The Vanderbilt Commodores improved to 2-1 on the season with a 75-52 victory over Norfolk State on Friday.
Here are several takeaways from the game.
1. Riley LaChance may be finding his rhythm again
LaChance’s sophomore year struggles have been well-documented at this point, but a new season and new system allowed him to start with a blank slate.
And while it’ll take time for him to match his outstanding freshman form, his play against the Spartans was definitely a step in the right direction.
LaChance came out on fire early in the second half to give Vandy the spark that it needed after a somewhat sluggish first 20 minutes, and finished with 12 points on the night.
“I’m really happy for Riley,” said head coach Bryce Drew. “He played his best five minutes of the season to start that second half.”
Confidence is everything, so there’s no doubt that even a five-minute stretch like that could be all that he needs to keep things rolling.
If LaChance can find consistency and continue to knock down open shots, he’ll make the Commodores a much more dangerous team throughout the season.
2. Jeff Roberson continues to be the guy that can do it all
I asked Vandy center Luke Kornet at SEC Media Day if the term “glue guy” was the best way to describe Jeff Roberson.
He thought that was underselling Roberson’s value. And he may have been right.
But there’s no doubt that every good team needs a guy that holds everything together. Roberson is that guy for Vandy. He does so many things well on both ends of the floor that he simply has to be on the court at all times.
He added another double-double to his career total against Norfolk State, scoring 11 points and adding 11 rebounds on the night.
His versatility will continue to be a huge asset for this Vandy team.
3. Vandy’s offense continues to progress
The talent of Norfolk State doesn’t quite compare to the talent of Marquette. However, with a few games under their belt, it feels like the Commodores are starting to get a little more comfortable with their new system.
Vandy still committed a higher number of turnovers than it needed to against the Spartans (13), but the overall decision making in driving the lane and creating open shots was encouraging. It’s also worth noting that only seven of those turnovers came from the starting five.
Everyone knew that adjusting to a completely different offensive scheme would take time. It always does.
And while you can’t read too much into one game against an inferior team, it’s another round of experience that will benefit the Commodores going forward.
4. Djery Baptiste could be a special player down the line
Foul trouble limited what the big freshman could do against Marquette and Belmont.
That didn’t happen on Friday, as Vandy fans got a chance to see what he is capable of against the Spartans. And the potential was obvious.
Baptiste’s stat line was nothing special (seven points and seven rebounds, plus three blocked shots), but it was about a whole lot more than stats in the 18 minutes that he played.
You can’t teach his level of athleticism. The guy has the length to cause disruption on every single shot in the paint, and once he adds finesse around the rim on offense, he will be tough to stop.
His breakthough likely won’t come this season, but if keeps learning game by game and develops his overall skill set, he’s going to be really good.
5. Vandy’s bench play will determine the success of this team
This is the part of the season where Drew is still working out rotations in the lineup.
Even when the rotation is a bit more settled, here’s something that we know for sure: the Commodores will need production from their bench.
They got that production against Norfolk State. The question is, will they get it against SEC competition?
Players like Baptiste and swingman Joe Toye undoubtedly have the athleticism to make key contributions during conference play. It may not even be all that surprising to see Toye find his way into the starting lineup before conference play arrives.
Freshman guard Payton Willis is another player that will add value as he fights through the typical adjustment period that young point guards face when going from high school to college.
The potential is there for Vandy to be a well-rounded team that can succeed with several different lineups.
And that’s what it’ll take if this team wants to be in the NCAA tournament discussion come March.