David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: Vanderbilt

Bryce Drew
Bryce Drew The Tennesseean

Other previews

Oct. 29 Alabama

Oct. 30 Arkansas

Oct. 31 Auburn

Nov. 1 Florida

Nov. 2 Georgia

Nov. 3 Kentucky

Nov. 4 LSU

Nov. 5 Mississippi State

Nov. 6 Missouri

Nov. 7 Ole Miss

Nov. 8 Tennessee

Nov. 9 Texas A&M

Men

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Bryce Drew (First year; 124-49 sixth year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 19-14 (11-7)

2015-16 postseason: NCAA tournament

Roster

Schedule

2016-17 media predicted finish: 6

DC’s predicted finish: 10

He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): Coach Kevin Stallings, G Nathan Watkins (0.3 ppg, 0.4 rpg), G Carter Josephs (0.2 ppg, 0.3 rpg), C Josh Henderson (3.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg), G Wade Baldwin (14.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, pro), C Damian Jones (13.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, pro), F Samir Sehic (1.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, transferred to Tulane)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): Drew, F Clevon Brown, G Payton Willis, G Larry Austin (transferred from Xavier, ineligible this year)

Top returners: 6-5 G/F Matthew Fisher-Davis (9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg), 6-6 F Jeff Roberson (9.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg), 7-1 F Luke Kornet (8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

It was simply time for a change.

Kevin Stallings did great things for Vanderbilt but the product had gotten stale (a situation replicated in the women’s program). So when Pitt came calling – for whatever reason – Stallings jumped and the Commodores were left without having to make a difficult decision.

They hired Bryce Drew, NCAA tournament hero and a guy who took over his alma mater’s Valparaiso program (that his father coached!) and led it to great heights. Drew brings a fresh, young approach to the ’Dores and he’ll have some solid pieces to build around as he takes over.

It starts in the middle, where Vandy lost Damian Jones but returns Luke Kornet, a 7-foot-1 bruiser who really grew into his role last season. Although he’s had problems staying on the court due to health, he became a better rebounder and shot-blocker last year, although his shooting needs to improve.

The Commodores will have plenty of bulk in the paint but they have glaring holes at guard. If Riley LaChance, one of the SEC’s best 3-point shooters two years ago, takes over at the point, it may limit his scoring (which already suffered last year) and his defense may be severely underwhelming.

Matthew Fisher-Davis can be the ’Dores’ answer to long-range shooting but he’s going to have to display more to his overall offensive game. It was only a two-man signing class, not counting Djery Baptiste, who redshirted last year, and Vandy has scarce proven answers at guard – which may precipitate moving a 6-7 or 6-8 guy to the backcourt.

Bryce won four league titles at Valparaiso and has already restored some energy to Vanderbilt. That may be all he can give the Commodores this season.

(On a personal note, I can’t wait until Drew walks into The Pavilion at Ole Miss the first time. That won’t be this year, and his epic NCAA tournament shot to beat the Rebels was before any of the current students were cognizant.

Still, there would have to be some boos, right?)

Women

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Stephanie White (First year/overall)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 18-14 (5-11)

2015-16 postseason: None

Roster

Schedule

2016-17 media predicted finish: 9

DC’s predicted finish: 8

She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): Coach Melanie Balcomb, G Jasmine Jenkins (5.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg), G Morgan Batey (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), F Rayte’a Long (3.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), F Kristen Gaffney (3.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, transferred to East Carolina), C Kendall Shaw (2.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, transferred to Wisconsin)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): White, G Kayla Overbeck, G Cierra Walker, G/F Erin Whalen, G LeaLea Carter, G Kaleigh Clemons-Green

Top returners: 5-11 G Christa Reed (11.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg), 5-10 G Rachel Bell (9.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg), 5-9 G Rebekah Dahlman (8.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

Melanie Balcomb won a lot of games at Vanderbilt and reached the NCAA tournament 12 straight seasons, but a two-year tournament drought and steadily slipping results dictated that a change needed to be made. The Commodores aimed high and got Stephanie White, former National Player of the Year and the head coach of the Indiana Fever, and White was able to bring her coach at Purdue, Carolyn Peck, with her as an assistant coach.

More importantly, White was able to hold on to the Commodores’ recruiting class, which may have been the conference’s best behind South Carolina.

Vandy brought in two five-star recruits and three three-star recruits, led by Chassity “LeaLea” Carter and Erin Whalen. They were each rated national Top-50 players.

Will it be enough to succeed in Year 1? It’s going to be tough. The SEC is so strong and the Commodores are getting used to a demanding coach that is herself making a transition from pro to college ball. White also didn’t report right away; she finished the WNBA season while Peck handled the day-to-day details, and due to the Olympics stalling the WNBA season, White was kept away longer than she normally would have.

But she’s in Nashville now, truly taking over and planning to get Vanderbilt back to where it’s used to being. Balcomb landed at USC as an offensive analyst and will see her former recruits and players from the other sideline this season.

White’s rebuilding task may have gotten a boost from the recruiting class but they still have to go prove it. Yet White’s ability to still get out on the practice floor has already been lauded, and it won’t be long before Vandy is back to being Vandy.

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