An Early Look: 2015-16 Nonconference Schedule

The Black & Gold Standard is an all-new VandyRadio Blog featuring general commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following every Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball game. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage (along with, on occasion, Max Herz) will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball throughout the year as the team looks to build on the success of last season. Check out the Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the young ‘Dores fight through the 2015-16 schedule.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated as of July 29 to reflect the officially released schedule.

As summer winds down and football season is on the way, some college basketball teams have started releasing nonconference schedules. Vandy released theirs earlier this year so why not take an early look?

November 13            Austin Peay (Maui Invitational opening round)

November 16            Gardner-Webb

November 19            Stony Brook

November 23            vs. St. John’s (Maui Invitational First Round)

November 24            vs. Indiana/Wake Forest (Maui Invitational Second Round)

November 25            Maui Invitational Third Round

December 2               Detroit

December 6              @ Baylor

December 9               Dayton

December 19             Wofford

December 22             @ Purdue

December 30            Western Michigan

January 30                 @ Texas (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

 

Last year’s nonconference schedule was extremely weak, ranking around 300th nationally by nearly every metric. This was, of course, by design so that the Commodore coaching staff could ease a young backcourt into college ball. For teams with NCAA hopes, a strong schedule is paramount to success: Xavier, Georgetown, and UCLA were among three of the consensus most overseeded teams last year that rode strong nonconference schedules to advantageous seeding come March. After a promising end to 2014 Coach Kevin Stallings has decided to ramp up the degree of difficulty here, and this schedule will be among the five strongest in the country if Vandy can win their first game in Maui and thereby place themselves in the winner’s bracket. Depending on how Maui goes, Vanderbilt could end up playing as many as five or six games against top-25 teams out of their 11 nonconference games, and even most of the lower profile dates feature solid competition. This will give Vanderbilt not only an advantage when it comes to NCAA Tournament selection and seeding, but matching up with some of the country’s best teams before SEC play starts should also accelerate the development of what is a fairly young, yet experienced, core that still has plenty of room to grow. Let’s start from the top.

 

Austin Peay, November 13

 

This year’s opener is part of the Maui Invitational, as all the “Island Participants” play one game on the mainland against an opponent from a smaller conference. A matchup with Austin Peay is most interesting because Vandy assistant and former Commodore power forward Julian Terrell is now one of the lead assistants for the Governors. Peay was one of the worst teams in the country last year and lost its two most efficient players, both starters. Austin Peay does bring back productive big man Chris Horton, but they will almost assuredly be the worst team on Vandy’s schedule and I’d expect this to be a blowout that will be one of the only two true burdens (along with Detroit) on the ‘Dores RPI and schedule numbers next year.

 

Gardner-Webb, November 16

 

At first glance this looks like an ordinary buy game against a weak opponent, but in reality a matchup with Gardner-Webb isn’t likely to turn into an albatross that brings the Commodores’ strength of schedule rating down significantly. The Runnin’ Bulldogs finished 20-15 last year, and while they lose two solid starters they bring back arguably their best two players in undersized big men Jerome Hill and Tyrell Nelson. Gardner-Webb featured a top-100 offense last year but had one of the worst defenses in the country; their main offensive weakness is rebounding and that plays into Vanderbilt’s hands. This is a good fit for an early season game in that Gardner-Webb won’t be a huge drag on Vandy’s SOS but has some key matchup disadvantages against VU that should make for a blowout win at home.

 

Stony Brook, November 19

 

The America East is one of the weaker conferences in the country, but its champion often pushes its NCAA Tournament opponent as Albany did last year against Oklahoma. Stony Brook was just 2 seconds away from a tournament berth last season when Albany’s Peter Hooley nailed a long three to win the conference tournament. This year, the Seawolves look to be at the top of the league again which would likely put them at an RPI just outside the top-100. Stony Brook plays tough defense and doesn’t give up offensive rebounds, but they can be beat from behind the three point line and don’t feature a very productive offense. Big man Jameel Warney and guard Carson Puriefoy lead the Seawolves and pose a nice challenge for Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin, respectively.

 

Maui Invitational, November 23-25

Before last year, KU was arguably college basketball's top program. They'll be the team to beat in Maui. (Nick Krug)
Before last year, many saw KU as college basketball’s top program. They’ll be the team to beat in Maui. (Nick Krug)

 

