An SEC program is in rebuilding after suffering heavy losses in the NBA Draft. While the scenario sounds awfully familiar, it's probably not who you are thinking.
Like Kentucky, Vanderbilt too is looking to put the pieces back together after John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli were drafted in June, two of them in the first round. That trio combined for 46.1 points a game last season for a team that was the last one to beat Kentucky. The Commodores knocked off the Wildcats in the championship game of the SEC Tournament before Kentucky went on to win the national championship.
Vanderbilt won a combined 92 games over the last four seasons, including 26 last year before being eliminated in the Round of 32 during the NCAA tournament. How many games the Commodores will win this season is very much an open question after they lost their top six players from a year ago. They did win their opener, beating Nicholls State 80-65 last Saturday at home, but step up in class tonight with a visit to Oregon.
"It's an entirely different proposition this season," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "Our leading returning scorer averaged 3.1 points per game. We've had significant turnover on teams in the past, so we know how to deal with it. I think the biggest difference is we have nobody on this year's team that will be in a role anywhere similar to the one they had a year ago. Everything is going to ratchet up for all these guys, and that's part of what makes college basketball coaching exciting because you do have some turnover. "
If that's the case then Stallings is seemingly in for quite a thrill ride. The leading returning scorer Stallings mentioned is sophomore point guard Kedren Johnson, who also averaged 1.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 14.5 minutes a year ago. He had a big game against Nicholls State with 25 points, six rebounds and six assists.
"He has essentially stepped forward and identified himself as a guy we can play through and go to," Stallings said. "He's a talented offensive player. He has an atypical point guard body. He weighs about 215 pounds, and he carries that weight well, and he still runs and drives and can move the weight and move his body well. He's deceptively fast. I think Kedren is a guy that we'll be able to count on."
Vanderbilt got 55 of its 80 points from the backcourt last Saturday. Junior Kyle Fuller, who has moved from point guard to shooting guard this season, scored 15 point as as did Kevin Bright, a highly athletic 6-6 freshman.
Stallings is hoping to get some interior scoring from junior forward Rod Odom, who averaged 2.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists and 14.4 minutes a game last season. Odom had seven points and seven rebounds in the opener
"Rod will have to play well for our team to have the chance that we want to have," Stallings said.
Vanderbilt could also use some good health for 6-11 senior center Josh Henderson--and everyone else on a Kate Moss-thin roster. Henderson was limited to eight games last season because of a stress fracture in his foot that also caused him to miss part of the preseason. This year. He logged 13 minutes against Nicholls State and finished with three points and two rebounds. Henderson is one of just eight scholarship players on the roster.
"We're not as deep as we've been but I'm hopeful we'll have enough to do what we need to do to be successful," Stallings said. "We're not as talented as we've been. There's no question about that. At the same time, I think these guys are excited to embrace their opportunity to be players of impact in our program. Even though the talent is different, the expectation is not. We have a standard that we've been able to set and identify in our program that's worked for us, and hopefully our guys understand very well that we're not going to compromise or lower our standard even though we've had a great deal of turnover."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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