Vanderbilt basketball is two games into their exhibition season, but there's still plenty of questions that remain for Kevin Stallings's rebuilding effort in 2012-2013. Can the Commodores survive with an undersized and inexperienced roster? Will Rod Odom step up and become a starting-caliber forward? Will Dai-Jon Parker's absence cost this team any wins? Will James Siakam be able to play as well against Division I teams as he has against Division II programs?
Those questions also apply to Vanderbilt's frontcourt, where Shelby Moats and Josh Henderson are the only two traditional big men on the roster. Power forward will be a dynamic position in what is sure to be plenty of small-ball lineups this winter. The 'Dores have one guy who is long enough to create problems in Odom, but he lacks the bulk to be much more than a stretch four. They have another guy who is strong and tenacious on the glass in Siakam, but he lacks the height and length to be a prototypical power forward. Complementing that duo is sophomore Shelby Moats, who is a banger with a soft shooting touch, but he may need more seasoning before he can make a true impact for Stallings's team.
Vandy has thrived with non-traditional big men in their power forward spot before. The 'Dores made up for the losses of guys like Dan Langhi and Matt Freije by letting their backcourt handle the heavy lifting and using their superior shooting to offset their lack of post scoring. Guys like Derrick Byars, Dan Cage, and Lance Goulbourne evolved into capable players at the 4 and helped lead this team to the postseason despite a lack of prototypical size.
Part of their success there was also tied to a coaching staff that helped these players utilize better positioning in the paint and cerebral play to help offset any mismatches around the rim. Vanderbilt will have plenty of opportunities to mold young players in 2013, as Odom is the only upperclassman who will be counted on to work against opponents' big men. So which prospect will get the call for Vandy when the season starts this week? Let's look at the candidates.
Rod Odom (6'9", 215 lbs) - Odom will be counted on to handle much of the team's scoring load in 2012-2013. The junior forward is a smooth shooter who has the speed and ballhandling to get into the lane, but he's been an outside presence for most of his time in Nashville so far. Now, with Jeffery Taylor and Lance Goulbourne no longer taking playing time away from him, he'll have to prove that he can round out his game to be an effective presence in the SEC.
Odom has filled the SF/PF role in Vanderbilt's small-ball offense so far this preseason. He's been the lone forward playing behind Stallings's three-guard lineup, which will pit him against some of the SEC's toughest bruisers when conference play starts. The junior has looked stronger so far in 2012-2013, but he'll have to show some serious improvement if he's going to effectively guard opposing bigs one-on-one in the post. He has the talent and athleticism to do it, but it may be too much, too soon for the still-developing forward.
For more on Odom, check out last week's small forward position primer.
Shelby Moats (6'8", 225 lbs) - Moats played sparingly his freshman year, but showed flashes of capable basketball in his limited appearances. The Minnesota big man is a solid shooter who isn't afraid to take three-pointers. He's also difficult to move in the paint and one of the 'Dores strongest players.
Moats has been filling in at PF/C in the team's three guard lineup early in the season, but he may cede minutes at the five to true center Josh Henderson. He's still developing as a player, and he'll need to adjust quickly to being a rotational player on a team that is about to get thrown into the fire of NCAA play. If he can provide some muscle in the paint, he'll be called on to soak up plenty of minutes as a sophomore. However, he'll have to improve his shot selection and learn to clamp down on defense without fouling first.
James Siakam (6'6", 210 lbs) - Siakam was a question mark headed into the season, but his tenacious rebounding in exhibition play may have forced him into some significant minutes as the team's lone forward when Stallings calls for three guard lineups. "Bamba" pulled down 17 rebounds - 11 offensive - against St. Xavier and followed that performance up with seven more in 18 minutes against Delta State. In all, he's recorded 24 rebounds, including 16 that followed Commodore misses, in 45 minutes of game time this season.
The redshirt sophomore is only 6'6", but his strength, athleticism, and motor make him seem bigger on the court. He's the smallest of the team's primary rebounders, but that also makes him third on the list. Only Moats and center Josh Henderson can be reliably counted on to pull down loose balls in the paint. That lack of depth alone will make Siakam an invaluable member of this team if he can translate his exhibition skills to SEC showdowns.
Siakam still has plenty to prove. He'll have to show that his tenacity can translate into efficient defense and that he can avoid foul trouble. He'll also have to continue to flesh out his scoring and show that he can make shots from outside the paint. Still, if he can pull down Vandy's misses at a proficient rate, he'll have a major role for a team that is looking for an insurance policy to back up their outside shooting.
Sheldon Jeter/Kevin Bright (6'7", 215/6'5", 210 lbs) - Both players are capable of playing small forward, and in Kevin Stallings's shallow depth chart, that means that they'll probably get a few chances at the 4 as well. Both players are strong shooters who are too small to be traditional power forwards. Still, they're both growing - both physically and as basketball players - and could end up being a pleasant surprise for a Commodore team that will be looking to stretch the floor more than they'll be feeding the ball to the post.