Inside the 2006-07 Vanderbilt basketball team

A new season, a new look, Vanderbilt basketball is hoping for a different ending to the 2006-07 season than it experienced in 2005-06. Since last March, the changes in the program have been numerous. Start with the unfortunate event that forced Davis Nwankwo to the sidelines for the rest of his time at Vanderbilt.

Thank God, his life was spared, and thank God Commodore trainer Mike Meyer was there and had the knowledge to save Nwankwo. 


Less than one month later, Mario Moore gave a newspaper interview relating all the troubles that had occurred in his senior season.  Soon after, starting forward DeMarre Carroll and red shirt forward Kyle Madsen left the program.  Carroll joined his uncle Mike Anderson at Missouri, while Madsen ended up at Ohio State.


The loss of those two big men, coupled with the career-ending misfortune of Nwankwo and the graduation of Julian Terrell, leaves the Commodores with quite a dilemma entering this season.  The Commodores were already dreadfully lacking inside before these losses.  With only four true frontcourt players on this season's roster, how can the Gold Men possibly compete in the Southeastern Conference, where as many as a half dozen big men could be playing in the NBA when they leave college?


That's where Commodore Coach Kevin Stallings comes in.  He realized the predicament he faced coming into this season and he correctly decided to try a new paradigm.  Gone is the passive Princeton offense and passive half-court defense.  In its place is a new up-tempo philosophy that hopes to hide the frontcourt weaknesses by turning games into a series of sprints.  Hopefully for Stallings and the Commodore team, the perimeter players will be able to dominate games by outrunning opposing teams and their superior big men.


Whether or not this strategy works on the won/loss ledger, it will prove to be a major winner with the fans.  The Commodores should look much like the teams legendary Coach Roy Skinner had at Vanderbilt.  As a result of the quicker play, expect the players to appear to be hustling more than in past years; it's human psychology for players to relax and fail to fire quickly when they play a slower, passive style and to be on the alert and fire rapidly when they play a faster, up-tempo style.


The Commodores may very well be outrebounded by four or more boards per game this year.  However, if they can force four more turnovers per game than they did last year and turn those turnovers into fast break points, they can actually improve their scoring margin from last year.  A steal is worth more points than a defensive rebound.  So, if the Commodores can average 10 steals per game this year, they could possibly win enough times to be playing on March 15 in a tournament that isn't spelled N-I-T.


The Vanderbilt Roster


As a result of the transfers and losses, Vanderbilt finds itself with only 10 scholarship players plus one walk-on.  That leaves just six returning scholarship players from last season.


#0 Jermaine Beal 6-3, 205 Fr. PG

Beal is the best passing guard on the team even though he is a true freshman.  He isn't as quick as Alex Gordon and may slow down the fast break a bit.  However, he will make up for that with better defense and add some rebounding to the mix.  He looks to have a decent, but not outstanding outside shooting touch, but he may not have the speed to take his defender to the hoop off the dribble.  He could be used to post up a smaller guard.  He could be the best assist man at Vandy since Atiba Prater.

#31 JeJuan Brown 6-7, 225 Fr. PF

Brown is going to need some time to develop into a prototype SEC inside player.  He needs to get stronger and might normally be a red shirt candidate in many other seasons.  With no depth up front, he will be called on to supply important minutes this season.  He needs to improve his ball-handling skills and for now has basically an inside game only on offense.  He's basically like having DeMarre Carroll as a freshman.  For a freshman frontcourt player, his passing skills are well above average, and he will sneak through and get rebounds other Commodores would not be able to grab. 


#4 Derrick Byars 6-7, 230 SG/SF/PF

Byars is a steady, all-around good player.  He needs to improve his inside game and not spend most nights shooting only three-point shots.  He should benefit from the extra fast break attempts, as he possesses excellent skills for scoring at the end of the break and making the final pass to someone else who scores.


He is a tough defender when he isn't asked to guard a speedy, shifty smaller player like Tre Kelley of South Carolina.  He may be asked to play some at the power forward spot this year, especially if the big guys get in foul trouble.  I think he can play it as adequately as Bruce Elder did during the 1993 SEC Championship season.


#20 Dan Cage 6-5, 215 SG/SF

Cage has improved defensively every year.  His outside shooting touch returned to form last year, and that made him a valuable backup.  This year, he will need to become a better rebounder and be able to take the ball to the hoop with more success than last season.  Coach Stallings has got to find a way to get him to the foul line more often.  If he can take 80-100 foul shots, he will become a vital offensive weapon.


