Vanderbilt Basketball Preview 2016: ‘Dores tip off Bryce Drew era

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Vanderbilt Basketball Preview 2016: ‘Dores tip off Bryce Drew era

Luke Kornet celebrates as Vanderbilt defeats #8 Texas A&M 77-60 Febuary 4, 2016.

Luke Kornet celebrates as Vanderbilt defeats #8 Texas A&M 77-60 Febuary 4, 2016.

Ziyi Liu

Luke Kornet celebrates as Vanderbilt defeats #8 Texas A&M 77-60 Febuary 4, 2016.

Ziyi Liu

Ziyi Liu

Luke Kornet celebrates as Vanderbilt defeats #8 Texas A&M 77-60 Febuary 4, 2016.

Meet the team

Projected starters

Point guard – Payton Willis – 6’4” – Fr. – Fayetteville, Ark.

By all accounts, freshman Payton Willis will have a major role for the Commodores this year. Willis has great size for the point guard position and also will play off the ball, with his strong three-point shooting helping space the floor. Willis has room to grow defensively, but he’s improved his attention to detail on that end of the floor since arriving at Vanderbilt. It’s unclear if the freshman from Arkansas will immediately seize the starting point guard role, but it’s easy to see him doing so by the end of the season. If Willis can consistently provide 25 to 30 minutes of good point guard play, the Commodores will be back in the NCAA tournament. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

Shooting guard – Matthew Fisher-Davis – 6’5” – Jr. – Charlotte, N.C.

After attempting 59 two-pointers and 177 three-pointers last season, it’s no secret Matthew Fisher-Davis loves the three-ball. In fact, he led the SEC in three-point field-goal percentage in 2016, shooting 44.6 percent from behind the arc. Although he only shot 39 percent from two-point range, Fisher-Davis’ role in the offense will most likely expand with the departures of Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones. Averaging 9.7 ppg and 3.6 rpg last season, there is no doubt he was an efficient scorer. This season presents a big opportunity for him to both further develop his game and become a leader for the team. – Henry Lewis, sports reporter

Small forward – Joe Toye – 6’7” – Soph. – Chicago, Ill.

Joe Toye averaged 3.6 points and 1.2 rebounds as a true freshman last season and looks to take on a bigger role in his sophomore year. Toye was a 4-star recruit from Chicago, Illinois, and showed promise in his last two games, sporting season-highs in minutes and points in scoring 10 against Tennessee and Wichita State. Toye has the size at 6’7″ to drive the lane and jam on defenders, with the shooting touch to hit from outside. He’ll be a valuable asset who could start for Bryce Drew this year. – Max Schneider, sports reporter

Power forward – Jeff Roberson – 6’6” – Jr. – Houston, Texas

Jeff Roberson is one of the Commodores’ returning starters who will be relied upon heavily on both ends of the court during the 2016-2017 season. The 6’6” junior was the fourth-leading scorer last season and is second among returning players at 9.3 points per game (trailing only Matthew Fisher-Davis at 9.7). He also grabbed 5.6 rebounds per game for the Commodores. Expect first-year head coach Bryce Drew to lean upon this veteran to put up consistent numbers for the team throughout the year. – Steve Sherk, sports reporter

Center – Luke Kornet – 7’1” Sr. – Lantana, Texas

Two thirds of Vanderbilt’s dynamic big-man team is gone this year, as Damian Jones left for the NBA and Josh Henderson graduated. Even though Jones’ spirit lives on with Luke Kornet (you can spot the 7’1’’ senior wearing Jones’ Golden State Warriors jersey around campus), he will have a lot of responsibility this season as the only experienced big man on the team. In fact, he’ll be the most experienced member of this Commodores squad overall. Kornet will need to use his height to control the boards and his experience to keep the team’s focus in check as they enter a new era of Vanderbilt basketball. In a way, Kornet’s ability to rebound and control the glass will determine how well the Commodore offense can operate. If he is an effective presence, Vanderbilt should be able to run a smooth ship on the offensive end. – Cutler Klein, Assistant Sports Editor

Bench

Guard – Riley LaChance – 6’2” – Jr. – Brookfield, Wis.

