In the world of the Transfer Portal, player evaluation takes on a role that’s much bigger than commonly realized.
That was certainly the case with Jamaine Mann. As a freshman, he’d played 20.8 minutes per game and averaged 6.8 ppg and 5.3 rpg at Gardner-Webb, a Big South school. That doesn’t exactly sound like a player destined for power-conference success. At the time, I thought that Mann wasn’t the worst use of the 13th scholarship, but I do have to say that I wasn’t expecting much out of him more than an extra body off the bench.
But just like figuring out which mid-major stars are really cut out for playing in a power conference, figuring out whether a mid-major role player can actually translate to the power conference level is a big deal too. Mann actually wound up being Vanderbilt’s fifth-most valuable player according to Win Shares. Granted, some of that had to do with injuries (Rodney Chatman and Liam Robbins would have almost certainly outpaced him over a full season) and some of it had to do with disappointments (Tyrin Lawrence and Shane Dezonie didn’t have as much of an impact as anticipated, and Terren Frank was a complete miss), but Mann wound up being valuable in his role even when his role was functioning as Vanderbilt’s backup center at a generously-listed 6’6”. His rebounding rate, shooting percentage inside the arc, and ability to get to the free throw line basically translated from the Big South to the SEC; somehow, his Offensive Rating at Vanderbilt was higher than it was at Gardner-Webb (albeit in fewer minutes.)
Or... did it? Once SEC play hit, Mann’s Offensive Rating dropped from a perfectly-fine 107.8 to a not so fine 94.8; in fact, his numbers dropped across the board, and eventually, his minutes did, too. Mann didn’t appear in eight of Vanderbilt’s eighteen SEC games, for reasons that were never really explained by Jerry Stackhouse (though a late-season stretch of not playing five games was chalked up to injuries after the fact.) Mann averaged 6.3 ppg over the first ten games of the season and 3.6 the rest of the way. Granted, that was still more effective than Terren Frank — Mann’s main competition for a role off the bench — but it wasn’t anything great.
I don’t always rely too much on splits between non-conference play and conference play, but in this specific case, where I entered the season having real questions about the guy’s ability to compete against this level of competition — well, that statistical profile didn’t really dissuade me from the idea that this was a guy who could hold his own against the Alabama States of the world but not the Kentuckys. Mann is off to Georgia State, a decision that might have happened anyway — Vanderbilt, after all, has 6’9” Lee Dort, 6’8” Colin Smith, and 6’7” Malik Dia entering the fray next season, with both Liam Robbins and Quentin Millora-Brown returning as well (though the latter was very much not expected entering the season — but you have to wonder if his drop-off in SEC play had something to do with it.