#34 George Drake 6-4, 215 Fr. SG/SF

Drake might never been much of a contributor with the old offensive scheme, but with more transition being tried this year, he will be one of the major benefactors of the new style of play.  He can run the fast break as competently as the Commodores of the 1960's.  Drake won't start, at least in November, but he could emerge as a double digit scorer.  His ability to rebound may force Stallings to play him more as the season progresses.  He can also be a fine ball hawk.  If Vanderbilt begins to press in the backcourt, his skills could be put to good use.


#32  Shan Foster 6-6, 200 Jr. SG/SF

This may sound strange, but if Vandy is to have any chance to become an NCAA-worthy team, Foster must not become a 20-points per game scorer.  The real key to the season should be the emergence of a third consistent scorer to complement Foster and Byars.


Foster is one of the best outside shooters in the SEC, and he has additional skills that have yet to be put to use.  He needs to become a consistent inside scorer, and he needs to become a consistent rebounder.  Defensively, he needs to take advantage of his wingspan to become a ball hawk.  Foster has the tools to do all these things.  If he improves in all these areas, his name will start to move up on NBA draft boards.


#3 Alex Gordon 5-11, 170 Jr. PG/SG

Gordon is a better 2-guard than point guard.  In fact, of all the players on the team, he could possibly become the much-needed third consistent scorer if he could play at shooting guard.  The only problem is the other two consistent scorers are already the starting wing players. 


As a point guard, Gordon needs to work on his passing skills.  With his small size, he will need to make up for certain defensive liabilities by becoming a better interceptor of enemy passes.  He can become a force on the fast break, as his speed is unrivaled.  The Commodores will probably score more points per minute when he is running the offense, but they may score more points per possession with Beal running the offense.  It will be a mixture that Coach Stallings will have to stir carefully.


#14 Aubrey Hammond 6-4, 185 Jr. SG

Hammond doesn't get much publicity as a walk-on player, but he is valuable to this team.  The harder he presses the regulars in practice every day, the better those players will become.  He should be rewarded with a little more playing time this year, as the new office will lead to more blowouts.


#11 Alan Metcalfe 6-9, 260 Jr. PF/C

Possibly the most vital key to the season's success, Metcalfe must make a leap forward and become a force inside.  He doesn't have to become the next Will Perdue, but he needs to force opponents to respect him in the paint.  That means, he must punish any opponent who begs the wing players to pass the ball to him inside.  If he can become the equivalent of Chris Lawson a decade and a half ago, that will suffice.


Metcalfe doesn't have to become another outside shooter.  He needs to patrol the low post and demand defenses to collapse on him.  Defensively, he needs to learn to play with his feet and not his hands.  Foul trouble cannot be tolerated this season, as there are not enough players on the bench who can play the 4 or 5 spots.


#41 Ross Neltner 6-9, 245 Jr. PF/C

While Neltner is neither Matt Freije nor Dan Langhi, he is a solid frontcourt player who will help replace much of the contribution that Julian Terrell supplied last year.  Neltner is about as good of a long-range shooter and better rebounder than Dawid Przybyszewski.  He will not go head to head with Al Horford or Richard Hendrix and come out the winner, but he will not hurt the Commodores either.  Look for Neltner to be a bigger version of Scott Hundley—a player who can be counted on for a consistent, albeit not flashy performance.  If he can average 7.5 rebounds per game, he will deserve a lot of the credit for a successful season.


#54 Ted Skuchas 6-11, 250 Sr. C

Skuch is the greybeard of the team.  The fifth-year senior needs to become a leader and go out with a much-improved final season.  He is a reliable defender in the post, and if he can develop his hook shot, he might provide just enough offense to merit more playing time.  For his size, Skuchas can move up and down the floor and should be usable in a fast-paced game.


The Schedule


Vanderbilt must play eight games against the preseason Top 25 I have listed below.  Not on that list are two games against Kentucky, a game against Arkansas, and road games against Wake Forest and Rice.  Add the possibility of playing Virginia and/or Utah in the San Juan Shootout, and the 2006-07 schedule may be the toughest this millennium.


The Computer Consensus Preseason Top 25


Those of you reading this who are regular readers of Vandymania know that I am the inventor of the PiRate Ratings for college football.  If you read Vandymania last basketball season, you may remember that I do not have a formula for rating basketball teams.  Therefore, I monitored upwards of 50 computer ratings and created a weighted statistical average based on those ratings.  The more accurate a rating was the prior week, the more weight I gave those the next week.


