Kevin Stallings is no stranger to unorthodox lineups. In what may be his finest year as Vanderbilt's head coach, he used undersized sharpshooter Dan Cage at every position from point guard to power forward. That left the Danimal - 6'5" on a good day - covering SEC standouts from Jamont Gordon to Joakim Noah.
And it worked. The 'Dores rode that talented but untraditional lineup to a Sweet Sixteen berth and were one Jeff Green travel away from a trip to the Elite Eight.
Vanderbilt will have to work out a similar setup in 2013, as a Commodore team chock full of guards and wings will look to replace the rebounding, scoring, and defense that frontcourt standouts Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, and Steve Tchiengang gave them last season. Much of that flexibility will come from a deep core of small forwards. Many of Vandy's bigger wings will be called upon to guard opposing power forwards and spend time in the paint playing grinding defense and pulling down rebounds in traffic.
The Commodores have a cache of inexperienced players who will see time at the 3 and 4 in 2012-2013. Some are long and lean but better suited to play on the perimeter. Others are short and strong and should never be more than 10 feet from the basket. Kevin Stallings has plenty of pieces to work with for the coming season. The tricky part will be making them all fit in order to create a cohesive unit that can win SEC basketball games. Here's who the team will be turning to at the 3 this winter:
Rod Odom - Odom is listed as a power forward in his official Vanderbilt profile, but his skills suggest that he's a small forward all the way. While the junior has the height to play inside at 6'9", his lithe body and preference to play on the perimeter make him a more natural 3 than a 4. Odom has never been a strong rebounder, but he's a tough defensive presence around the arc and he's more likely to score from 22 feet away than he is around the rim. 40 of his 77 shots in 2011-2012 came from three-point range.
Odom is a solid, if streaky, shooter from long distance. He has connected on about 37 percent of his three-pointers since arriving in Nashville in 2010. Defensively, he uses his long arms and solid quickness to help bottle up opposing wings. However, he can be bullied by stronger players, and needs plenty of support in the paint.
The biggest question surrounding Vanderbilt's elder statesman - seriously, Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller are the oldest members of this team - will be whether or not he can rebound from a sophomore year that saw him fail to progress as a player. Odom showed flashes of potential as a freshman and looked like he would be able to develop into a constant contributor for the Commodores. Instead, he regressed a bit in his sophomore year, settling for bad shots, falling out of place for rebounds, and even shooting a paltry 54.5 percent from the free throw line.
Vandy is going to need more out of their veteran leader if they want to make it back to the postseason in 2013. Odom will have to carry this team's expectations on his shoulders, and he'll be given every chance to shine as a junior. He'll be set for all the playing time that he can handle, but he is going to have to prove that he deserves it first. That means he'll have to shore up his interior game and become much more than just a complementary presence that hangs around outside the paint.
The pieces are in place for Odom to make "the leap" in 2013. He has the talent and skills to shine, but he'll also have to deal with opponents who know roughly what to expect from him on the court. He'll have to flesh out his game and add an extra dimension if he wants to add his name to Vanderbilt's list of wing standouts like Jeffery Taylor, Derrick Byars, and, why not, Dan Cage before him.
Kevin Bright - We tackled Bright last week when we looked at this team's shooting guards, but the German national is likely to split time between the wing positions depending on Vanderbilt's needs. Bright is a versatile player who plays hard-nosed defense but can also score from inside and out on the offensive end. His experience with Germany's national under-18 program may give him the edge when it comes to backing up - or playing alongside - Odom at the 3. He flew under the radar as a prospect, but it looks like Kevin Bright will have several opportunities to show scouting services what they missed as the upcoming season wears on.
Sheldon Jeter - One clue to Jeter's role on this team in 2012-2013 may have come through the Vanderbilt media this preseason. Jeter was one of three Commodore players - including Kyle Fuller and Josh Henderson - to pull modeling duty for the team's new uniforms for the upcoming season. Does that mean that he'll lead the class of 2012 when it comes to playing time this season?
Alright, that's not exactly a dead-set omen, but Jeter may very well be the most talented of the three newcomers to Memorial Gym this fall. The Pennsylvania native was a late bloomer in high school, rising from a low-major target as a guard to a Top 150 prospect at graduation. The biggest reason behind his rise was a growth spurt - Jeter grew to 6'7" while retaining the ballhandling and passing skills that he showcased early in his career. His highlight tape evolved from jumpers and lay-ups to blocked shots and dunks, showing the skills that he'll need to fill a position on the wing in NCAA play.
Jeter is still growing, but at 6'7" and 215 pounds, he already has a NCAA-ready body. He'll have to learn to harness his newfound strength if he wants to make a mark on the interior, but he's already shown a soft touch on the perimeter and should be able to gel with Stallings's system early on. If he continues to grow, he could be this team's power forward of the future, and he may be pressed into action in that role due to this team's lack of big men anyway. If he can continue improving at the rate that he did in his last two years of high school, Vanderbilt will have found a special player.
James Siakam - Siakam is nearly as much of a mystery to Vanderbilt fans as true freshmen Bright and Jeter. The Cameroonian native is a raw talent who plays with tenacity but hasn't been able to translate his skills to much floor time as he continues to grow as an athlete. Siakam has had two years to learn the game under Vandy's coaches, and he should be ready for a bigger role in 2012-2013. However, he may be limited by his size.
"Bamba" came to Vanderbilt as an undersized power forward, and at 6'6" and 210 pounds, he'll be forced to play a "tweener" role between the 3 and 4. His offense has been slow to develop, but he's a beast around the rim. He can finish with authority and claws at rebounds, using his strength to push out smaller opponents. Hopefully, he's learned from Lance Goulbourne before him. Goulbourne used his time at Vandy to perfect his positioning and become a beast on the glass despite being undersized. Siakam is even smaller than Lance, but if he continues to play like a rabid dingo, he'll have the opportunity to force his way into games and rip down rebounds in traffic.
Siakam has the athleticism and strength to overcome his height limitations. Whether he plays more as a small or power forward in Stallings's system this year is an unknown. He'll need to prove that he's added to an offensive arsenal that didn't go much past dunking early in his college career before he can be an impact player for this team.