Vanderbilt has had its share of fan-favorite power forwards over the past decade. Players like Julian Terrell, Lance Goulbourne, Steve Tchiengang, Matt Freije, and the immortal Ross Neltner have all manned the 4 for Kevin Stallings's NCAA Tournament teams.
Two young Commodores will have the opportunity to add their name to that list in 2013-2014. Shelby Moats and Luke Kornet will have plenty to prove this winter. The two young big men could find significant playing time thanks to a void of scholarship players on the roster, but they'll have to show that they can handle big minutes against top competition in what should be a small-ball heavy lineup for Stallings's team.
Moats, a 6'8" junior with the strength to push others off the block, will get the first crack at it. The Minnesotan has had flashes of strong play in his first two years as a Commodore, but he has yet to show that he can be a starter in the SEC. His ability to be aggressive in the post and willingness to step out to the perimeter to shoot threes give him the makings of a smaller Tchiengang, but he'll have to be more efficient with both in order to stay on the court this winter.
Kornet is more of a mystery. The son of Vandy (and NBA) baller Frank Kornet, Luke is a seven-foot forward who didn't earn real interest from major college programs until a growth spurt shot him up nine inches in his last two years of high school. As such, he's got strong ballhandling and shooting skills for a player of his height, but his bulk is still trying to catch up to his height. Additionally, his summer training was cut short by a leg injury that prevented him from shining in his first few months in Nashville.
The two help make up a rare Vanderbilt roster that has more big men on scholarship (six) than guards (three). Kornet and Moats will have the opportunity to work with a staff that helped develop Festus Ezeli into a first round NBA Draft pick and turned players like Goulbourne and Neltner into game-changing presences up front. Can they turn a potential weakness into a strength for the 'Dores in 2014?
Shelby Moats: Moats came to Nashville in 2011 and burned a potential redshirt year playing for a team that didn't have much space for him on the court. The Minnesotan recorded just four minutes per game as a true freshman and missed more conference matchups than he played in. That set him up for a boost in playing time as a sophomore, but Moats was unable to establish himself as a consistent performer for a team that had a void up front.
Moats averaged around three points and three rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game last year despite playing in a frontcourt that featured an injured Josh Henderson, undersized James Siakam, and small forward Rod Odom competing for minutes up front. He had some strong performances - most notably a nine-point, 10-rebound showing against Kentucky - but ultimately settled in as an end of the rotation player for the 'Dores in 2013.
The junior is still trying to figure out his rhythm on both offense and defense in the NCAA. He's a solid three-point shooter from the PF position, but struggles to find openings where he can rise up and put that skill to use. He shot just 28.9 percent from long range last year, but that number should rise in 2014. He struggles to get his shot off in the paint, thanks in part to his ongoing adjustment to the college game and a lack of high-level jumping/athleticism for a forward.
Defensively, Moats takes his role as a banger very seriously. He's not afraid to use his body to drive opponents out of the paint, and that impact reaches beyond his stat line. Unfortunately, that also leads to plenty of foul calls. Those will decrease as he learns the tendencies of SEC referees (and as he earns more respect from said referees), but there will still be cases where Moats gets pulled off the court early in the first half due to foul trouble.
The junior provides an element that this team needs up front with his toughness, and his ability to shoot the ball could make him an asset. He'll have to show that he can be an efficient rebounder that can defend without fouling to earn a spot at the front of Stallings's rotation this year.
Luke Kornet: Kornet stood 6'3" when he was a junior in high school. Now, according to Vanderbilt's official roster, he's a robust 7'0". That makes him the team's first seven-footer since David Przybyszewski.
Like Przybyszewki, he's a player who can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. Kornet has a comfortable face-up game, but the key to his offensive game is his ability to shoot - something that he cultivated as both a smaller player and the son of an NBA veteran. That talent fits seamlessly into Kevin Stallings's style of play, and the true freshman could be called into action this winter thanks to an otherwise-depleted roster.
Unfortunately, he'll have to come back from a broken bone in his leg that he sustained this summer. The lithe Texan was a redshirt candidate to begin with thanks to his still-growing body, but that offseason setback could delay his timeline even further. Kornet has added weight since graduating from high school, but he still weighs 216 pounds. That's a bad combination for a player who will be called on to post up inside and grab rebounds for a team that will rely on outside shooting and second chances.
Fortunately for Vanderbilt, Kornet's freshman classmate could be the perfect compliment to Kornet's finesse game. Damian Jones has shown a preference to do the dirty work in the paint, and he could help clear space and relieve pressure in the frontcourt. Relying on the two young players to work as an effective tandem as true freshmen is unrealistic, but there's a lot to like about how the pair fits together and what that means for Vandy in the future.
Overall: Moats and Kornet have the tools to make a platoon work, but power forward will remain the weakest position in the Vanderbilt lineup in 2013-2014. Expect Kevin Stallings to mask that weakness with a three-guard lineup that inserts Rod Odom and James Siakam in that hybrid SF/PF role between Dai-Jon Parker and either Josh Henderson or Damian Jones. However, there will be plenty of opportunities for Moats and Kornet to find the court, should Kornet burn his redshirt. Moats can shine if he cuts down his fouling while managing to maintain his physical style in the paint.