Lance Goulbourne's growth as a basketball player should be one of Kevin Stallings's key selling points when it comes to luring recruits. Along with Festus Ezeli's growth, there are few better testaments to the work that this team's coaching staff can do.
Goulbourne came to Nashville in 2008 as an athletic player without a true natural position in the NCAA. He wasn't strong enough to defend or rebound against the SEC's power forwards. He lacked the ballhandling and quickness to play full-time at small forward. Still, he was a top tier athlete with a varied offensive game and the commitment to improve.
So what's a team to do?
Stallings and his staff saw something in Goulbourne. Maybe it was in the former tennis player's long frame and insane vertical leap. Maybe it was because they already had a potential All-American sliding into the starting wing spot and a lack of bodies that could be effective in the paint. Slowly, they began molding him into a power forward. It took time - Goulbourne's sophomore year was particularly difficult - but the player adapted.
Goulbourne developed into one of the SEC's top rebounders behind this coaching and instruction. He added 40 pounds to his frame and worked on his footwork in order to gain position on opposing bigs. His rebounding rate jumped from one rebound for every 6.22 minutes of court time to one for every 3.4 minutes. He began to finish better around the hoop. In short, he became a very solid - if inconsistent - NCAA power forward.
However, Goulbourne still struggled against the SEC's better teams. Take a look as some of his performances from 2010-2011. Fourteen points and 16 rebounds against Ole Miss. Zero points and one rebound against Kentucky. Sixteen and 17 against LSU. Two and six in a loss to Tennessee. More often than not, he was a non-factor in some of this team's biggest games.
The senior still has room to grow, and he'll have to fulfill that potential during the first two months of the season without Ezeli playing next to him. Lance Goulbourne is now this team's premiere big man, and while guys like Steve Tchiengang and Josh Henderson will lift some of the weight off of his shoulders, he's going to be counted on to scoop up rebounds and provide the occasional basket to keep this team's offense chugging along.
If he can be the player that averaged 11.3 rebounds per game in the first three weeks of league play in 2010-2011, then he'll create the opportunities that Vanderbilt needs to thrive and be one of this staff's biggest success stories. If not, the 'Dores might have to resort to much more small-ball than they'd anticipated this season.
The Starter: Lance Goulbourne - Goulbourne showed tremendous growth in his first year as a starter, eliminating many of his bad habits and developing into a solid rebounder his junior year. The former tennis star packed on muscle and became an effective player in the paint thanks to improved footwork that allowed him to capitalize on his long arms and jumping ability.
His sophomore year was a disaster, partially because he was rarely in position to pull down rebounds or score around the basket. Most missed shots ended up with Goulbourne reaching over an opponent's back to futilely grasp at the ball. Better forwards were routinely able to box the inexperienced post player out.
This all changed in the 2010-2011 season. While the SEC's stronger frontcourts still got the better of him, Goulbourne was a dominant rebounder against the league's mid-tier teams. He pulled down 16 rebounds against Ole Miss and averaged 15 per game against LSU. Unfortunately for the Commodores, teams like Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee were able to stifle his effectiveness.
The big question in 2011-2012 will be whether or not the senior can continue his incredible path of improvement and learn how to contribute against the NCAA's best post players. Despite his bulk and long arms, he's still going to be undersized against many of the SEC's power forwards. Can he continue to develop his technique in order to grab rebounds and keep possessions alive for the Commodores?
Offensively, he's a better shooter than his dire 27.6% three-point percentage suggests, and can stretch the floor - though not as well as Steve Tchiengang. Most of his points will come around the basket, and he's got a decent jumper that he can connect with consistently from 12-15 feet. However, he's not a focal point of this offense and doesn't have to be anything more than the fourth or fifth option the way the team is currently constructed.
The Back-up: Steve Tchiengang - Tchiengang, the face of this team on social media (@StevieThunder33), will likely see much more time at center than power forward to start the season in light of Festus Ezeli's knee injury and suspension. He's the team's largest body and has the power to defend in the post, though his size (6'9", 245 pounds) suggests that he's much better suited for forward duties than playing the pivot.
Tchiengang has a smooth shooting touch that makes him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Despite being hobbled by an ankle injury throughout last year's campaign, he was still an effective contributor on the offensive end and even led the team in three-point percentage (41.5%). His ability to stretch the floor not only gave the team another option behind the arc, but also opened things up in the interior for Ezeli, which helped contribute to the center's scoring explosion in 2010-2011.
In the paint, Tchiengang has a few moves around the basket that can be effective. However, his ballhandling makes it tough to trust him in while being bodied up for more than a few seconds at a time. He's much more efficient as a stretch four who can shoot than as a banger trying to get to the rim.
Defensively, Tchiengang has no problem using his body to smother opponents in the paint. Unfortunately, his aggressive style has also made him a magnet for foul calls - most of which are shrugged off by the most awesome condescending smile I've ever seen. His lateral quickness suffered last year thanks to his gimpy ankle, but he's still a solid defender at the 4.
The Combo-Guys: Rod Odom and James Siakam - Both players were covered in last week's small forward preview, but each will likely earn minutes at the four thanks to Ezeli's early-season injury. Siakam, a hard-nosed rebounder, is a natural power forward who goes hard after rebounds and defends tenaciously. However, at 6'6" his size may pose a problem when it comes to earning rotational minutes.
Odom has the height and speed to guard opposing big men, but lacks Siakam's strength and rebounding ability. Odom's finesse makes him a matchup problem similar to Tchiengang, but his lithe body and inability to effectively clear the glass mean that he'll only be a stopgap solution at the four unless he make strides from his freshman year. Since it appears that the sophomore is being groomed at small forward this season, expect his minutes at PF to be limited to small-ball situations.
The Freshman: Shelby Moats - Moats looks like he's built in the classic Vanderbilt power forward mold. His skillset will remind fans of Ross Neltner, as the freshman is a a slightly undersized (6'8", 225 lbs) forward who can rebound, shoot the three, and pass well in traffic. He's got plenty of room to develop and may end up redshirting in his first year on campus. If not, he'll likely earn some early minutes during the non-conference schedule to gauge his NCAA readiness. Moats has the potential to be a strong player in Kevin Stallings's system, but he may have to wait a year to put his skills to use.