The Future Looks Bright For Commodore Basketball

As Scotty Pippen Jr.’s last-second prayer bounced off the backboard against Xavier, suddenly the season was over. The Commodores were bounced by the Musketeers in the third round of the NIT by a score of 75-73. Vandy fans are now left to reflect on Coach Jerry Stackhouse’s third season while looking ahead to his pivotal fourth season coming up. While fans agree the program showed improvement in Stackhouse’s third season – finishing with a 19-17 record and winning four postseason games (two in the SEC tournament, two in the NIT) — they remain divided on whether he is the right coach for the long haul.

On the one hand, playing on the opening night of the SEC tournament was a disappointment. However, one could make a strong argument this year’s team would have made the NCAA Tournament with full, healthy seasons from transfers Rodney Chatman and Liam Robbins. This season was yet another microcosm of Stack’s tenure which has been plagued with injuries to key players. In his second season, he lost his top frontcourt player Dylan Disu to a knee injury for the final eight games. In his first season, he lost NBA lottery pick, Aaron Nesmith, after only 14 games to a stress fracture in his foot. Stackhouse needs to pray the injury gods are kinder in his fourth season.

With the loss to Xavier, Vanderbilt dropped to 6-7 in games decided by six points or fewer this season. Again, it’s debatable how much of that blame should be assigned to Stackhouse. Was it his fault the team failed to get off a shot before the buzzer at home against South Carolina? Was it his fault Jordan Wright missed the game-tying layup in the closing seconds at home against Alabama, or Scotty Pippen Jr. missing the front end of a one-and-one to tie the game at home against Florida?

One positive is the team didn’t lose by 20 or more this season. This is significant considering Vandy finished 11th in the SEC, showing the team was competitive night in and night out. Their only real blowout was a 19-point loss at Florida. Vandy was the only team to beat one of the top four SEC teams on the road – at Arkansas – and they hung tough with heavyweights Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
While there are legitimate reasons for the rebuild being slower than fans would have liked – most notably the aforementioned injuries — there is also a certain point where “you are what your record says you are”. Next season feels like it’s time for Stackhouse to really show the fans something with his team – an NCAA tournament or bust year. Fortunately, he seems to have the pieces in place for that to happen.

The program has already lost three players to the transfer portal: Jamaine Mann, Terran Frank, and Shane Dezonie. The departures of Mann and Frank are not surprising as appears the strength of the team will be in the frontcourt with Jordan Wright, Myles Stute, Quentin Millora-Brown, and Liam Robbins all returning. Add to that highly-rated freshman Lee Dort and Colin Smith set to join the team, and there just doesn’t appear to be a lot of minutes available for fringe frontcourt players.

The loss of Dezonie, a former Arizona commitment, is more significant with the backcourt looking less certain for next season. Although his freshman numbers won’t blow you away, he was one of the few on the roster with legitimate SEC athleticism who also showed nice shooting touch. If Pippen leaves, as most are expecting, that leaves only Tyrin Lawrence, Gabe Dorsey, and Trey Thomas returning. They will be joined by sharp-shooting freshman Noah Shelby, who figures to have a prominent role with the team in his first season. Of course, on the off-chance Pippen was to return, that could be the difference between a potentially good team becoming a great team. Either way, expect Stackhouse to look to the portal for more guards.

The 21-22 season had its share of highs and lows, and it was rarely dull. As we close that chapter and look ahead, next season looks like one in which the magic might finally return to Memorial Gym. The Dore Report will continue updating potential roster changes through the off-season.

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