Unfortunately, about 75% of these computer ratings have not released their initial top 25 for the season.  Therefore, I have read several pre-season college basketball magazine and factored the initial ratings on a combination of those magazines and the 20 or so computer ratings that have released their pre-season numbers.  Since the season hasn't started and thus none of them have proven to be any more accurate than any others, all of these are weighted equally.


Here is the initial top 25 Parentheses are 1st place votes and the larger number are the total votes with 25 points for first, 24 for second, etc.


1. Florida (22)                 697

2. North Carolina (3)            664

3. Kansas (2)                         649

4. Ohio State (1)                   583

5. Pittsburgh                          559

6. U C L A                              535

7. Wisconsin                          520

8. Georgetown               514

9. L S U                                  505

10. Arizona                            448

11. Duke                                442

12. Alabama                          424

13. Memphis                          394

14. Texas A&M               352

15. Washington                322

16. Connecticut                320

17. Georgia Tech                289

18. Marquette                        274

19. Boston College                       271

20. Texas                               259

21. Creighton                         244

22. Tennessee                 214

23. Syracuse                         193

24. Wichita State               178

25. Southern Illinois  174


The Southeastern Conference


I have access to about 40 preseason SEC predictions.  It is enough to assign preseason ratings to the 12 teams.  Here are the initial preseason ratings for the SEC.  This season I plan on factoring in both home team advantage and visiting team disadvantage.  Some teams play better on the road than other teams, so there should be an adjustment for both teams. 


SEC East                                    SEC West

1. Florida                                    1. L S U

2. Tennessee                                    2. Alabama

3. Kentucky                                    3. Arkansas

4. South Carolina                        4. Mississippi St.

5. Georgia                                    5. Auburn

6. Vanderbilt                                    6. Ole Miss


The consensus of these preseason ratings is that the top three teams in each division will earn NCAA Tournament invitations, while the number four teams will earn NIT bids.  If that's the case, can the Gamecocks three-peat?


If you are wondering what these ratings portend for Vanderbilt, it estimates the Commodores to be 11-3 or 10-4 out of conference (depending on how the San Juan Shootout plays out) and 5-11 in the SEC for a total regular season record of 15-15 or 16-14.


Here is the preseason All-SEC teams.  For this list, I found 14 different lists that have legitimacy.


1st Team East                                                1st Team West

                        C—Joakim Noah (Florida)                     C—Glen Davis (LSU)

PF—Al Horford (Florida)                     PF—Charles Rhodes (Miss. St.)

SF—Corey Brewer (Florida)            SF—Tasmin Mitchell (LSU)

SG—Chris Lofton (Tennessee)            SG—Jamont Gordon (Miss. St.)

PG—Taurean Green (Florida)            PG—Ronald Steele (Alabama)


Preseason Player of the Year: Ronald Steele, Alabama


The SEC will be known as a big man conference this year.  Aside from Noah, Horford, Davis, and Rhodes, there are several other big men who can creep onto this list.  Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix at Alabama, Randolph Morris at Kentucky, Dwayne Curtis at Ole Miss, plus some newcomers who could contribute as freshman make this a big man league this year.


Preseason Freshmen All-SEC


Eleven incoming players were consensus top 100 recruits by most of the recruiting services last season.  Rather than narrow this list down to five, I will include this group in alphabetical order.  This wealth of talent suggests that the SEC is about to become an even more powerful league.  It could become what the Atlantic Coast Conference was for many years.


Patrick Beverley—Arkansas  6-01, 172 SG

Wayne Chism—Tennessee  6-9, 245 PF/C

Duke Crews—Tennessee  6-8, 233 SF/PF

Derrick Jasper—Kentucky  6-6, 213 PG

Marques Johnson—Tennessee  6-5, 205 SG

Jodie Meeks—Kentucky  6-5, 206 SG

Ramar Smith—Tennessee  6-2, 185 PG/SG

Marreese Speights—Florida  6-10, 245 PF/C

Jarvis Varnado—Mississippi State  6-9, 195 PF

Michael Washington—Arkansas  6-10, 229 PF

Dan Werner—Florida  6-7, 235 SF/PF


Preseason Freshman of the Year: Duke Crews, Tennessee


Note:  Arkansas JUCO Transfer Sonny Weems is a 6-6, 201 swingman.  He is the nation's top JUCO transfer from last year and should be the newcomer of the year in the SEC.


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