Vanderbilt entered the 2014-15 season with low expectations. That usually happens when you’re fielding a young team with a lot of question marks and it showed early on.
The Commodores lost to lowly Rutgers and beat Lipscomb and Norfolk State by just 10 points. Despite seeing a seven-game losing streak early in conference play, Vanderbilt was able to bounce back winning its last five games of the regular season to qualify for the NIT, where it lost to Stanford in the quarterfinals.
The biggest takeaway from the season was the inside-outside duo of Damian Jones and Riley LaChance. Jones is a legit NBA draft pick and had the chance to leave after last season. LaChance, just a sophomore in 2015-16 was a deadly shooter from outside and showed what the next couple of seasons can look like for Vanderbilt.
Key Offseason Departures: James Siakam (Forward)
Siakam is the only key departure for Vanderbilt and one of the reasons why people are so high on the Commodores heading into the 2015-16 season. Siakam, who played the power forward spot last year for the most part, averaged over nine points a game and nearly six rebound a game playing alongside Jones.
Siakam was a veteran leader, who played over 24 minutes per game, but to lose just one key player from a season before bodes well for Vanderbilt.
Key Additions: Joseph Toye (Power Forward), Camron Justice (Shooting Guard)
Vanderbilt has just two players in the class of 2015 and both Toye and Justice and three-star recruits. Don’t expect to see a whole lot of time from the two freshmen this year due to the depth and experience returning.
The biggest addition though for Vanderbilt is the fact Damian Jones came back for another year and passed up the NBA draft. There was talk that Jones was going to leave as he was projected to be a late first- or early second-round pick depending what site you looked at and many assumed he would be gone.
However, Jones decided to give college another year to continue to work on his game, which is the biggest addition Vanderbilt could have received.
Vanderbilt didn’t schedule any cupcakes in the preseason that’s for sure. The Commodores will face St. John’s, Baylor, Dayton and Purdue.
The game against St. John’s is the first round of the famous Maui Invitational, giving the ‘Doers a chance to play excellent competition with a field that includes Indiana, Kansas, UCLA, UNLV and Wake Forest. Vanderbilt will play either Wake or Indiana in the second round.
Vanderbilt is also traveling to Baylor and Purdue where it gets Dayton in Nashville.
Overall, the preseason schedule is one of the better ones in the country and should give Vanderbilt an excellent view of where it stands heading into conference play. In the SEC, the Commodores do have to play Kentucky twice as well as Texas A&M, two of the top four teams in the conference. Ideally Vanderbilt will win both home games and split those four games 2-2, but if it goes 1-3 it’s not the end of the world.
The absolute one thing Vanderbilt can’t do is go 0-4 against A&M and Kentucky.
Preview and Prediction
This isn’t a typical Vanderbilt team. This is a good team. There’s plenty of experience and depth on this roster and when you surround a NBA-caliber post player with a ton of shooters good things tend to happen in college basketball.
Vanderbilt is obviously not being overlooked as we have the Commodores at No. 22 in our voting poll and they are in other preseason polls as well. LaChance and Jones are one of the best inside-outside duos in the country and will be able to showcase that on a more national level this season with the preseason ranking.
Again, the Commodores won’t contend for a Final Four, but they can be slated as the second-best team in the SEC and should be able to make a run to the Sweet 16 with the talent they have this year.
This could go down as the best team Kevin Stalling has had during his time in Nashville.