Small Ball: The Logical Evolution of Vanderbilt Basketball

Crystal LoGiudice-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

For the first time in five years, Vanderbilt will have to shift the focus away from their big men if they want to compete in the SEC. Can the 'Dores handle a return to small ball in 2012-2013?

The Vanderbilt Commodores have been blessed with big men over the past five years. Kevin Stallings has had the advantage of two prime centers in A.J. Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli in recent seasons. Those All-SEC performers were flanked by capable defenders and strong rebounders in guys like Ross Neltner, Steve Tchiengang, and Lance Goulbourne.

Unfortunately, Vandy won't have any of those guys in 2012-2013. Instead, the 'Dores will have to focus on their backcourt to win games in what is primed to be a rebuilding season in Nashville. The reins have been turned over to players like Rod Odom, Kyle Fuller, Kedren Johnson, Dai-Jon Parker, and Josh Henderson. If those guys are going to put together a successful season, they'll have to adapt to a style of play that puts more of a focus on the perimeter and harkens back to the days of Shan Foster and Derrick Byars.

That means that the traditional five man lineup that the Commodores turned to in 2011-2012 will be scarce this season. Instead of two-guard, two-forward, one-center setups, Kevin Stallings will have to turn to alternatives. His team will only boast three players that are 6'9" or taller. Of those three, only junior Rod Odom has more than 16 games of NCAA experience under his belt.

In response, the 'Dores will turn to a number of small ball lineups that put the focus on the team's strength - their guards and wings. Fuller, Johnson, Parker, and freshmen A.J. Astroth and Kevin Bright will be pressed into big minutes for a lineup that will likely include plenty of three-guard sets. That would slide Odom to primary duty as the team's big forward alongside a traditional center (Josh Henderson) or an undersized bruiser (Shelby Moats) at the five. First-year player Sheldon Jeter, the team's highest rated recruit in 2012, could also see significant minutes at either forward position depending on matchups.

That's a lineup that has plenty of speed and scoring capability, but not much rebounding. Unfortunately, that's a flaw that Stallings and his staff will have to build around in 2013. This year's edition of the Commodores will be stocked with athletic shooters but little bulk on the front lines. Vanderbilt has some intriguing players who could come up big as post players, but none with proven experience in the paint.

Odom has shown that he can handle a jump in minutes for the coming season, but he's been at his best on the perimeter and has been an underwhelming rebounder and post player. In 2011-2012, he recorded only two rebounds in 14.4 minutes per contest. Henderson showed a soft touch around the basket in his eight games before getting injured last season, but he's still a lithe youngster who could be vulnerable against the SEC's tougher big men. Moats could be a pleasant surprise for the 'Dores, but he only played limited minutes for the team in '12.

For the Commodores to be successful, they'll have to turn a non-traditional frontcourt into a complementary piece behind their young core of guards. Kedren Johnson emerged in 2012 behind the clutch scoring that drew comparisons to Jermaine Beal. Dai-Jon Parker and Sheldon Jeter are both athletic, highly-recruited swing men that can guard multiple positions and shoot threes in bunches. Kyle Fuller, the junior bull of a point guard, will need to provide leadership and defense in order to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore campaign.

The 2012-2013 Vanderbilt Commodores will rely on young players and big-time shooting displays to get through a season where they'll have to replace six major contributors to last year's NCAA Tournament team. Fortunately, that means that former top 150 recruits like Odom, Johnson, Parker, Fuller, Jeter, and James Siakam will get a chance to shine on the raised stage of Memorial Gym. Kevin Stallings will have to find a way to play to their strengths, and that means lots of shooting and pesky perimeter defense.

Fortunately, that's an area that Vanderbilt has excelled at for years.

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