Key Losses: G Jason Holwerda (6.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg), F/C Dawid Przybyszewski (6.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G/F Corey Smith (12.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Postseason: NIT Defeated Indiana 67–60, defeated Wichita State 65–63, lost to Memphis 81–68 in the quarterfinals
Memphis, TN/Transfer from Virginia
Dublin, OH/Dublin Coffman
College Park, MD/Medical Redshirt 2004-05
Byars is an athletic swingman who will be one of the team’s top offensive options. He started 18 games as a sophomore at Virginia two years ago and averaged 7.5 points per game, while shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range. Drake is a tremendous athlete who “has a body that is SEC-ready,” according to Stallings. He will compete for time as a reserve 2-guard. Madsen, a power forward from Ohio, has some decent offensive skills, but likely won’t be physically ready to compete in the SEC. He could redshirt. Nwankwo is a shot-blocking defensive specialist who will be a factor.
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Stallings isn’t one to offer effusive praise for his team, so when he admits that “there is some confidence among our inner circle that our team has a chance to be pretty decent,” you can translate that to mean Vanderbilt’s seventh-year coach believes the Commodores should be one of the better teams in the SEC this season.
Vanderbilt welcomes back three starters from a 20-win team that reached the quarterfinals of the NIT. The Commodores’ lineup will receive a significant boost from Derrick Byars, a talented transfer from Virginia who should slide right into the starting small forward spot.
Stallings’ task is to get his team to play more consistently. The Dores were dominant at times last season — seven of their eight SEC wins came by double digits, including three by 24 points or more — but they also lost to the two worst teams in the league, Georgia and Auburn.
Vanderbilt’s ability to get consistent scoring in the paint could be the difference between an 8–8 team and one that challenges for the top two spots in the SEC East.
Power forward Julian Terrell has teased Commodores fans with flashes of outstanding play in his three years at Vanderbilt, but the Nashville native has yet to deliver a complete season. He closed strong a year ago — averaging 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds over the final five games — giving the Commodores hope that he can shine as a senior.
When Stallings elects to go small, the 6-9 Terrell will slide over to center, and hardworking sophomore DeMarre Carroll, 6-7, will play power forward. “DeMarre is my kind of player in the regard that he plays with a great deal of toughness,” Stallings says.
When Terrell plays the 4, Ted Skuchas and Davis Nwankwo are the prime candidates to see time at center. Skuchas is a 6-11 fourth-year junior who was the team’s best post defender last season. The highly recruited Nwankwo was forced to redshirt last season after suffering a series of injuries early during his freshman season. He is an imposing physical specimen who will offer some shot-blocking and rebounding help. Alan Metcalfe, another sophomore, will earn some minutes after impressing the staff with his aggressive play in a limited role last season.
Stallings believes his team will feature two of the top wing players in the league in Byars and sophomore shooting guard Shan Foster. Byars, a former top 40 recruit from Memphis, could very well lead the tea, in scoring in his first season.
“He has the most complete offensive game of anybody on our team,” Stallings says.
The 6-6 Foster made a smooth transition from a high school center to a collegiate 2-guard and emerged as one of the SEC’s top 3-point shooters. He averaged 10.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in SEC play last year, and Stallings expects Foster’s scoring to increase as he becomes more comfortable playing on the perimeter.
Joining Foster and Byars in the starting lineup will be explosive but inconsistent point guard Mario Moore. The Commodores’ leading scorer in 2004-05, Moore was brilliant at times — he scored 18 points or more in eight games — but he struggled through a costly midseason funk.
Backing up Moore is Alex Gordon, another diminutive shoot-first point guard. Gordon ranked third on the team in scoring per 40 minutes (17.1), but Stallings would like to see him develop some more playmaking skills.
Junior Dan Cage and incoming freshman George Drake will battle for minutes at the 2-guard. Cage is perhaps the team’s best pure shooter, but he struggled down the stretch last season, hitting just 4-of-28 3-pointers over the final 12 games.
This will be the most talented team in the Stallings era. It is, however, not a team without issues. The Commodores desperately need someone to step up and provide low-post scoring, and they need a consistent season from Moore.
With key defections at both Florida and Kentucky, it’s conceivable that Vanderbilt could be in the hunt for the Eastern Division title.
“That is a more realistic goal than in any other year I have been here,” Stallings says. “We do have a lot of questions, but so do the other teams.”