Vanderbilt has been the home to some of the SEC's best shooting guards since Kevin Stallings took over. Shan Foster and John Jenkins were both conference Players of the Year. Guys like Dan Cage and Corey Smith were both valuable role players for successful Commodore teams. Now, a pair of freshmen, an Ivy League transfer, and a junior walk-on will try to keep that tradition alive in 2014-15.
Wade Baldwin IV and Matthew Fisher-Davis, two highly-rated recruits, will notch their first NCAA game action this November at Memorial Gym. Nolan Cressler, Cornell's leading scorer in 2013-14, will join them one year later after sitting out this season due to association regulations. These three athletes will provide the shooting, slashing, and passing that Stallings requires from his shooting guards for the foreseeable future. However, they'll have to outplay a veteran who emerged in the 2013-14 season to find court time first.
Nathan Watkins (6'5", 195 lbs), Junior: Like Carter Josephs, Watkins is a walk-on who made an impact last season when injuries and attrition cut the Vandy depth chart down to the bone. He's a solid enough shooter but also a limited athlete on the defensive end. He'll see playing time this winter, but the influx of new talent suggests that he won't see the court every game.
Nolan Cressler (6'4", 204 lbs), Junior: Cressler, Cornell's leading scorer in 2013-14, won't play for the Commodores this season as he waits out a year per NCAA transfer rules. He'll play a big role for this team once he's eligible. The sweet-shooting guard made more than 40 percent of his three-point attempts as a freshman and then scored 16.8 points per game last year despite being locked down as his team's only true offensive threat.
Cressler is jumping from a small pond to a big one. He'll have to prove that one of the Ivy League's leading scorers can translate into a significant role in the SEC. He's moving from a two-win team to a potential 20-win team, and while he had strong performances against teams like Syracuse (23 points) and Notre Dame (17 points) he needs to show that he can score efficiently on a consistent basis. It will be interesting to track his progress over the next three years.
Wade Baldwin IV (6'3", 195 lbs), Freshman: Like we covered last week, Baldwin has the handle to play at the point for extended minutes, and that versatility should give him some extended playing time in his first year at Vanderbilt. On top of that, he's a solid defender whose strength, athleticism, and long arms should be immediately useful in Nashville. He'll give this team a slashing element that can break up a stagnant offense and force defenders out of their zones, creating opportunities in the process.
Unlike his compatriots at SG, Baldwin isn't known as a lights-out shooter from long range. That doesn't mean that he can't shoot threes, but he can be streaky with the ball in his hands.
Matthew Fisher-Davis (6'5", 173 lbs), Freshman: At a gangly 6'5", Fisher-Davis will handle minutes at shooting guard but is also likely to be deployed as a hybrid small forward once he puts some more meat on his bones. He has arrived at Vanderbilt with the reputation as the team's best pure shooter since Jenkins came to campus back in 2009. He can shoot three-pointers with accuracy off the dribble, swinging around screens, or off a quick outlet from the post. That's exactly the kind of skill that Kevin Stallings can translate into wins at Memorial Gym.
However, like Jenkins, Fisher-Davis needs to round out his game. He's an average ballhandler who will struggle to create his own shot off the bounce unless he improves his ability to lose defenders or drive effectively into the paint. He's still a work of progress on defense and he'll have to prove that he has the lateral speed to shadow SEC slashers now that he's playing at the next level.