Under the guidance of a pair of former NBA All-Stars, Vanderbilt and Memphis face off in each team’s season opener on Monday evening in Nashville.
The host Commodores, led by fourth-year coach Jerry Stackhouse, went 19-17 last season, bowing out in the NIT quarterfinals against eventual champion Xavier. It was Vanderbilt’s first winning season and postseason appearance since making the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Fifth-year coach Penny Hardaway took Memphis to last year’s NCAA Tournament, his first, before falling to Gonzaga in the second round.
“In the past, I’ve seen them, they get out there, they really pressure, they deny, even some full-court press,” Stackhouse said when asked about the Tigers.
Vanderbilt lost two-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. to the NBA but returns six scholarship players and adds a pair of Division I transfers, point guard Ezra Manjon (UC Davis) and forward Emmanuel Ansong (Green Bay).
Manjon (15 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game last season), has a huge task in taking over for Pippen, who averaged more than 20 points in each of his last two seasons.
Vanderbilt also returns guard/forward Jordan Wright (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg), 7-foot forward Liam Robbins (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and forward Myles Stute (8.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg). Robbins led the Big 10 in blocks at Minnesota two years ago (2.7 per game) but struggled to stay healthy last year, while Stute led the SEC in 3-point percentage (.432).
Neither Vanderbilt nor Memphis is ranked in the AP’s preseason poll, which left the Tigers feeling disrespected heading to the opener.
“Guess we’re the underdogs,” said UTEP transfer Keonte Kennedy (14.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg), who briefly commited to Vanderbilt this summer before officially joining Memphis. “We gotta get out of the mud and come from the bottom. We all like to play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Memphis is led by SMU transfer guard Kendric Davis (19.4 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.8 rpg), last year’s American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. The Tigers also return starting point guard Alex Lomax (6.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) and second-team All-AAC forward DeAndre Williams (11.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
Georgia Southern transfer guard Elijah McCadden (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) should also help, as could Illinois-Chicago transfer guard Damaria Franklin (17.9 ppg, 6.9 ppg), who has yet to be ruled eligible by the NCAA to play at Memphis.
The teams last met in the 2005 NIT, when the Tigers beat Vanderbilt 81-68 in a quarterfinal game.
–Field Level Media