Vanderbilt needs good Riley LaChance if it wants to compete this season. LaChance — a guard from Brookfield, Wisconsin, with slick handles and great court vision — had a breakout freshman year, averaging 12.1 points and 33 minutes per game. As a sophomore, though, LaChance failed to build on his first-year wave, seeing a major reduction in both minutes and play quality. His struggles can likely be attributed to a position change, as he was forced to play most of his minutes at point guard when Wade Baldwin IV needed a break. This season, LaChance will likely be asked to play both guard positions interchangeably as the new crop of freshmen develop, and Bryce Drew would surely be pleased to see a LaChance renaissance. – Jordan Grapentine, sports reporter

Guard – Nolan Cressler – 6’4” – Redshirt Sr. – Pittsburgh, Pa.

After former Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings bolted for Nolan Cressler’s hometown of Pittsburgh, the redshirt senior and Cornell transfer will embrace a fresh start under Drew and a new coaching staff. Despite averaging just 4.8 points in 12 minutes per game during his first action as a Commodore last season, Cressler had multiple flashes of brilliance in limited playing time. He put up 11 points in just 12 minutes against Tennessee on March 1 and scored a season-high 14 points in only 13 minutes on February 6 against Ole Miss. As a more regular member of Vanderbilt’s rotation this season, look for Cressler to better translate his double-digit scoring capabilities from the Ivy League to the SEC. – Max Herz, sports reporter

Center – Djery Baptiste – 6’10” – Redshirt Fr. – Gonaives, Haiti

After sitting out last season, Djery Baptiste seems poised to play a prominent role for the Commodores as one of the team’s only big men. Without any playing experience at this level, it’s difficult to predict how his performance will be. Regardless, he’ll be getting plenty of playing time alongside Luke Kornet and as the sole big on the court, according to head coach Bryce Drew. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

Guard – Camron Justice – 6’3” – Soph. – Hindman, Ky.

After a rather quiet freshman year, guard Camron Justice will certainly have a larger role this season. One of the best shooters in his class, expect Justice be one of the first guards off the bench and to be one of the Commodore’s leading three-point shooters. Considering the Vanderbilt’s lack of proven point guards, Justice’s ball-handling could also be important to the team’s success this year. – Karim Oliver, sports reporter

Forward – Clevon Brown – 6’8” – Fr. – San Antonio, Texas

With Vanderbilt’s lack of depth in the paint, freshman forward Clevon Brown will need to provide passable minutes off the bench when Kornet and Baptiste are in foul trouble. Brown brings good athleticism, but he’ll be undersized when playing center. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if Brown could make threes and stretch the floor, but it looks like he’s at least a year away from becoming a consistent outside shooter. Brown’s playing time will probably be sporadic, but good performances in relief of Kornet and Baptiste could help swing a couple of games in the Commodores’ favor. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

The Hustler’s A-to-Z men’s basketball guide

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A: All-SEC Candidates


The Commodores have a number of candidates for spots on the All-SEC teams, including returning All-Defensive team member Luke Kornet. Freshman guard Payton Willis will get the opportunity to earn enough playing time to garner All-Freshman recognition if he plays well, while returners like Kornet, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson could vie for spots on the two All-SEC teams. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

B: Bryce Drew


In April, Vanderbilt hired Bryce Drew as their head coach, replacing Kevin Stallings, who has coached here for 17 seasons. Previously, he coached at Valparaiso, where he led his teams to two NCAA tournaments in five years. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

C: Cressler


Hyped up as one of the Commodores’ best players in practice during his redshirt year in 2014-15, Cornell transfer Nolan Cressler disappointed in his debut season. A 38 percent three-point shooter on over 300 attempts in upstate New York, Cressler shot only 27 percent from deep last year. Expect Cressler’s shooting to regress to the mean this season and for him to make at least 35 percent of his three-point shots. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

D: Djery Baptiste


After sitting out his freshman year, big man Djery Baptiste is poised to play a significant role on the court this season. At 6’10”, he’s the team’s second tallest player behind Luke Kornet. Expect to see him share the court with Kornet at times, but he will be asked to cover the inside when Kornet needs rest. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

