SEC Preview Post: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by David Changas on November 13th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Strengths. In a league full of teams facing a lot of uncertainty, Vanderbilt is no exception. The return of sophomore forward Damian Jones, a preseason first-team all-SEC selection by the coaches, is something Kevin Stallings should be happy about. As a freshman, Jones averaged 11.3 points per game and led the team in rebounding, pulling down 5.7 caroms per contest. With a year of experience under his belt, Jones should blossom to fulfill the expectations that have been placed on him. While the backcourt is exceptionally young following last season’s dismissals of Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker, as well as the graduation of Kyle Fuller, Stallings is excited about freshman Shelton Mitchell, who looks to have the starting point guard spot locked down. Mitchell originally signed with Wake Forest but decided to re-open his recruitment when coach Jeff Bzdelik was fired. The Commodores are the beneficiaries, and the Oak Hill Academy product has impressed so far.

Kevin Stallings will need a big season from Damian Jones for Vanderbilt to be successful. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Kevin Stallings will need a big season from Damian Jones for Vanderbilt to have success. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Weaknesses. While Mitchell appears to be a real find and there is good young talent in the backcourt, there is also virtually no returning experience. Only walk-on Carter Josephs saw action last year, and Stallings would prefer that he does not have to do so again. Wade BaldwinMatthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance were all Rivals 150 recruits, and all will have to contribute immediately. Up front, Vanderbilt returns senior center Josh Henderson, who was injured early last season with a torn ACL, as well as forwards James SiakamLuke Kornet and Shelby Moats, all of whom are limited and will struggle against the better frontcourts.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. The Commodores’ non-conference schedule is not terribly challenging this season. Stallings, knowing he would have a very young team certainly planned that. Vanderbilt does, however, face, Baylor in Nashville on December 4 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Road trips later in the month to Georgia Tech and St. Louis should also be good early tests for Stallings’ squad.

Toughest Conference Stretch. The middle of the conference schedule features a trip to Kentucky followed by a home game against LSU, road contests at Georgia and Texas A&M, and a visit by Florida to Memorial Gym. All but the Aggies are picked to finish near the top of the league, so that stretch likely will make or break Vanderbilt’s season.

Projected Starters:

  • PG Shelton Mitchell (6’3″)
  • SG Riley LaChance 6’2″)
  • SF  Jeff Roberson (6’6″)
  • PF Luke Kornet (7’0″)
  • Damian Jones (6’10”)

Roberson, another freshman, somewhat surprisingly started the Commodores’ two preseason games. He was the least heralded of Vanderbilt’s incoming freshman but he provides much-needed athleticism on the wing. Kornet is a rail-thin, perimeter-oriented player who should see significant improvement from year one to year two, and he keeps defenses honest with his three-point shooting. He will need to do more on the glass this season.

Projected Bench:

  • Wade Baldwin (6’2″)
  • G Nathan Watkins (6’5″)
  • Shelby Moats (6’8″)
  • James Siakam (6’7″)
  • Josh Henderson (6’11”)

Moats is a limited player who was forced to see more action than Stallings would have liked last year, but Siakam and Henderson should be solid backups to Kornet and Jones. Baldwin is a talented freshman who will need to spell Mitchell at the point. Ideally, the Commodores’ bench will go only nine deep this season.

Josh Henderson's return from injury should give the Commodores a boost. (Getty Images)

Josh Henderson’s return from injury should give the Commodores a boost. (Getty Images)

If Everything Goes Right… It may be too much to expect this team to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid this year, but if Mitchell is as good as advertised and Jones breaks out, a run to the Big Dance is not out of the question. Realistically, with a strong class signed for next year and almost everyone of consequence returning, things are setting up well for Vanderbilt to finish near the top of the SEC in 2015-16.

If Nothing Goes Right… With so little experience in the backcourt, Vanderbilt is likely to struggle in the early going. Past Stallings teams have occasionally fallen apart when they haven’t gotten off to good starts, and though that is unlikely with this relatively talented squad, he may have to go easy on his team if it struggles early.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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