A season that began with Vanderbilt ranked #18 in the country ended last night with a whimper as the Commodores fell, 70-50 to Wichita State, putting a merciful end to a disappointing 19-14 season.
The most positive thing you can say about the 2015-16 basketball season is that, for the first time since 2012, Vanderbilt made the NCAA Tournament. Big homecourt wins over Kentucky and Texas A&M strangely made the season feel like even more of a disappointment, because they showed that we were correct all along in judging the team's potential. Those were among the rare instances of the team showing that the preseason hype was justified.
Moving forward, though... what will Vanderbilt look like in 2016-17 and beyond?
Kevin Stallings should be gone.
We made the point almost a month ago, and the only thing that's changed in the last month is that Vanderbilt did, in fact, make the tournament, albeit barely sneaking in and having a short stay.
On the other hand, nothing has changed in the past month that points to the program having a positive direction going forward. The team did rally to win four games in a row, and then ended the season by losing three straight (Texas A&M in the regular season finale, followed by no-showing a first-round SEC Tournament game against Tennessee and then whatever the hell that was against Wichita State last night.)
That said, Stallings may in fact be coaching the team next year (because Vanderbilt) and we can't officially say that this is the worst possible outcome, because if Stallings is still at Vanderbilt next year then it will definitely be with an understanding that he's going to win or the university will move on.
Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones are probably gone.
While we'd love to hold out hope, odds are that both of them will be in the NBA next year. In this day and age, if you have an underclassman who's a projected first-round draft pick, you are incredibly fortunate if he does come back. The fact that we've even gotten three years out of Damian (who probably could have gone to the draft after his freshman year, though he might have been a second-round pick at that point) was practically a gift.
Vanderbilt still could have a good team next year.
With that said, even if you assume Jones and Baldwin are gone, Vanderbilt has considerable potential for next season. We assume Luke Kornet, Matthew Fisher-Davis, and Jeff Roberson will be returning, and those three comprise a solid core to build around. Joe Toye has shown enough down the stretch to think that he can be a starter next season. And there's always a chance that Riley LaChance could return to his freshman year form.
The depth behind those guys could be an issue, particularly up front where Vanderbilt will need at least one of Samir Sehic, Djery Baptiste, or Clevon Brown to step up and provide quality minutes. And the only true point guard on the roster will be true freshman Peyton Willis. But it's certainly a better situation to have the stars in place and needing to find role players around them than the reverse.
But we're not certain about the future beyond next year.
Next year, Luke Kornet will be graduating, and whether you view the future beyond next year positively depends on your opinion of the current freshman class and next year's incoming class. Stallings hit home runs in both the 2013 (Jones/Kornet) and 2014 (Baldwin/LaChance/Fisher-Davis/Roberson) recruiting classes, but the early returns on the 2015 class (outside of Joe Toye) aren't all that promising, and while the 2016 class hasn't made it to campus yet it's not a particularly highly-rated class.
Stallings has shown that his program has a relatively high floor, even if the ceiling isn't all that high, but the problem is that the program could easily start backsliding under his watch.
We'll have much more in review of the season (and looking forward to next year) in the coming weeks. The initial gut reaction to this year is that it was a massive disappointment, however.