The Vanderbilt men's basketball team kicked off their 2012-2013 campaign with a win on Saturday, beating Nicholls State 80-65 at Memorial Gym. The victory was a solid start in what should prove to be a rebuilding campaign for a young Commodore squad. Kevin Stallings will have to replace six players from last year's SEC Champions, and he'll have to do it without the indefinitely suspended Dai-Jon Parker.
While Parker's absence hurts, the 'Dores have the depth at guard to make due - at least in the short term. Vanderbilt wouldn't be as lucky if they were to lose one of their big men in 2013. The team is already adjusting to playing small ball, but they'll still need someone to man the pivot and pull down rebounds from the center position.
The Commodores have two young players who are slotted for minutes as the team's big man amongst a three-guard set. Redshirt sophomore Josh Henderson will have to prove that he can stay healthy if he wants to be a starter for Stallings this season. Behind him, power forward Shelby Moats will slide into whatever capacity the team needs him to fill as Vandy's only other reliable option over 6'6" in the paint.
How do these two stack up? Let's take a closer look:
Josh Henderson - Henderson was beginning to show promise as a redshirt freshman before suffering a stress fracture that ended his year early. His first year of NCAA play was essentially shut down after playing a career-high 18 minutes against Xavier. After that, injury woes limited him to just three minutes of game time for he rest of the season.
He's been the victim of a slow recovery process since then, falling prey to related injury issues and missing early fall practices as he worked his way back up into game shape. In Saturday's season opener, he played just 13 minutes despite the team's lack of depth amongst big men. His play wasn't exactly encouraging, either - Henderson scored three points but had just two rebounds in the Commodore win.
However, he has the ability to be an impact player for this team if he can use his combination of length and intelligence around the basket. Henderson showed off a nice scoring touch around the rim as a freshman, and his ballhandling, combined with solid passing from the post, help give this team an extra dimension on offense. No one is going to mistake him for Festus Ezeli, but he'll be able to protect the ball better and facilitate the offense more from his spot on the court than Ezeli did before him.
Henderson still has plenty of upside and the talent to develop into a threat on both sides of the court. He still needs to bulk up more, but he's an athletic player who has the intelligence to be a frustrating presence for opponents to deal with. First, he'll have to show that injuries haven't set his learning curve too far back. If he can be a healthy post presence in 2012-2013, he'll get all the minutes he can handle for the Commodores.
Shelby Moats - Moats has been starting as the team's lone big man as Henderson works back from injury this season, but he's expected to slide back to his natural power forward role whenever possible - i.e., whenever Hendo is on the court next to him. Those traditional 4-5 lineups might not see much running time under Kevin Stallings this year, so it's possible that Moats's sophomore season will be spent as a hybrid forward/center despite only being 6'8".
Aside from James Siakam, Moats is probably the team's most skilled player when it comes to getting position near the basket and pulling down rebounds in traffic. He's a strong forward with a soft shooting touch, but he's still learning how to be an efficient scorer against NCAA teams. He can body up opposing big men near the rim, but the SEC's taller centers will be able to shoot over him when they need to.