Austin Nichols, Memphis' leading scorer, shot-blocker and second-leading rebounder last season, announced on Tuesday that he would seek a transfer. After some dickering about potentially not granting him a release, Memphis ultimately granted a conditional release, allowing Nichols to transfer but restricting him from transferring to another AAC school, any of Memphis's 2015-16 non-conference opponents (including South Carolina and Ole Miss, among others); Virginia, Providence, and Iowa, whom Memphis plays in a tournament in 2016-17; and, for some reason, the school to the east even though Pastner refuses to schedule them. (Rocky Top Talk responds with the usual amount of butthurt.)
Here at Anchor of Gold, we're all about baseless speculation based on nothing in particular, so we're going to talk about whether Nichols would fit at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was one of Nichols' six finalists coming out of high school, so we can reasonably think that Nichols would look into being a Commodore this time around. And as far as we know, Nichols is not restricted from coming here, likely because we haven't had Memphis on the non-conference schedule since Jan van Breda Kolff was our head coach.
So the question is... would Nichols be a good fit for Vanderbilt?
Is he good at basketball?
Yes. Moving on to the next question...
Do we even have a scholarship available?
Strangely, this is debatable. By my count, Vanderbilt has 12 scholarships committed for the 2015-16 season, plus Carter Josephs, who was on scholarship last year and may or may not be on scholarship again this year. If Stallings has already granted Josephs a scholarship for 2015-16, then no, we don't have a scholarship available for next season.
How does he fit onto Vanderbilt's roster?
Nichols would not be eligible until 2016-17. Projecting out that far is a bit difficult, because we really have no idea whether Damian Jones will be on the team. Assuming he is, Nichols would probably slot at the four alongside Jones and would potentially move Luke Kornet and Samir Sehic to the bench.
But Nichols would also make a good insurance policy in case Jones does go to the NBA after next season (NBADraft.net currently projects him as a top ten pick). Should Jones leave, Vandy's frontcourt for 2016-17 would consist of Kornet, Sehic, and Djery Baptiste. Vandy would need another frontcourt player anyway, and to be blunt, Nichols would be better in 2016-17 than any of the high school players Stallings is currently recruiting.
What about the long term?
That's the main rub. Should Nichols come to Vanderbilt, he'd join the 2018 class on the court along with Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Wade Baldwin, and Jeff Roberson. Assuming no attrition, that would mean five players would be departing the program after the 2017-18 season (though Nichols could very well go to the NBA after one season.) The frontcourt would still be in fairly good shape with Samir Sehic and Djery Baptiste having one more year of eligibility after that.
Which means that this is really a question of going for it in 2017 -- when, even if Damian Jones is gone, Vandy will still have a very strong core with the current sophomores along with Luke Kornet and Nolan Cressler being seniors -- versus maintaining the program for 2019 and 2020. That's a long way in the future, though, and Stallings can address long-term needs in the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes. Nichols helps a ton in the short term because if we're being honest with ourselves, he'd be an improvement over any of Vandy's frontcourt players other than Jones. If Nichols makes Vandy a potential Final Four team in 2017 (and no, you don't have to stretch your imagination very far to see that as a realistic possibility) then bringing him in would be worth it.