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Grading Vanderbilt basketball’s offseason

For a while, this looked bad. Now? Not so much.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Semifinals - Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Before we go completely into Football Season Is Coming (Previews), I thought I’d take a minute to talk about what Vanderbilt basketball has done this offseason.

In general, I disagree with the “this is just the reality we live in” pooh-poohing of the transfer portal; when you lose a bunch of guys to the transfer portal, it’s not automatically something that you can hand-wave away. Yes, there’s more roster turnover than ever before, but turnover isn’t just occurring completely at random and while “guys are seeking better NIL deals elsewhere” is a valid reason for portalities, it’s also probably a sign that things are not going well if guys are jumping into the portal regardless.

With that said — I stand by what I wrote in late March after Myles Stute, Trey Thomas, Malik Dia, Noah Shelby, and Jordan Wright entered the transfer portal. (Vanderbilt would also eventually lose Quentin Millora-Brown, and Liam Robbins and Emmanuel Ansong exhausted their eligibility.) At that point, I said that Vanderbilt would be fine as long as Ezra Manjon, Tyrin Lawrence, and Colin Smith all returned, and that’s what ended up happening regardless of Lawrence spending a month in the portal before ultimately returning to Vanderbilt.

And that’s not hand-waving anything away; my rationale is that Vanderbilt couldn’t easily replace those three (at least, not the player we think Colin Smith can be) but might be able to find comparable players to everyone else. I liked Jordan Wright, but Evan Taylor is a comparable player and is a better shooter. Tasos Kamateros is a good three-point shooter at 6’8” and that’s more or less what you were hoping to get from Myles Stute. I’m not insane enough to think Ven-Allen Lubin is a replacement for Liam Robbins, but at least he’s a guy with length and athleticism who can block shots and score down low, and rotating Lubin and Lee Dort could end up being a fine solution inside.

What I like about the roster for next season, though, is that the parts seem to fit together better than they did last season. Part of the problem with the Stute/Smith situation is that, with Jordan Wright playing the three, Stute and Smith could really only cannibalize each other’s minutes. Lubin, though, is capable of playing the five, and Kamateros can probably function as a backup — or, he could play the four with Smith at the three in a big lineup. Evan Taylor probably won’t need to play the two much with Manjon and Lawrence on the roster, but he could. It feels like there are a lot of different lineups that could work as opposed to last year’s team that felt very dependent on specific guys being on the floor. Vanderbilt could go small with Taylor, Smith, and Lubin in the frontcourt; or they can go big, with Taylor, Smith, Kamateros, and Dort.

And, Vanderbilt might have one of the best backcourts in the SEC with Manjon and Lawrence. That isn’t an exaggeration if you saw the team from February on; how many SEC teams will sport better backcourts than that? The team might not have a star of the caliber of Robbins, but that’s less of a problem if you have solid players across the board — when you have five scoring threats on the floor at a given time, you don’t necessarily need the one guy to carry the load. And I like the fact that Vanderbilt can go eight deep without getting into the five-man freshman class. I can definitely see some of the freshmen, particularly Isaiah West, being ready to play immediately, but Vanderbilt won’t have to play anyone who isn’t ready. I’d feel differently about spring pickups Jason Rivera-Torres and Malik Presley if I thought they’d need to play right away, but assuming the returnees and transfers are what we think they are, they won’t.

In short: this was a fine offseason. Vanderbilt could have stood to add another transfer instead of taking on additional freshmen, but I like the look of the roster heading into next season, and it’s good that I am not immediately writing off the possibility of the NCAA Tournament in June.