Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball 2017-18 roster preview


Basketball season is finally upon us here on West End, and the Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball team will kick it off Friday at home against Austin Peay.  As Bryce Drew looks to build on a strong first season as head coach that saw a tournament berth for the Commodores, he’ll rely on his veterans, along with a solid core of newcomers, to try to replicate and build on last season’s success.

Here’s a look at our breakdown of the Commodore roster for this season and what to expect from each player as the season begins.

G Larry Austin Jr. (#3)

After sitting out the 2016-2017 season due to NCAA eligibility rules, Austin Jr. will look to to carve out a leading role in an already crowded Vanderbilt backcourt.  The 6’1 combo guard struggled to find time in his first two years at Xavier, ultimately leading to his transfer.  In his first game action with the Commodores, however, Austin Jr. flourished.  He finished the first two games of Vanderbilt’s U.S. Virgin Islands tour this summer with 14 points in each, surpassed only by Fisher-Davis.  He also pulled down 12 rebounds and racked up five steals over the two-game span.  With his defensive prowess on the perimeter likely earning him ample minutes, Austin Jr. will find himself with many opportunities to put up numbers like these. — Max Schneider

C Djery Baptiste (#12)

For the first time in a few years, the Commodores will be without a seven-footer on the blocks, but at 6’10’’, Baptiste is the next-best thing. The Haiti native saw significant action last season alongside Luke Kornet. Despite averaging less than two points and two rebounds per game, Baptiste showed some potential. He has the raw talent and size to be a serviceable center for Vanderbilt, but at times last season, he appeared clunky and clumsy. If he can fine-tune his game, he could be a formidable force down low in his redshirt sophomore season. — Cutler Klein

F Clevon Brown (#15)

On a team littered with backcourt talent, Brown is the only true power forward.  After often logging single-digits minutes last season, the 6’8 sophomore will have a significantly increased role and is poised to build on some strong outings late in conference play.  Brown will likely be the first frontcourt player off the bench, and will bring a tenacity on the boards that has been missing from this Vanderbilt team since it sported two seven-footers in the starting lineup.  He also showed the ability to step out and shoot the three, which will continue the excellent floor spacing for which the Commodores have become well known. — Max Schneider

G Maxwell Evans (#10)

In a crowded backcourt, Evans could be a viable second-team guard for the Commodores. The Commodores are a young team, and on such a young team, the smallest amount of experience could help, which may give a guard like Payton Willis an edge over Evans. He averaged over 32 points and seven assists per game in high school, and was the 16th-ranked prospect out of the state of Texas. Head coach Bryce Drew has never shied away from choosing the skilled player over the more experienced player, so look for Evans to potentially see the court more than one might think. — Cutler Klein

G Matthew Fisher-Davis (#5)

Without a doubt, Matthew Fisher-David is the most important and influential member of this Commodore team. While last season will be known for his antics, his disappearing act from the starting lineup, and of course, The Foul, Fisher-Davis was one of the best players on the court when he was on his game. He averaged 13.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. While he wasn’t in the starting lineup all season, he will likely have to be this season, and for good reason. Fisher-Davis is a pure shooter. If he fixes some of the issues with his shot selection and maturity, then Fisher-Davis could easily be Vanderbilt’s best shooter this season. — Cutler Klein

G Riley LaChance (#13)

LaChance averaged 10.5 points per game last season as a Junior after a disappointing sophomore campaign. He was extremely impressive from the free throw and three point line; shooting 87.3 percent and 48.6 percent respectively. He also recorded a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his first season as the primary point guard. This season, LaChance will be seeing a lot more time at shooting guard which should boost his scoring as he is able to play off the ball and get more open looks from deep where he is most effective. LaChance is one of the Commodore’s most valuable players this season due to his abilities to both score and run the offense as well as his experience in the SEC. — Alyssa Muir

G Saban Lee (#0)

Lee has been tapped as one of Vanderbilt’s blue chip guards this season, and for good reason. He chose the Commodores over a powerhouse program like Louisville, and if the Cardinals were going after him, he’s probably a top-tier talent. Lee described his game to as “explosive,” and he’ll bring that explosiveness to a backcourt that is more about the three-ball rather than the speed. Vanderbilt certainly boasts athletic talent, but Lee’s quickness will bring some lightning to the Commodore backcourt. — Cutler Klein

F/C Ejike Obinna (#50)

Entering his first year with the Commodores, Obinna was a highly touted recruit, getting looks from the likes of Clemson, Florida, and Oklahoma. Listed at 6’10’’ and 234 lb., Obinna is a big, athletic body who will battle for some of the minutes at center. He is a strong finisher around the rim and a strong and versatile defender, but it remains to be seen how he will fare at the college level. Look for him to continue to develop his skills this year and provide solid backup big man minutes. — Will Wang

G Isaiah Rice (#14)

Rice is the team’s lone walk-on, and faces an uphill battle to try to see time on the court.  However, the 5’11 freshman from Indianapolis possesses a unique ability to shoot off the dribble, as his midrange game is the strongest weapon in his tool box.  He has an extremely quick release that allows him to get his shot up over much taller players with ease.  Rice won two consecutive championships in high school, playing with some of the premier college basketball players in the nation and excelling, so he comes into his tenure at Vanderbilt with ample experience against tough competition. — Max Schneider

F Jeff Roberson (#11)

Roberson can light it up from beyond the arc, and is a major part of the Commodores’ excellent three-point shooting. But his game is first and foremost about his incredible versatility, capable of defending guards and wings due to his skilled combination of quickness, strength, and hops. The team needs him to be an impact player, and he will be. With Kornet and Cressler’s departure, the biggest question is how much of the offensive slack Roberson will be able to pick up, and whether he can do so efficiently, but the Commodores can rest assured he’ll finish his senior year strong. – Will Wang

F Matt Ryan (#32)

While Ryan will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA Transfer rules, Ryan will be a huge forward for the Commodores after this season. He’ll have to watch this whole season from the sideline, learning Drew’s system and getting ready to step into a major role. At 6’8’’, the Notre Dame transfer is built like a center but plays like a forward. He’s looked strong in practices with the Commodores, and he will be a big part of this team’s future for his two years of eligibility. — Cutler Klein

G/F Joe Toye (#2)

Once just a role player, Toye could see some very important minutes for Vanderbilt this season. Last season, he averaged around 21 minutes per game, while getting 6.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in the process. Now a junior, Toye is one of the most veteran members of the team. His versatility will be his strongest asset this season and earn him plenty of playing time. He’ll eat up minutes at forward thanks to a crowded backcourt. Toye isn’t the most flashy, but on a team that features a lot of young, raw talent, his athleticism will need to shine. — Cutler Klein

F/C Yanni Wetzell (#4)

Wetzell won’t see the floor this year for the Commodores, as his transfer from Division Two Saint Mary’s University makes him ineligible.  However, the New Zealand native will be an integral part of this team going forward.  While Baptiste and Obinna are big bodies with a lot of raw talent, in some ways, Wetzell is the finished product.  He has excellent footwork, carves out excellent positioning in the post, and can finish with an array of post moves.  It doesn’t hurt that the big man shot 40.9% from three last season, bringing a Luke Kornetesque quality back to this team. — Max Schneider

G Payton Willis (#1)

Pressed into meaningful minutes as a freshman last season, Willis showed flashes of his three-point shooting ability and his quickness, but hasn’t shown he can be a consistently effective ball handler for the ‘Dores. Willis will need to improve his good, but not great, handle to open up his ability to attack the basket and create scoring opportunities for the offense. If he can demonstrate such improvement, it will go a long way towards giving this team another weapon on offense. — Will Wang