There's nothing like senior leadership at point guard. Alex Gordon has started 55 games in his Vanderbilt career, and the Commodores are 38-17 in those contests. He started 32 of 34 games last season, and Vandy lost both of the games in which he wasn't on the floor for the opening tip. He's a steady, heady player who excels at getting the ball to the right person at the right time. His assist-to-turnover ratio was better than 2-to-1 last season. He also is a decent 3-point shooter (38.2 percent) who figures to get more shots this season.
Who starts alongside Gordon is about the only question the Commodores have coming off a surprise run to the Sweet 16.Jermaine Beal, a former four-star prospect, improved steadily during his freshman season. The combo guard has nice size (6-3, 210), and he'll get the first shot to crack the lineup. He can get to the rack, but will need to shoot it better from the outside than he did last year.
With Shan Foster back in the mix, the Commodores have an offensive threat.
George Drake also will compete for minutes, as will freshman Keegan Bell - a three-star point guard ranked 28th at his position by Rivals.com.
Shan Foster will be the go-to guy for the Commodores. He has the ability to carry the team, and he may have to on occasion in the absence of Derrick Byars. Foster is one of the best shooters in the country, though his 3-point percentage dipped under 40 percent in a season for the first time last year. He has gotten stronger and improved dramatically on the defensive end.
He should be the main benefactor of the presence of freshman center Andrew Ogilvy, a 6-11 Australian prospect whom the Commodores privately believe will make a major impact. Ogilvy is the first true post presence to sign with Vanderbilt since Kevin Stallings arrived in Nashville nine years ago. Ogilvy can score the ball on the block, and he has range out to 15-16 feet. He's an excellent passer, and he works the boards hard. He dominated at the 19-Under World Championships in Serbia, averaging 22.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He also shot a jaw-dropping 68.6 percent from the field.
The other starter up front is Ross Neltner, who proved to be a nice addition last season after transferring from LSU. He led the team in rebounding and provided solid play on both ends of the floor. If he doesn't have to provide as much of the banging and board work, he should increase his scoring average. Neltner also has a nice mid-range game.
Coach Kevin Stallings turned up the tempo last season and didn't use as much of the Princeton-style principles he had employed in the Commodores' offense. Vanderbilt again will look to push the ball and run on makes and misses, and there will be more freelancing in the offense.
If Ogilvy is a force on the inside, look for the Commodores to work the ball through him. In turn, his presence should create more room on the outside for shooters such as Foster and Gordon. It's possible, perhaps even likely, that Vanderbilt won't shoot as many 3-pointers as it has in recent years. But the expectation is the 3-point percentage will increase.
The Commodores mostly will employ man-to-man. They're not afraid to play zone if necessary, but they will stick to man 75-80 percent of the time.
Outlook with postseason forecast
Stallings has led Vanderbilt to the Sweet 16 twice in the past four years, and he continues to lure talent with which he can work. Ogilvy is a major find. It will be interesting to watch Stallings transition his team from a perimeter-oriented offense to one that pounds the ball into the post. The Commodores have the luxury of tremendous senior leadership in Foster, Gordon and Neltner to go along with some promising young players. If the Aussie lives up to the billing and Vanderbilt shoots the ball like it's capable, a return trip to the NCAA Tournament is a safe bet.
Shoes to Fill
F Derrick Byars (17.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.4 apg). The coaches' pick for SEC Player of the Year was Mr. Clutch for the Commodores. On those occasions when Vanderbilt needed to be carried, Byars did the job.
Must Step Up
F Shan Foster. Foster had an excellent summer. He made the U.S. Pan-Am Games team and was second on the U.S. team in scoring (9.4 ppg), third in rebounding (4.4) and led in 3-pointers made (10). He also proved himself as a defender. With Byars alongside, Foster didn't have to carry the load. But this is Foster's team now. He didn't shoot it well last season by his standards, but no one in the SEC questions his ability.
C A.J. Ogilvy. If you haven't already read enough about Ogilvy, consider this: Multiple 2008 NBA mock drafts list him as a first-round pick should he leave Vanderbilt early.
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Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .