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What to make of Vanderbilt basketball’s 2022-23 roster

It could be fine. Or it might not be. Who knows?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Vanderbilt Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

With the news earlier this week that Scotty Pippen Jr. is declaring for the NBA Draft, along with the additions of transfer guard Ezra Manjon and freshman Paul Lewis, Vanderbilt now has 13 players on scholarship for the 2022-23 season. And while it wouldn’t be out of the question for some additional roster movement to happen — somebody could always enter the transfer portal, opening up a spot for someone else — with only a little over a week before the soft deadline* to enter the portal, it’s very well possible that Vanderbilt’s roster for 2022-23 is now set.

*The deadline to enter the transfer portal and be automatically eligible to play next season is May 1. Players can still enter the portal after that, but have to either sit out a year or get a waiver somehow.

So with all that said, what do we think of Vanderbilt’s projected roster for next season? Let’s start out with a chart. Basketball positions have always been a bit more fluid than, say, football, so this is more a general guide than it is a hard depth chart, but you get the general idea.

Depth Chart

Position Player 1 Player 2
Position Player 1 Player 2
PG Ezra Manjon Paul Lewis
CG Tyrin Lawrence Trey Thomas
SG Noah Shelby
SG/SF Jordan Wright
SF Gabe Dorsey
CF Myles Stute Malik Dia
PF Colin Smith
PF/C Liam Robbins Lee Dort
C Quentin Millora-Brown

So, there are a few things that jump out at me here.

Vanderbilt is probably fine, 2 through 5

Leaving aside the point, Vanderbilt looks pretty solid at the other four positions. There are four relatively proven, SEC-caliber players at those positions in Jordan Wright, Myles Stute, Liam Robbins, and Quentin Millora-Brown. Jerry Stackhouse should have the flexibility of going with those four or, if he wants to go with a smaller lineup, playing Tyrin Lawrence at the two, Jordan Wright at the three, and Myles Stute at the four, while Liam Robbins and Quentin Millora-Brown rotate at the five. I wouldn’t really call Lawrence “proven” by any stretch of the word, but he might be ready to give Vanderbilt quality minutes next season. Of the team’s other two returnees, Trey Thomas has played a bench role for Vanderbilt the last couple of seasons and might have been recruited over (more on that in a minute), while Gabe Dorsey is probably better than what he showed in 2021-22.

The freshmen won’t be asked to do too much

The other advantage those returnees provide is that Vanderbilt’s five incoming freshmen can be brought along slowly.

Lee Dort, Noah Shelby, and Colin Smith are all highly regarded as recruits, and Malik Dia is a guy I personally think is probably underrated. In a vacuum, they’re guys who I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable playing rotation minutes as freshmen. But with those returnees, Vanderbilt won’t be in a position where they have to play big minutes because there really isn’t a better option. Shelby might be the closest of the four to that situation, because I’m not totally sold on Tyrin Lawrence being the answer. For Dia, Smith, or Dort to claim a starting role, they’ll have to be better than, respectively, Jordan Wright, Myles Stute, and Liam Robbins. Let’s just say that if they’re able to beat those guys out, it’s probably very good news for Vanderbilt’s future.

Point guard is a question mark

And that leaves the point.

I don’t know what to think of Ezra Manjon. The transition from a mid-major to a power conference is always difficult to predict; sometimes, a good player at a mid-major is just that, but other good mid-major players have successfully made the jump. On the one hand, Manjon wasn’t particularly efficient at UC Davis; on the other hand, he was a guy who was taking a lot of shots (14.3 per game, to be exact) on a bad team. Shooting 46 percent from two, and 20 percent from three, is in fact very bad, but then a lot of those were probably shots that he won’t be asked to take at Vanderbilt. His career 78 percent mark at the foul line suggests that he’s probably capable of better than that from three; and, for being a high-usage guy, he wasn’t a turnover machine. In fact, his turnover percentage (14.9%) this past year was quite good. Could Manjon be a good pass-first point guard for an SEC team as opposed to the first scoring option for a middling Big West team? It’s entirely plausible.

(As far as freshman Paul Lewis goes, well, he was a late pickup who probably wasn’t brought in with the design of taking the point guard job right away.)

Can you win in the SEC with Liam Robbins as your best player?

In 2020-21 — and in 2021-22, when Robbins and/or Rodney Chatman were unavailable (as was frequently the case) — Vanderbilt had an odd problem to have: in Scotty Pippen Jr., the team had a very good lead guard who could carry the team, but the complementary players weren’t up to snuff. A good way to think about it is like a bullpen: you can have a great closer, but it’s still a problem if your setup men are guys who should be middle relievers — and your middle relievers are guys who should be in Triple-A.

Actually, the specific problem that Vanderbilt had the last couple of years (again, when Robbins and Chatman were out of commission) was that the guys who were probably the second- and third-best players on the team were more like guys you’d want as the 4 and 5. Suddenly, when the team was completely healthy, Jordan Wright and Myles Stute shined in roles where they weren’t expected to do too much.

But not having a lockdown closer creates its own, different set of problems — because there, you’re starting out in building from a place where everyone’s going to be underqualified for their job. And that brings me to the overarching question for Vanderbilt’s team next year.

Liam Robbins is a good player. Based on what we know about everybody on the roster going into next season, he’s probably Vanderbilt’s best player — unless one of the incoming freshmen (or Ezra Manjon) is much better than advertised. I don’t see a realistic scenario where any of the returnees are better than Robbins.

Can you win in the SEC with Liam Robbins as your best player? Can you win in the SEC with Jordan Wright and Myles Stute as your second- and third-best players? (The odds that one of the freshmen eclipses those two are a bit better.) If you were to rank the players on the roster from 1 through 13, let me just say that I like where Vanderbilt is from 4 through 13. Stackhouse has filled out the roster with quality players, and that should help the program immensely over the years following 2022-23 since many of those players are underclassmen.

If there’s a problem I see here, well, the best player on the team is a guy I’m probably more comfortable with as a 2 or 3 — and the 2 and 3 are much closer to that 4 through 13 bucket than they are to being All-SEC performers. Stackhouse has done a great deal of work to improve Vanderbilt’s floor since his first year; I’m just not sure he’s done what’s necessary to improve the upside for next year.