Vanderbilt basketball lost two key pieces last summer when All-SEC athletes Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin IV both declared for the NBA Draft. However, a team returning standouts like Luke Kornet, Jeff Roberson, and Matthew Fisher-Davis hasn’t gone completely overlooked this offseason.
The Commodores earned a single vote when the preseason AP Top 25 poll dropped on Monday. That means one of the 65 media voters out there included Vandy on their list — in 25th place.
That effectively puts the team in a tie for 48th in the rankings. Better than Ken Pomeroy’s projection of 64th, but still unlikely to be enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Commodores’ 2016-17 season is a tough one to predict. Not only do they have to replace the production of Jones and Baldwin on the court, they’ll have to adjust to the team’s first new head coach of the new millennium. Pittsburgh lured Kevin Stallings away this offseason. He was replaced by former Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew.
Here’s the available personnel Drew will be working with this winter:
PG: Riley LaChance / Payton Willis
Wings: Matthew Fisher-Davis / Jeff Roberson / Joseph Toye / Camron Justice/ Nolan Cressler / Phillip McGloin
Big men: Luke Kornet / D'Jery Baptiste / Clevon Brown
There’s plenty of talent there, especially if Kornet can fill Jones’s role as a dynamic scorer in the post, LaChance can overcome a woeful sophomore slump, and young players like Toye and Justice fulfill the potential they showed as true freshmen last season. However, there are a lot of question marks as well — especially regarding the team’s depth at point guard and in the paint.
A slot in the 45-75 range seems right for the preseason version of the Commodores, but this team has the talent and coaching to far exceed those expectations. Drew’s first year on campus will be a challenge, but he’s got the tools to make 2017 a big year for Vanderbilt Basketball.
Here’s what the full preseason AP Top 25 looks like. Vanderbilt got less consideration than teams like Monmouth, Princeton, and (sigh) Mississippi State.