E: Experience


The Commodores may have lost some NBA talent, but the Vanderbilt program has more experience than at any point since the 2012 SEC tournament championship team. Payton Willis looks like the only freshman who will be in Drew’s rotation early on, and VU’s seniors and juniors all project to earn at least 20 minutes per game each. Kornet in particular looks to be in line for heavy minutes, barring injury, as Baptiste will likely find it difficult to avoid foul trouble. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

F: Fever


Get vaccinated, folks, because a seemingly annual fever is set to strike Memorial Gym once again this winter. While new Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach Stephanie White left the WNBA’s Indiana Fever behind, the men’s portion of SEC hoops just can’t seem to shake the severe ailment that is #SECBasketballFever. Resulting from a combination of over-hyped teams and underwhelming quality of basketball, the fever spread across the entire conference last season. So get your booster shots and think twice before over-hyping a big-name coach or freshman phenom once SEC play rolls around in January. – Max Herz, sports reporter

G: Goodbye Stallings and Balcomb


Vanderbilt will have two new faces on the baselines for the first time ever this season as Bryce Drew takes over as the men’s head coach, while Stephanie White takes over the women’s job. The two newcomers replace two longtime Vanderbilt figures, Kevin Stallings and Melanie Balcomb. Even just a few months in, both Drew and White are already changing the dynamic of their programs. Drew is making himself accessible to the student body and engaging with the community, and White is putting together a fast, up-tempo team that might be ready to surprise some folks this season. – Cutler Klein, Assistant Sports Editor

H: Henderson


One of Vanderbilt’s big losses this offseason was center Josh Henderson, who played six years on the team dating back to the 2010-11 season. Seriously. The sixth-year senior truly saw it all during his half-dozen years as a Commodore. Back when former head coach Kevin Stallings had hair, Henderson was a member of Vandy’s 2012 SEC tournament championship team. Despite a torn ACL, Henderson was the vocal leader of the 2013-14 team venerably know as the Magnificent Seven. His 80-foot buzzer beater against Florida last year remains the most ridiculous shot in basketball history.

Sadly, it is time for Henderson to move on after entertaining generations of Commodore fans. It’s going to take a lot of new freshmen and a few extra years of eligibility to fill the 7-foot-wide hole Henderson’s departure left in fans’ hearts. – Max Herz, sports reporter

I: Iowa State


This year’s opponent for the Commodores in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is No. 24 Iowa State. The ‘Dores and Cyclones haven’t met since 1986, and ISU will head to Nashville on the heels of one of its most successful multi-year stretches in program history. ISU features All-American candidate Monte Morris at point guard and has made five straight NCAA tournament appearances. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

J: Jackrabbits


Vanderbilt’s last postseason win came against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the NIT second round on March 20, 2015 at Memorial Gym. The neon-clad Commodores advanced to the NIT quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual champion Stanford, building excitement for a 2015-16 that fell short of expectations. We’ll see if the Commodores’ early December trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to face Minnesota results in more postseason wins (and neon uniforms) in 2016-17. – Max Herz, sports reporter

K: Kentucky


Like always, the Kentucky Wildcats will be the team to beat in the SEC. They are the clear favorites to win the conference, something they have done for the past two seasons. Vanderbilt upset them last season at home and plays them on Jan. 10 at home and Feb. 28 on the road. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

L: Las Vegas


For this year’s early-season exempt tournament, the Commodores will head out west for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational the week of Thanksgiving. Vanderbilt faces Big East foe Butler in the first round of the four-team tournament before taking on the winner of No. 10 Arizona and Santa Clara. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

M: Memorial Gym


Since 1952, the Vanderbilt basketball team has hosted games at historic Memorial Gym. A defining feature is the elevated court, which hovers above many of the seats close by it. Additionally, the team benches are at opposite ends of the courts behind the hoops, while most arenas have them on the sidelines. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

N: NCAA tournament


Last year, Vanderbilt snuck into the NCAA tournament First Four, before falling to Wichita State. Before the season, they had been predicted to make the tournament, but a disappointing year had them barely getting in. The expectations are not the same this year, however, as a trip to the tournament would be a surprise to many. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

O: Offense


Drew and his players describe his offense as a free-flowing system in which players have the freedom and authority to read the defense and make decisions on the fly. Perimeter positions will matter less in half-court sets than in Stallings’ offense, so making sure the spacing is correct could be important early in the season as players adjust to reading the defense and relocating off the ball. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

