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Did Vanderbilt get better or worse over the offseason?

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The answer is closer than you think.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt basketball got some huge (and good) news on Wednesday night when Scotty Pippen Jr. pulled his name out of the NBA Draft and announced that he would be returning to the Commodores for the 2021-22 season. Pippen was a first-team All-SEC pick last season after averaging 20.8 ppg and 4.9 apg, both marks that were good for second in the SEC (behind, respectively, LSU’s Cameron Thomas and Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler.)

Any thoughts Vanderbilt might have had of contending for an NCAA Tournament bid in 2022 depended on Pippen returning. Beyond Pippen, five other scholarship players return: Jordan Wright, who started 15 games and averaged 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds; Tyrin Lawrence, who started five games early in the season prior to tearing his ACL; Myles Stute and Trey Thomas, who each started three games; and Quentin Millora-Brown, who averaged 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in limited action.

But Vanderbilt getting better meant improving the talent around Pippen. The Commodores lost seven players, all of them (technically) to the transfer portal, though three of them were players we expected to lose. Did all the offseason turnover improve the roster?

Roster turnover

Out In
Out In
Dylan Disu Liam Robbins
Maxwell Evans Rodney Chatman
D.J. Harvey Shane Dezonie
Clevon Brown Terren Frank
Issac McBride Peyton Daniels
Ejike Obinna Gabe Dorsey
Akeem Odusipe Jamaine Mann

So, let’s get the obvious out of the way here: Dylan Disu is a big loss. The flipside to that is that Liam Robbins, who led the Big Ten in blocks per game and also averaged 11.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game at Minnesota last season, is an important addition; that’s much less of a dropoff than you think. Seven-footers who can block shots and score in double figures, after all, are a good thing to have. This would have been a clear win overall if Robbins had committed and Vanderbilt had held on to Disu, but such is life.

Going down the list, I’ve tried to rank the players both outgoing and incoming, and swapping out Max Evans for Rodney Chatman is basically a wash. Chatman does a lot of the same things that Evans did for Vanderbilt. D.J. Harvey was a major disappointment for Vanderbilt, and while it’s not a direct switch, incoming freshman Shane Dezonie could have an important role for Vanderbilt in 2022.

The remaining swaps are probably just bench players for bench players. Clevon Brown was a disappointment in 2021, mostly due to injuries, and Vanderbilt has effectively swapped him out for Terren Frank — a 6’7” transfer from TCU who had a disappointing freshman season there, but probably offers more upside than Brown would have. Issac McBride for 6’2” freshman combo guard Peyton Daniels might end up being an improvement down the road, though I don’t really know how much we can expect from Daniels as a freshman.

Ejike Obinna and Akeem Odusipe were the last two players off the bench for Vanderbilt in 2020-21; Obinna was a guy who just never developed, while Odusipe seemed to be a long way from contributing at Vanderbilt. Swapping Obinna for Gabe Dorsey is quite likely an improvement; it does mean Vanderbilt has less size than it did a year ago, but then clearing out the logjam of tall guys off the bench might actually be a good thing in this instance (since Vanderbilt can just rely on Millora-Brown to be Liam Robbins’ backup now.) And as for Jamaine Mann, who averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 boards in about 20 minutes per game as a freshman at Gardner-Webb, I can certainly think of worse uses for the 13th scholarship, and Mann did have interest (though not scholarship offers) from Georgia and Georgia Tech out of high school.

Overall, I think all of the roster turnover in the offseason ended up being close to a wash. Losing Disu is bad, but Vanderbilt also swapped out guys who were disappointments or weren’t contributing for guys who probably will, and Liam Robbins is a big deal. That means that the hope for Vanderbilt in 2021-22 is for Pippen to be Pippen, Tyrin Lawrence to be healthy, and Trey Thomas and Myles Stute to make the freshman-to-sophomore jump.