Big Men on the Court: Commodores loaded with size for 2018-19 campaign

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Big Men on the Court: Commodores loaded with size for 2018-19 campaign

Vanderbilt plays the University of Southern California in basketball on Sunday, November 19, 2017. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Vanderbilt plays the University of Southern California in basketball on Sunday, November 19, 2017. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt plays the University of Southern California in basketball on Sunday, November 19, 2017. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Claire Barnett

Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt plays the University of Southern California in basketball on Sunday, November 19, 2017. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Henry Hunter

With the arrival of head coach Bryce Drew’s landmark recruiting class, the 2018-19 Vanderbilt Commodores men’s basketball team hardly resembles last year’s roster.

While the 2017-18 team was led by a group of seniors, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance, and Jeff Roberson, a glaring weakness on last year’s team was a lack of a presence down low. The biggest contributor to the Commodores’ disappointing 12-20 record was the frontcourt’s lack of production.

While big men Clevon Brown Jr. and Ejike Obinna will return for this season, their roles will drastically change. There are plenty of new faces that are chomping at the bit to make some noise in the SEC.

The arrival of five-star Power Forward Simi Shittu and center Yanni Wetzell, a transfer from St. Mary’s (San Antonio), will give the Commodores a balance that they missed last season. At 6’9”, Shittu is a high-flying, above-the-rim forward who should be the main beneficiary of penetration from guards Saban Lee and freshman phenom Darius Garland.

Shittu has dominated at lower levels due to his supreme athleticism, as he averaged 20.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in EYBL—the top high summer high school league—during the 2017 summer.

Shittu’s outside shooting remains a bit of a question, but he will be well balanced by Wetzell, who shot an impressive 42% from downtown during his two years of Division II competition. While Wetzell will face tougher competition in the SEC, he also will likely be taking easier shots as he will no longer be the focal point of the offensive attack.

At 6’10”, Wetzell will have nostalgic Commdore fans thinking back to Luke Kornet, and while Coach Drew acknowledged that Wetzell will be used similarly to stretch out defenses, he did not want to heap too much pressure onto Wetzell.

“Luke is a special player, so I don’t really want to compare Yanni to Luke, but Yanni gives us a dimension that we didn’t have last year,” Drew said. “He may be almost 240 pounds, but he can shoot threes like a guard. We’ll definitely bring him out on the floor, and hopefully that’ll stretch out our opponents.”

Don’t forget about 6’7” forward Matt Ryan, who transferred to Vanderbilt from Notre Dame.  He is a versatile player that might make more of an impact from beyond the arc than in the paint.

Vanderbilt can expect opposing defenses will be keying in on Lee and Garland this season, which should give Shittu and Wetzell opportunities to shine. What gives this Vanderbilt the possibility of being special this season is the off-ball shooting that Drew can put around Lee and Garland.

The closest parallel to Garland is current Cleveland Cavalier and former Alabama point G=guard Collin Sexton. Sexton was a dynamic force in the SEC last season, but his impact was limited by poorly spaced half-court offenses.

With Shittu’s ability to roll to the rim and to be a force on the offensive glass combined with Wetzell’s ability to stretch the floor from the center position and Ryan’s ability to shoot the three-ball, Garland should have plenty of space to operate this season. If the potential shooting on this team is realized, the dynamic pick-and-roll tandem of Garland and Shittu should be enough to power the Commodores to one of their most successful seasons to date.

Commodore fans should be excited for Tuesday night when Bryce Drew unveils his deepest roster yet for the home opener against Winthrop.

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