Jeff Roberson was Vanderbilt's lowest-rated recruit in the five-man class of 2014. By the time the dust settles on his college career, he may be its most valuable.
Roberson was a low three-star forward, according to most major recruiting services. While the other four members of his class settled with ESPN ratings that hovered around 80, Roberson was only a 73. He seemed set for some playing time as a freshman thanks to the team's scarcity at his position, but it soon became apparent that Roberson wasn't on the court because he was Vanderbilt's only small forward -- he was also one of this team's best players.
His versatile game allowed Kevin Stallings to play him as the team's only true forward in a three-guard, one-center lineup early in the season. After a rough start -- and Riley LaChance's nearly unfathomable sophomore slump -- he moved back to his true position and alternated eye-opening performances with more anonymous, solid defensive displays. Despite some inconsistency, he made his case as one of this team's key players thanks to some significant improvements in 2016.
Jeff Roberson (sophomore)
Roberson was the least hyped recruit of the Commodores class of 2015, but he had one of the biggest on-court impacts of any player on the roster. The sophomore stepped up his game in year two on both sides of the court to be the team's glue guy on some nights and its most efficient scorer on others. And, despite some early complaints, he is most definitely a small forward.
Roberson improved statistically in nearly every important category this winter. His PER jumped from 10.4 to 16.8. His true shooting moved from 58.1% to 63.3. His three-point shooting went up, along with his rebound rate. Most importantly, he cut his turnover rate by more than half, dropping from 26.5% to 12.7.
His ability to shoot from behind the arc and draw fouls in the paint made him a dynamic halfcourt threat. He had 13 different games in which he averaged at least two points per field goal attempt. He made 80 percent of his shots in a 20-point performance against then-No. 8 Texas A&M. He had a ridiculous 16-point, 11-rebound, five assist showing against a solid Alabama team and only needed seven shots to get there. While Roberson may not have been especially consistent, he could pilot this team to new heights on good nights.
He came to Vanderbilt as an athlete who scouts said needed to improve his shooting. Then, he finished first on the team in three-point percentage as a freshman and then second (among regulars) this winter. In his career, he's made more than 44 percent of his long-distance shots. I'm not sure I need to state the obvious, but that's some proven improvement.
Roberson, along with Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, and Wade Baldwin IV, also helped made up the backbone of the nation's No. 7 shooting defense. He has the strength and lateral quickness to be an effective defender at the wing, though more athletic forwards could give him problems. He was asked to cover opposing shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards -- though he was much more effective as a traditional 3 than as an undersized 4.
He still needs to round out his game and work on his consistency. Roberson had 18 games where he scored in double digits. He also had 11 games where he scored five or less. He also needs to round out his passing. His 8.2% assist rate was seventh among Vanderbilt rotation players, behind all three of the team's seven-footers this winter.
Joseph Toye (true freshman)
Toye didn't see much playing time in 2015-16, but the minutes he filled were enough to stake his claim as this team's most exciting freshman. His athleticism evokes memories of Jeff Taylor, but he's still got a ways to go to approach the Swedish Eagle's impact as a Commodore.
Toye's dynamic driving game added a new dimension to the Vandy offense, but his three-point shooting (42.9 percent) was especially promising -- especially for a player who worked under Kevin Stallings. The rising freshman used his dribble-drive threat to create open looks from behind the arc. He took approximately 2.5 two-shot shots for every three he attempted.
Defensively, he's still a work in progress. Toye had issues adjusting to the NCAA early on, and while he was able to use his athleticism to cover for some of his mistakes, that learning curve helped contribute to his relatively low playing time. If he can get his feet under him, he has the length and speed to be a headache for opposing wings.