Year one under head coach Bryce Drew had it's roller coaster moments but in the end, postseason play and reaching the NCAA Tournament became a part of the plans. It was a successful season considering the limitations Coach Drew and staff had coming in but they along with the team itself, pulled things together and placed a standard for what comes next in the Drew regime.
Year two will have it's own expectations and right now those expectations could be big. Vanderbilt returns the vast majority of the team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2017, so there is reason out there to think that the Commodores can make it back to the big dance this next season.
It will not be easy though because a new year presents new problems and worries. The biggest issue Coach Drew and staff must deal with is the departure of center Luke Kornet. The 7'1 big man did so much for his team, in many ways that doesn't show on the stat sheet. His presence inside caused problems for opposing teams, his ability to hit the three bothered opposing big men and his pure leadership was invaluable to this year's team.
You will not be able to replace someone like Kornet and expect anyone to step right into his role and contribute on the level he did. What you do is adjust to the team you have and work around their strengths and their is some talent and strengths to work with on the 2017-2018 team.
Vanderbilt will sport a veteran team next season led by seniors Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson. All three seniors to be averaged double digit points last season and return to lead the Commodores team and hopefully take their own personal games to the next level.
Fisher-Davis is the Commodores leading returning scorer and could be poised for his best season yet in a Vanderbilt uniform. Possibly the top three point shooter in the SEC, Fisher-Davis had his struggles last season but seemed to get on board with Coach Drew's style of play by the end of the year. When Fisher-Davis was having his struggles, LaChance stepped up and played the point guard role with toughness and provided the team with another dependable scorer.
Coming off a sophomore slump, LaChance bounced back during his junior year to give the team someone who could handle the ball when needed, make open shots and guard the opposing team's point guard. He played above his head at times. LaChance is limited athletically and in height but that didn't stop him from competing and giving everything he had, game in and game out.
Roberson is the ultimate glue guy who was probably the most consistent player for Vanderbilt last season. Every game, Roberson brought it and even had play over his height against guys taller and bigger. That didn't phase Roberson as he ended the season as the team's 3rd leading scorer while leading the entire team in rebounding. He will be asked to score even more while providing interior presence.
The three Vanderbilt seniors will be the one's to lead the team and help get them back into the NCAA Tournament but they will need the rest of the team to accomplish not just postseason play but hopefully a chance at competing for an SEC title.
Vanderbilt will have more depth next season but will that depth step into larger roles. That's a big question headed into next season and one guy the staff would love to take the next step is junior to be Joseph Toye. The Chicago native showed glimpses last season as someone who could score in a variety of ways while being the team's top defensive stopper. Toye still needs some developing but he showed last year that he could shoot the ball while still being a dynamic guy at the rim. Biggest thing for Toye is to continue to improve his ball handling skills as well as his overall game. If this off-season clicks for Toye, he could have a breakout junior year and give the Commodores another dependable, high scoring player.
The Commodores two freshman last year in Payton Willis and Clevon Brown had their moments in the spotlight but too many times, looked like newcomers playing on a bigger stage. As the year went on, both players got better, especially Willis. The 6'4 guard showed up early giving the Dores a solid back up point guard and even someone Coach Drew leaned on at times when LaChance was struggling. Willis still is on the learning curve trying to improve but he did get better as the year went on. He has the ability to score off the dribble and showed that he can knock down an outside shot.
Brown could of probably used a red-shirt season to continue his maturation into the college game. He struggled at times last season and never seemed to get comfortable enough until later in the season. Brown is an athletic guy who has size at 6'8 and the wingspan to cause problems inside. He can also step out and shoot the ball from deep, so his skill set is large and he has the ability to score in a variety of ways. Brown in particular will be asked to play a bigger role next year because of his size and lack of numbers in the paint.
Willis on the other hand, could be in for a battle when it comes to playing time. His experience will put him out in front to begin with but he will have to fight off the arrivals of true freshman Saben Lee and Xavier transfer Larry Austin.
The goal is move LaChance back to shooting guard and allowing Willis, Lee or Austin to take over the lead point guard role. This will not be established until training camp but the word right now is that the 4-star point guard coming in from Arizona may be too talented to keep off the floor. Lee is a dynamic, fast and athletic lead guard who could change the dynamics of the Vanderbilt basketball team the moment he arrives on campus.
Musketeers transfer Larry Austin comes to Nashville with big game experience and someone who will was able to sit for an entire year learning Coach Drew's system and seeing how it is played out on the court. Austin could see the floor much more than some think, simply because of his experience and knowledge playing the point guard position on the collegiate level.
Another guard coming to Nashville is Bellaire (Tx) combo guard Maxwell Evans. The athletic lefty is an explosive scorer that can find the basket from anywhere on the court. Evans is a dynamic play maker that can take you off the dribble and slam the ball down your throat and then head back down court to lock you down on defense. The way he plays the game is a bit different compared to anyone that Vanderbilt has on their current roster. Evans could become the Dores top scorer off the bench next season and provide a scoring spark when the team needs it.
The center position, along with the point guard role, will be the most watched and worked during training camp this year. Returning big man Djery Baptiste had his struggles in the paint and definitely looked like someone who was still raw and learning the game of basketball. He is a physical presence inside and does have good athleticism but his coordination is still way off and his feel for the game isn't there yet. Baptiste will still be asked to play much next season, simply because of numbers inside and his experience playing in the system.
If Baptiste does not take the next step needed, his minutes could go to incoming freshman Ejike Obinna. The 6'9 235 pound big man is a physical force inside who much like Baptiste has some ways to go but what he does bring to the table immediately is his ability to crash the glass and score with a soft touch around the basket. Obinna is more ahead of the curve in his game than Baptiste was coming out of high school, so the possibility is there for him to see the court early and often.
The 2017-2018 Vanderbilt basketball team will be different but it could be a good different. The team will be deeper and will be lead by veterans who have been to two NCAA Tournaments and beaten some quality teams. It will be the second year under Coach Drew and his system, so the players will feel much more comfortable.
Vanderbilt basketball had been dormant for several years but Coach Drew and his first team in Nashville built some excitement within the fan base. The team's ability to push forward after a bad start to the season and find themselves in the semi's of the SEC Tournament and a 9 seed in the NCAA Tourney, gave the Vanderbilt fan base something to grow with and be excited about going forward.
Expectations are already out there for Vanderbilt to return to the NCAA Tournament and even possibly compete for an SEC championship. Those are goals that Coach Drew wants his program to strive for but that's from his mind at this time. He is still on the recruiting trail as we speak, looking to fill his final two scholarships. This roster is not complete yet, so Coach Drew and the staff is not looking to next season just yet but we can!