P: Passing


Vanderbilt doesn’t have one player who projects to rack up lots of assists, but Drew’s new offensive system means all five players on the floor will often have opportunities to have the ball in their hands. Crisp passing and sharp off-ball movement will be key to the success of Vanderbilt’s offense, so the Commodore big men must make smart decisions with the basketball when a pass is required to find the open man. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

Q: Quality of shots


Drew has spent significant portions of the offseason working on the team’s spacing in the halfcourt. Spacing was an issue on offense last year, as playing with two 7-footers who didn’t contribute much from three and weren’t threats to drive to the basket made things easier on defenses. Even without an athletic penetrator like Wade Baldwin IV, the Commodores’ improved spacing should help their offense from taking much of a step back this year. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

R: Recruits


This year’s incoming freshmen are Payton Willis and Clevon Brown, both 3-star recruits. Willis is a 6’3” guard from Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Brown is a 6’8” forward from San Antonio. They may not get much playing time this year, but it’s good to know that they exist if they play short stretches. – Will Wilson, sports reporter

S: Shelton Mitchell


Seriously, where is he? The 4-star, class of 2014 point guard made 11 starts and averaged 20 minutes per game as a freshman for the Commodores in 2014-15, splitting time at the point with fellow freshman Wade Baldwin IV. He transferred to Clemson after that season and sat out the 2015-16 season, per NCAA rules. Two years after freshmen Mitchell and Baldwin split time at point guard, Vanderbilt is back to square one at the position, relying upon freshman Payton Willis to run the offense. Did no one tell Mitchell that Baldwin was more than likely going to the NBA after his sophomore season? The 2016-17 ‘Dores could no doubt benefit from having Mitchell back in black and gold. – Max Herz, sports reporter

T: Three-point shooting


Between its offense and defense, Vanderbilt put together one of the most impressive three-point percentage differentials in college basketball last season. Predictably, the ‘Dores knocked down 38.2 percent of their own three-point shots, good for 28th nationally. The more surprising development, however, came on defense: Vanderbilt held opponents to just 29.4 percent from downtown, the third-best mark in the nation. It’s hard to see the Commodores missing the NCAA tournament if they put together another plus-8.8 percent differential on three-pointers in this year. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

U: Unranked


The Commodores will open the season unranked, after beginning last year as the 18th-ranked team in the AP Poll. However, after delivering lower than expected results and losing Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones in the first round of the NBA draft, they’ll begin this season outside the Top 25. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

V: Villanova


The Villanova Wildcats won the NCAA tournament this past season and look to defend their title. They are ranked in the Top Five entering the season and are returning the majority of their lineup from last year. Although Vanderbilt doesn’t play them this season, be sure to keep a watch on the Wildcats.

W: Willis


Payton Willis seems destined for extensive playing time for the Commodores, even though he is only a freshman. He is just one of two freshman on the team, along with Clevon Brown, who also may get some substantial playing time. Willis adds plenty of scoring prowess and could be a threat on the perimeter. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

X: Xavier


During the summer, Xavier guard Larry Austin, Jr. announced that he was transferring from Xavier to Vanderbilt. As a result, he became Drew’s first signee as Vanderbilt’s head coach. Austin will have to sit out the season per NCAA rules but could play an important role at point guard in the long-term. – Josh Hamburger, Editor in Chief

Y: Yawners


While it lacks the top-end competition that last year’s schedule presented, the Commodores’ 2016-17 slate doesn’t look likely to produce many huge blowouts. Aside from early home games against High Point and Norfolk State, each opponent should have the talent to prevent a 30-plus-point beating, after Vanderbilt handed out four such defeats last year. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

Z: Zach Cunningham


Although Vanderbilt may not feature an All-American candidate like Cunningham, it does feature one player whose athleticism rivals that of the inside linebacker’s. Joe Toye threw down a handful of nasty dunks during his freshman season, and the sophomore forward surely will provide fans with plenty more in 2016-17. While Toye won’t get the chance to hurdle an offensive line to block a field goal, he may throw in a couple of exhilarating blocked shots as well. – Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

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