), who both played at least 21 games last season in reserve roles.
The Commodores, even with these crucial losses, do bring back some role players from last season that showed some real promise at times. G Scotty Pippen Jr., F Dylan Disu and G Jordan Wright were all freshman contributors that should all see increases in playing time, and in the case of Pippen, should become the focal point of their offense after averaging 12.2 PPG and starting 31 games as a freshman. The Commodores also return some veteran leadership in the form of forwards Ejike Obinna, Clevon Brown, and Maxwell Evans, who have all been at Vanderbilt for three seasons have been starters at one point in their careers.
The Commodores bring in six newcomers that are eligible to play this season, including four prep commitments, which was good enough for 59th in the country and 11th in the SEC per the 247 team rankings. This class is a far cry from the class that Bryce Drew was able to bring in just two cycles previous, which was a top-10 class and included two five-star players, but there are some pieces that can perhaps contribute this season, if not develop in the system and grow into contributors down the line. Three stars, G Tyrin Lawrence, F Myles Stute, and C Akeem Odusipe are the headliners, with two-star, G Trey Thomas rounding out the class. There is probably no expectation for any of those players to be key contributors from day one, but Stackhouse could certainly use any number of them if they come in and are better than advertised.
The Commodores also bring in two transfers that sat out last season but are now eligible to compete in 2020. G DJ Harvey started 29 games for Notre Dame in 2018-19, averaging 10.9 PPG and 4.2 RPG for Mike Brey, before deciding to transfer to Vanderbilt to play for Stackhouse after sitting out for one season, and he looks to factor into the rotation in a major way. The other transfer, F Quentin Millora-Brown, transferred in from Rice after his freshman season in 2018-19 where he averaged 7.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG in Conference-USA play. These two transfers will be key contributors in the rotation as Stackhouse looks to find answers to the numerous questions about his roster.
G: Scotty Pippen Jr.
G: Maxwell Evans
F: DJ Harvey
F: Dylan Disu
F: Clevon Brown
Bench: Jordan Wright
Bench: Ejike Obinna
Bench: Tyrin Lawrence
Bench: Quentin Millora-Brown
Bench: Myles Stute
Bench: Akeem Odusipe
Bench: Trey Thomas
Pippen Jr. should become the face of the team on both ends of the floor as Stackhouse looks for his next primary creator, and Evans’ previous experience as a starter at Vanderbilt gives him the inside edge to retain his starting spot for his senior season. Wright and Lawrence are the only other backcourt reserves, so finding lineup versatility from other positions will be crucial in the early stages of their season. The frontcourt spots have more options, but Harvey’s track record at Notre Dame gives him a distinct advantage at the swing spot, while Disu and Brown are likely the other frontcourt starters, considering the fact that they started all but one game possible. Obinna, Millora-Brown, and Stute are likely to provide depth in the frontcourt, but the key again is to find players that can play multiple positions to give Stackhouse some options in the case of foul trouble.
Looking to the Future
The Commodores currently have three new players that are slated to play next season, including two prep commitments and a sit-out transfer that is currently in Nashville and will suit up next season. Four-star F, Gabe Dorsey (Pottstown, PA), and three-star G, Peyton Daniels (Atlanta, GA) are the two prep players that make up Vandy’s recruiting class that is currently ranked 47th in 247’s team rankings (9th in the SEC), but there are currently no more open scholarships barring any outgoing transfers or draft declarations. Meanwhile, the ‘Dores also bring in G Isaac McBride, who originally went to Kansas as a three-star recruit before transferring to Vanderbilt after the season. McBride will be eligible after this season unless he receives a waiver from the NCAA; it is unclear if the Commodores are pursuing a waiver for McBride, however.
The Vanderbilt program has struggled over the last few seasons to string together wins in SEC play, but the end of last season might be a signal that the state of the program is on the upswing. The Commodores are not nearly to the point where they will be challenging for an NCAA tournament, or even an NIT spot, but the key for the Commodores is the development of sophomores Disu, Pippen Jr., and Wright. If those players can develop into stars in the SEC, they could be a part of the next Vanderbilt team that makes the NCAA tournament.
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