After watching most college basketball teams play over the past two days, Vanderbilt and Valparaiso open their seasons on Friday night in Nashville.
The Commodores (11-21 last season) begin their second year under coach Jerry Stackhouse after losing their top two players, guards Aaron Nesmith (23 points per game) and Saben Lee (18.6 ppg), both selected in last week’s NBA draft. Nesmith missed Vanderbilt’s final 18 games due to injury, and the Commodores won just three of those contests without him.
Unsurprisingly, Vanderbilt was picked last of the Southeastern Conference’s 14 teams in the league’s media poll.
However, the Commodores return a pair of potential sophomore standouts, guard Scotty Pippen Jr. (12 ppg) and forward Dylan Disu (7.4 ppg). They also bring back forward Clevon Brown (nine points, two blocks per game), who started all nine contests in which he played last season before a season-ending injury.
The bright spot is that Vanderbilt possesses depth it lacked last year, when multiple walk-ons were playing significant minutes many evenings. Adding two impact transfers, guard DJ Harvey (10.7 ppg in 2018-19 at Notre Dame) and forward Quentin Millora-Brown (7.2 ppg in 2018-19 at Rice), also helps.
“There’s parity there,” Stackhouse said. “We just want to try to see it unfold. It’s a numbers game. There’s gonna be some guys that maybe deserve to play a few more minutes than they’re actually gonna get, because it’s only a 40-minute game. But I think we’d much rather have that scenario than what we had last year when we had a lack of depth.”
Valparaiso (19-16 last year), picked eight of 10 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll, enters a fifth season under coach Matt Lottich.
Guard/forward Donovan Clay (9.4 ppg), a preseason second-team All-MVP pick, is the Crusaders’ leading returning scorer. The Crusaders return three others who started at least half the team’s games, forward Mileek McMillan (8.8 ppg), point guard Daniel Sackey (6.3 ppg) and forward Nick Robinson (6.2 ppg).
The Friday game was scheduled as an agreement between the schools when Vanderbilt hired former Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew in 2016. Drew lasted three seasons with the Commodores and is now in charge at Grand Canyon.
“We had more restrictions that we’ve ever had (in putting together the schedule),” Lottich said. “Normally, we get into this and it’s tough to find games because teams aren’t really eager to play us. That, in and of itself, is always a challenge. Then you throw in (COVID-19) restrictions by our institution and by other institutions, and it was a challenge.”
–Field Level Media