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Stream of Consciousness Final Thoughts on the 2020-21 Vanderbilt Basketball Season

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It’s over. So what now?

SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Florida v Vanderbilt Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

In the now-annual end-of-season post, Tom writes his thoughts about the just-concluded season as they come to him. See last year’s post here.

  • I thought Vanderbilt would be better in 2020-21 and in a way, I was right: Vanderbilt improved from 169th at the end of 2019-20 to 93rd this season. But in another way, I was wrong: after going 3-15 in the SEC last season, Vanderbilt went 3-13 this season.
  • Then again, how much of that was COVID? For one thing, Vanderbilt didn’t play Texas A&M in the regular season, and as we saw in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night, playing two games against the Aggies (as they were scheduled to do) probably would have resulted in an additional win or two. For another thing, practice time was let’s say limited because of the truncated preseason and a break early in the season, and some players (we’ll get to this in a minute) just never seemed completely right after that.
  • I’ll be the first to admit to being surprised by Scotty Pippen Jr.’s improvement. He was a guy who, at the start of the season, I viewed as probably being a Riley LaChance type where what you saw as a freshman was basically what you were going to get for four years, but he managed to be efficient while having an extremely high usage rate (per KenPom, he ranked second in the country in percentage of possessions used.) That said, his best skill was his ability to get to the foul line and make his free throws, which isn’t necessarily a skill that translates well to the NBA.
  • I’m less surprised by the improvement of Dylan Disu, who after all was a four-star recruit who we kind of expected this from, but being the SEC’s leading rebounder before he got hurt was a nice surprise.
  • The rest of the roster looked like a disaster area in January, but by March we started to see the emergence of some guys as pieces for the future. I liked what I saw from Trey Thomas late in the season, though I’ll point out that he really does fit the Riley LaChance mold of “what you see with this guy is what you’re gonna get.” Issac McBride, too, started to emerge late in the season before randomly disappearing in the two SEC Tournament games. And Quentin Millora-Brown seemed to be on the Yanni Wetzell track of finally adjusting to the level of competition after nearly a year of playing. (Wetzell, of course, didn’t return for his senior season, but Millora-Brown should be back next season.)
  • That said, the other three members of the freshman class are kind of a mystery. Myles Stute showed some things early on — averaging 14.3 ppg over a three-game stretch in late December and early January — before hitting the freshman wall. Akeem Odusipe barely played (as we kind of expected, since he was pretty universally assumed to be a real project) and Tyrin Lawrence missed most of the season after tearing his ACL.
  • Of course, none of the guys I’ve talked about above were really expected to be key players for this team, and this is where we get into the real reason the team struggled. Maxwell Evans did, eventually, become the player we thought we were going to get; from the Arkansas game on, he averaged 12 ppg. That was what we expected, right? But Clevon Brown could never really get right due to injuries. Early in the 2019-20 season he looked like he’d finally turned the corner, but his 2020-21 season was completely wrecked.
  • And that brings us to D.J. Harvey, the Notre Dame transfer who I thought would be a key player, probably the team’s third-best player, in the preseason. Instead, Harvey looked like a worse player than he was at Notre Dame two years ago. An early-season bout with COVID might have had something to do with that — and, Harvey did emerge at the tail end of the season, with 53 points in the team’s final six games, including 29 in the SEC Tournament. But that was after three months of being roughly a replacement-level player. I don’t really have an explanation for it, either, but at least the late-season Harvey looked like a player who might be on the Nolan Cressler track of being an important player as a senior transfer after doing nothing in his first year.
  • Finally, Jordan Wright just kind of is what he is, a 6’6” guy who looks kind of awkward out there but manages to do a decent job as a glue guy who does a lot of the dirty work (while also being a decent enough shooter to be a threat from the perimeter.) He’ll fill that role for the next two years.
  • As far as next season goes, well, we have to await the decisions by Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu. Frankly, I expect that both will be back next season — but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m never surprised when players leave to play professionally. Neither one appears on nbadraft.net’s mock drafts for 2021 or 2022, which translates to “this guy is, at best, in the second-round-to-undrafted range,” and while some guys will take their shot anyway in that situation, most of those guys are juniors. Sophomores typically only leave when they’re in that range if there’s something else pushing them out, and we can kind of guess that neither of the typical reasons (family financial need and/or academics) are going to push either of them out: Scottie Pippen, of course, made $109 million over his NBA career, and Dylan Disu was the SEC’s Scholar Athlete of the Year. Disu, as well, has the added complication that his season-ending knee injury will probably prevent him from participating in pre-draft workouts or the NBA Draft combine. Again, I won’t be surprised if either of them leaves because I am never surprised when players leave any more, but I would say it’s more likely than not that both return next season. (In fact, I’d put the odds of Disu returning at over 90 percent.) That doesn’t mean that Pippen won’t declare and go through the process, but I’d bet on him returning.
  • And as for what that means, I think Vanderbilt could actually be pretty good if Pippen and Disu both return, decent if one returns, and... well, we’ll be pretty bad again if both of them leave. But you probably knew that.
  • One player that we do know is leaving is Ejike Obinna, which opens up a scholarship for next season. Vanderbilt already filled its two available scholarships in the fall with the signings of Peyton Daniels and Gabe Dorsey (and note that if Maxwell Evans and/or Clevon Brown were to return, they wouldn’t count against the team’s scholarship limit), and it will be interesting to see what Stackhouse does with the available scholarship. Will he bring in a late-rising high school player, or will he bring in a transfer? And will the NCAA change the transfer rules to allow a transfer to be immediately eligible?