The Maui Invitational is famous for acting as a springboard to the NCAA Tournament for its participants. Using the rest of Vandy’s schedule as a starting point, Purdue (2o14), Baylor (2013), and Dayton (2013) all picked up at least one quality win in Maui that helped propel those respective teams to very successful seasons that exceeded expectations. This year’s top four or five teams are strong, but there’s a big drop-off after that, as UNLV and St. John’s are down and Wake Forest has potential but hasn’t proved they can compete in the ACC. Nonconference exempt tournaments such as Maui put together some basic seedings to keep things even and to make sure they get the best matchups possible for tv. This year, it looks like the organizers are eyeing a Kansas-Indiana final. Both will be preseason top 15 teams, and they’re on opposite sides of the bracket with Vandy paired with IU for a potential semifinal matchup while Kansas gets UCLA on the other side. It would be best to avoid Division II host Chaminade for strength of schedule purposes, while Wake probably represents the most dangerous second round opponent if Vandy somehow loses to St. John’s November 23. Luckily, that isn’t likely as St. John’s looks like the worst team in the Big East this year after losing all six of their main rotation players from a team that lost to San Diego State in the 8/9 game last season. New head coach Chris Mullin comes over from the Sacramento Kings and has never coached before; he doesn’t inherit much either, although there are a couple of good recruits headed to Queens. Guards Marcus LoVett and Federico Mussini (a reported Vandy target) give the Red Storm talent in the backcourt, but that may not even be enough for a winning season for the Johnnies. A blowout here would be great so that VU could rest some guys ahead of a big matchup against (likely) Indiana the next day. Kansas is a likely preseason top-5 team and IU will probably be somewhere between 10 and 15, so a neutral site win over either would be huge. A win over Kansas, one of college basketball’s true monoliths and a top three program, would show the country that Vanderbilt is for real and is a serious contender to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. As with any of these events, avoiding a first round loss is crucial. Otherwise, you end up in the losers bracket playing teams that sometimes don’t even make the NIT, and wins over those teams won’t add much to Vandy’s résumé.

 

Detroit, December 2

 

Detroit has a couple of good years back when current San Antonio Spur Ray McCallum, Jr. was on the team, but it’s been tough sledding the last two seasons in the Motor City and this year looks like another bad one. The Titans have hovered around 200 in RPI and KenPom the last two years, but having only two of those schedule-weakening teams on the docket is much better than what most teams go with. Detroit features talented sophomore Paris Bass as well as sharpshooter Anton Wilson, but they have little to no size and got blown out by Oregon last year in their only road game against NCAA Tournament level competition. This looks like a blowout.

After last year's win at Vandy, Baylor's Taurean Prince said the Bears just wanted to win one for the Big 12. Jeff Roberson wants to know if that's really the case.
After last year’s win at Vandy, Baylor’s Taurean Prince said the Bears just wanted to win one for the Big 12. Jeff Roberson wants to know if that’s really the case.

 

@ Baylor, December 6

 

After facing off in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge last year, Baylor and Vandy agreed to a home and home series that will return to Nashville next year. Baylor projects as a top-15 or even top-10 team to start the season if star big man Rico Gathers is still on the team (Gathers was charged with shoplifting during the offseason so his status is up in the air). The Bears have established themselves as a consistent tournament team so this game helps get some extra national exposure. Coach Scott Drew’s 2-3 zone caused Vandy some trouble on the perimeter last season and star wing Taurean Prince is back as a potential preseason All-American after scoring 19 at Memorial last year. Baylor’s only home losses last year were to Kansas and Oklahoma State (16-2 overall record) and they haven’t lost a nonconference home game in either of the last two seasons, so if Gathers is still on the team this will be a hard game to win. BU’s guards turned the ball over like crazy last year and the team as a whole had trouble finishing at the rim, which can be a problem for anyone against Vandy’s interior (especially now that they’ve added my new favorite enforcer, D’Jery Baptiste). The Bears’ defense is well-rounded but doesn’t rebound the ball particularly well (189th in the country) so VU will probably need a big game from Damian Jones.

 

Dayton, December 9

 

Dayton's Dyshawn Pierre is a combo forward who's particularly adept at posting up shorter and/or less bulky defenders. (Dayton Flyers YouTube)
Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre is a combo forward who’s particularly adept at posting up shorter and/or less bulky defenders. (Dayton Flyers YouTube)

Along with Purdue, this is the most intriguing game to me (and not just because of my connection to the program). Dayton has burst onto the scene the last two years with their ability to play any style of basketball well. Coming into this season they project as a borderline top-25 team that probably won’t shoot many threes and yet also doesn’t have a proven presence at center, as they played 6’6” power forward Kendall Pollard at the 5 last year after some high profile dismissals. Dayton is experienced and they’ve shown they can win important games against high level Power 5 teams, both on the road and at neutral sites. The Flyers have one of the best coaches in the country in Archie Miller and they play extremely physical, having learned to play without fouling while using some sneaky and creative ways to to play to contact without getting called. UD will be able to switch most ball screens due to their plethora of versatile wing-sized players, and they don’t have any glaring weaknesses now that they add 6’11” redshirt freshman Steve McElvene who can provide rebounding and shot blocking. This is a game where Damian Jones should be able to go for 25-10, and if Vandy can find a decent enough matchup that will allow them to limit playmaking forward Dyshawn Pierre then they could win going away. VU will need support on the perimeter for Riley LaChance, however, as Kyle Davis is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and was one of a select few to shut down Stefan Moody of Ole Miss last year. This game will test the ‘Dores ability to play in an NCAA Tournament-like situation where a lot of contact goes uncalled, plus Dayton could be as high as a 5 or 6 seed in next year’s tournament so this will clearly be circled by fans as the premier home nonconference game by far.

