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.

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Despite Attrition, Vanderbilt Finding Surprising Success in SEC

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2014

Expectations for Vanderbilt were relatively low coming into the season, as the Commodores were predicted by most to finish in the bottom half of the SEC. A team beleaguered by defections and suspensions in the offseason started the year with an inexperienced nine-man rotation, but the loss of Josh Henderson to a torn ACL and leading scorer Eric McClellan to dismissal appeared to spell doom for the Commodores as they embarked upon conference play. Using a seven-man group that has forced starting guards Kyle Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker along with forward Rod Odom to essentially play with no rest, Vanderbilt’s start in the SEC went largely as expected with home losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss contributing to a 1-4 record. But after the Ole Miss loss, the Commodores went to Texas A&M and Georgia and grabbed wins, following that up with a home win over Mississippi State last weekend. On Wednesday night, they extended their winning streak to four after edging Tennessee, 64-60, to surprisingly move a game to 5-4 at the halfway mark of SEC play. With Arkansas coming to Nashville on Saturday, the Commodores have a realistic shot of adding to their current hot streak.

Vandy Continues to Surprise (S. Myers/Tennessean)

Vandy Continues to Surprise (S. Myers/Tennessean)

While Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has endured his share of criticism for underachieving with several upper echelon SEC squads, the job he has done with this year’s team has drawn rave reviews. Included among the seven players who are part of the rotation are slender freshman Luke Kornet, who would have been a natural candidate to redshirt under different circumstances, and forward Shelby Moats, who logs just over 10 minutes per game. Fortunately for Stallings, he is especially able to rely upon the underrated Odom, who has stepped his game up to an all-SEC level.

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Calipari Knows Kentucky is Making Progress

Posted by David Changas on January 12th, 2014

All college basketball teams change from year to year. Players graduate, leave early, transfer, and new recruits fill their spots. But as everyone knows, no team changes year over year like John Calipari’s crew. And regardless of the fact that he brought in what many considered the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history this year, he knew that it would take time for his team to come together. After a Christmas week win against archrival Louisville and opening SEC wins over undermanned Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, he is finally confident that things are in fact starting to coalesce. “We’re still not there. But I’m looking around the country, I don’t see anybody there. I like my team. I like our progress. We have the biggest upside of any team in the country. We’re  the youngest team in the country; that’s where we are. I just have to try to [have] patience when I have none,” Calipari said after Saturday’s 71-62 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Calipari is All Smiles About This Year's Group. What About Next Year? (AP)

Don’t look now, Coach Cal’s crew is slowly coming together. (AP)

Calipari knows that bringing in such a haul of talent and that playing almost an entirely new set of players (only Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Jarrod Polson are significant contributors from last year’s squad) will require him to exhibit that patience. “I got a brand new team, and every year it’s something different, and as we go, you start figuring out how we have to play,” he said. Calipari was particularly pleased by the performance of the sophomore Poythress, who has not lived up to the lofty expectations set for him coming into college, and someone whom Calipari thinks has been limited by his lack of self-confidence. “Like I say to him, ‘You’re as good as anybody in the gym. Why won’t you play that way?’ And I asked the team, ‘What’s holding him back?’ [They said], ‘He is,'” Calipari said. The talented veteran forward will be a key for the Wildcats as they try to develop into a team that can win Calipari’s second national championship.

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