Vanderbilt's 2011-2012 season was a historic one, as a team led by five seniors and one uber-talented junior led the team to their first SEC Tournament title in 61 years. Those Commodores used their experience and chemistry to outwork a more talented Kentucky team in the conference finals. Next year's squad won't have anything close to that kind of edge.
Rebuilding will hit this team hard in 2013, as the Commodores will have to replace every starter on the court if John Jenkins jumps to the pros. Despite an unheralded recruiting class on the horizon this fall, Kevin Stallings has done well in preparing this team for the future. Their core will be three former top 100 recruits - point guard Kedren Johnson (#80 in 2011), shooting guard Dai-Jon Parker (#62 in 2011), and forward Rod Odom (#92 in 2010). They'll be flanked by a deluge of three-star players who will all be looking to make their mark on the SEC.
As of March 27, that's a shallow roster filled with relatively unproven players. While a tentative guard rotation of Johnson/Jenkins/Parker/Fuller would be able to compete in the SEC, a frontcourt of young, experienced athletes would face a steep learning curve in 2012-2013. Right now, the 'Dores only have one true center and one true power forward (Siakam, at just 6'6", figures to be more of a tweener despite his tenacity in the post). Aside from Odom, Vandy's forwards will go into next season with a total of 159 minutes of college experience between them.
The leadership void left from Vanderbilt's departing players will be difficult to fill. If Jenkins jumps to the NBA and Fuller transfers away from Nashville, this team will have just one upperclassman in their rotation - Rod Odom. Unfortunately, that's the price you pay to earn the experience advantage that carried this team to a SEC title behind five seniors and a junior this year.
The Commodores won't be able to expect any more help from the recruiting class of '12. Coach Kevin Stallings's pursuit of in-state stud Alex Poythress fell flat when the Clarksville forward chose Kentucky over Vanderbilt. Poythress's choice put a sour end to what had been three years of recruiting visits from the Vandy staff, and has left the team to scramble to fill 2012-2013's remaining scholarship slots. Unfortunately, many of the nation's top 150 recruits have already signed elsewhere. While there's a chance that Stallings's crew could add another late decommit, as they did with Brad Tinsley in 2008, it's likely that the best players this team is going to get in 2012 have already picked Vanderbilt.
The other method for rebuilding this team could come through transfer players. We recently discussed UConn's Alex Oriakhi and how SEC rules may make him ineligible to come to any school within the conference. Though Oriakhi would have just one year of eligibility left, he would not be a graduate student, which are the type of transfers expressly forbidden by the conference. Additionally, since this case could be considered a hardship situation thanks to UConn's probable postseason ban, Huskies' players could end up with special exemptions regardless.
Aside from special situations like that, getting a player who can make an instant impact next season will be all but impossible. Any transfer to Nashville would have to sit out next season in order to play in 2013-2014. However, this is something that has worked out well in the past for Stallings; Derrick Byars and Ross Neltner are standout examples of that.
Either way, this team will face a shortage of players in the coming season. The Commodores will be counting on a backcourt of top 100 recruits to fill the void left behind by three likely NBA Draft picks. At this point, we know that players like Johnson and Odom can compete against some of the SEC's best teams. The biggest question marks for Kevin Stallings will be in his frontcourt.
Vandy will need Shelby Moats to prove that he can defend opposing forwards in the paint and out to the three-point line like Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang did before him. They'll have to count on Josh Henderson to hit the weight room and prove that he can be a physical presence to match his soft touch around the basket. They'll need Odom and James Siakam, two players that don't fit the traditional mold of post players, to show that they can be effective as interior forwards for stretches throughout the season.
Vanderbilt basketball will undertake it's biggest transition period in years this summer. The exodus of players like Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor, Lance Goulbourne, and (potentially) John Jenkins will scale this team's rebuilding process to a level that coach Kevin Stallings has yet to deal with in Nashville. If you're an optimist, this means that 2013 will give a young, talented backcourt time to shine with significant minutes. If you're a pessimist, this means replacing six of the team's top seven players in a year where the 'Dores bowed out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The actual outlook for next season lies somewhere in between, but one thing is clear - the youth movement is now in effect at Vanderbilt.