 

Wofford, December 19

 

Wofford came up just short against Arkansas last March, but Eric Garcia is among the multiple key returners that should put the Terriers back in the NCAA Tournament again. (CoxSports TV YouTube)
Wofford was this close to upsetting Arkansas last March, and Eric Garcia is among the key returners that should put the Terriers back in the NCAA Tournament again. (CoxSports TV YouTube)

This game comes after the dreaded finals week that (gasp!) doesn’t matter at all! (Just my humble opinion; I never get why this is such a big deal) Wofford, however, is a mature and experienced team that won 28 games last year and dominated the SoCon before putting a scare into Arkansas in the NCAA first round. Wofford loses only one player from last season, as SoCon player of the year Karl Cochran departs. While Cochran will be hard to replace, he wasn’t a very efficient scorer so it’s more so his overall floor game and defense that makes the difference here.  The Terriers aren’t a strong offensive rebounding team, but the ability of their guards to chip in on the defensive boards means Vandy won’t get to feast on the offensive glass like they will against most undersized teams. Wofford won at Sweet 16 participant NC State last season, so this is a dangerous game that the ‘Dores have a real chance to lose. Wofford could well be a top-50 team next year, so this isn’t a high-risk, low-reward game; a win would actually contribute to NCAA seeding, and a loss would be suboptimal but not a killer either.

 

@ Purdue, December 22

 

Purdue's Isaac Haas represents just one third of the Boilermakers' elite big man rotation. (USATSI)
Purdue’s Isaac Haas represents just one third of the Boilermakers’ elite rotation of big men. Hopefully those #B1GRefs call this a foul in West Lafayette. (USATSI)

The Boilermakers surprised nearly everyone last year by vaulting to the upper echelon of the Big Ten and comfortably making the tournament as a 9 seed. Purdue showcased two of the biggest and best centers in college basketball last season in AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas, and now they’ve added 5-star big man and FIBA u-19 Gold Medalist Caleb Swanigan. This will be a huge test for Damian Jones and his draft stock, and playing the first road game of the year against a preseason top-15 team is a huge test for the team as a whole. The ‘Dores have the personnel to limit strong and athletic Purdue combo forward Vince Edwards, but that might require more minutes for Jeff Roberson and Joseph Toye at the three as opposed to Matthew Fisher-Davis or Nolan Cressler. Purdue lost point guard Jon Octeus to graduation and already had turnover issues last season, but Coach Stallings’s teams have never been known for forcing turnovers so that’s unlikely to be an area where the Commodores take particular advantage of. The Boilermakers were pretty even on offense vs. defense last year, but they didn’t shoot the three well and didn’t defend it particularly well either. With the amount of beef and shot blocking Purdue has inside, this may be a game where Vandy’s elite outside shooting will need to carry them through, and that’s a risky proposition on the road in an unfamiliar environment. It’s early, but this could be one of the three or four toughest games on VU’s schedule all year.

 

Western Michigan, December 30

 

Western Michigan took a step back last year after winning the sneaky-good MAC two years ago, but they’re a team that should end up between 100 and 150 in RPI and KenPom. The Broncos return a talented offense to go with a mediocre defense, and they pushed pretty good teams like Northwestern and Toledo on the road last year. MAC teams rarely go easy, and WMU has some size in 6’10” center Drake LaMont. WMU and Wofford are the two buy game opponents that have a chance to give VU a slight scare, but neither will bring the strength of schedule down and the risk is probably worth the reward. As the last game before SEC play starts, this is a game that will keep Vandy sharp.

 

@ Texas, January 30 (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

 

I was hoping to see Iowa State or Oklahoma for this game, but a rematch of Vandy’s 2013 loss in Austin isn’t a bad consolation prize. Texas has talent and upgraded at coach with Shaka Smart, but the roster doesn’t fit Smart’s style and that means there’s a wide range of possibilities for the Longhorns’ season. Smart runs an up-tempo, aggressive pressing style that gained fame during his time at VCU under the name, “HAVOC.” Texas usually plays a lot of big, lumbering big men like Cameron Ridley and 2015 lottery pick Myles Turner and that don’t run the floor particularly well, and the Horns played at only the 300th fastest pace last year while forcing turnovers at the second lowest rate in the entire country. The interesting thing is that while Ridley is still in Austin, Prince Ibeh will surely take Turner’s minutes and bring more athleticism and mobility, making him a better fit for Smart’s system. The real UT does return most of their rotation and projects as a team that will at least be in contention to make the tournament, so a road win in Austin would have value while a loss wouldn’t hurt the ‘Dores. Texas was 13-5 at the Frank Erwin Center last year, so they’re not particularly tough at home compared to programs of similar stature. This is a great opportunity for Vandy to pad their résumé with a winnable road game against a good team that would look good come March.

Check out VandyRadio’s comprehensive Vanderbilt sports blog series. Building the Masonic Tradition covers Commodore football, The Black & Gold Standard covers VU hoops, and Eyes of the Hawk covers Vandy baseball. VandyRadio.com is your home for year-round coverage of your favorite Vanderbilt teams.

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