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2015 Vanderbilt Basketball Season Preview: Shooting Guard

Riley LaChance leads a legion of dead-eye shooters who are poised to bring Vanderbilt back to the NCAA Tournament.

The mask: Vanderbilt basketball's greatest facial accessory since A.J. Ogilvy's mustache.
The mask: Vanderbilt basketball's greatest facial accessory since A.J. Ogilvy's mustache.
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Stallings loves his shooting guards. Of course, it helps when you've got players like John Jenkins, Shan Foster, and the Immortal Dan Cage manning the 2.

Riley LaChance can become the next link in that overachieving chain by improving on a debut season that saw him earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors four different times. The Wisconsinite faded down the stretch as the grind of the NCAA season wore on him, but he still finished the season with 12.3 points per game; only standout center Damian Jones scored more.

LaChance leads a core of talented shooters in the Vandy backcourt. He'll join Wade Baldwin IV, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Nolan Cressler, and Camron Justice as Commodore guards who could realistically make 40 percent or more of their three-point attempts this winter. They'll be a huge part of Kevin Stallings's offense, and not just for their long range capabilities. Having LaChance or Fisher-Davis on the court keeps opposing teams from doubling-down on Jones in the paint and keeps the floor stretched so everyone can operate in space.

The Incumbent: Riley LaChance

We covered LaChance's outlook at the point in our last preview, so now let's take a closer look at what the rangy combo guard brings to the 2. He was an SEC All-Freshman selection after finishing second on the team with 12.3 points per game, but that stat doesn't convey how meaningful his presence was for this team early in the season. LaChance exploded for 26 points in just his eighth NCAA game - against 2015 NCAA Tournament participant Purdue, no less. He repeated the feat the very next game en route to the first of four SEC Freshman of the Week Awards.

However, he couldn't keep that pace up. LaChance slowed down as opposing teams began to game plan for him. His scoring average dropped from 13.4 points per game to 11.0 after the first 18 games of the season. His three-point shooting dipped from 41.8% to 34.1% in that same stretch. Late-season surges from Wade Baldwin IV and Matthew Fisher-Davis helped keep the team running strong, but it was clear that LaChance wasn't the same player that he had been early in his freshman campaign.

An extra year of conditioning and experience should help him avoid another drop-off in 2016. Additional focus on soon-to-be NBA Draft pick Damian Jones and Baldwin should help as well. On a team full of shooters, LaChance will need to prove that he can get into the lane and finish at the rim in order to give Vanderbilt an extra dimension on offense. The foundation is there, but physical limitations may force him to get creative with his drives this winter.

The Sharpshooter: Matthew Fisher-Davis

At 6'5" and 185 pounds, Fisher-Davis has the skillset to play small forward, but not the size to do it full time. As a result, he's likely to see much of his playing time come at shooting guard when the Commodores face teams with bigger wings. That wasn't a problem for the skilled shooter last season; Fisher-Davis came on like a demon as the season grew old, drilling three-pointers and giving this team a ray-gun scorer off the bench.

To call Fisher-Davis a three-point specialist would be understatement. 177 of his 228 shots last season came from behind the arc. He made 40.1% of his threes and only 17.6% of his two-point attempts. Opponents didn't bother sinking towards the paint when the freshman had the ball last season; they stayed glued to him on the perimeter, and Fisher-Davis still made them pay. In his last 12 games - when everyone knew what was coming when MFD has the ball - he still managed to sink 40.2% of his three-point attempts.

An extra season adding muscle should help him play a bit sturdier inside the arc, but he hasn't really gotten much bigger in terms of weight since stepping on campus last fall. He needs to fill out his game to expand beyond his current "microwave" status. He's not an accomplished distributor, and while he's a capable defender there's plenty of room for improvement on that end thanks to his long arms and good height at the position. 2015-16 could be a big year for Fisher-Davis, but he needs to show that he's got more than just one dimension; even if that dimension holds the kind of talent that can shoot the Commodores to big wins this winter.

The Transfer: Nolan Cressler

Vanderbilt added a Division I program's leading scorer when Cressler picked the Commodores in the spring of 2014. Unfortunately, he came from a 2-26 Cornell program, so it's tough to gauge just how effective he'll be with a high-major program. He scored 50 points in three games against high-level opponents (Duke, Syracuse, Notre Dame) in his last active season (2013-14), but he was held to 37.5% shooting from the field and 5-20 from three-point range in those matchups.

It's tough to take that as an accurate measurement, however. Cressler was his team's primary scoring threat, and no other Big Red athlete managed more than 28 points in those games. He was the defensive focus of some very good teams, and while he was inefficient, it's tough to dismiss those 16.7 points per game.

Cressler won't be asked to do too much beyond scoring from the half-court setup and playing effective - if not just passable - defense. He'll have more room to shoot and drive than he ever had in the Ivy League, and he won't have the pressure of having to do everything on his own this time around. A look at his advanced stats suggests that he struggled in a greater role for the Big Red once defenses began to key in on him. He won't have that problem in Nashville, and it could lead to a big season off the bench for the junior.

The New Guy: Camron Justice

Justice was Kentucky's Mr. Basketball and a McDonald's All-American last spring, so it's clear that he was playing on a different level than his opponents in high school. Will that other-worldly game translate into the SEC? Fortunately for the freshman, he'll have a soft landing spot at Vanderbilt.

Like Cressler, Justice won't be asked to shoulder a significant load early on with the Commodores. He doesn't have elite athleticism, which explains how a player who absolutely ruined other high school opponents and earned All-American honors couldn't squeeze a fourth star out of Rivals' rating system. He has quick hands and a dead-eye shot, but questions remain about whether or not he'll be able to create the space to make jumpers at the next level. At 6'3", he won't have the luxury of being able to shoot over many defenders, and he'll have to access his inner John Jenkins to find gaps and can three-pointers as a freshman.