2011-12 College Basketball Season Preview: Vanderbilt
With John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli all electing to return to school rather than bolt for the NBA Draft, the Vanderbilt Commodores became a top-10 team in the country, since they return all five starters and eight of their top nine players. Vanderbilt will have to live without Ezeli for the non-conference slate but could be a Final Four contender once they are at full strength.
The Commodores will be without big man Festus Ezeli for possibly the entire non-conference schedule due to a sprained MCL and PCL. Ezeli is a developing big man who made a huge jump during his junior campaign and could be bound for an even bigger year if he gets back to one-hundred percent. Until Ezeli returns, the physical Steve Tchiegang will hold down the middle. Tchiegang is more versatile than Ezeli in that he can step out to the three-point line. Redshirt freshman Josh Henderson will backup Tchiegang early in the season but likely ride the pine once Ezeli returns to the lineup.
Lance Goulbourne plays his role well as the fifth option in the starting lineup. He led Vanderbilt in rebounding, grabbing more boards than points scored. Goulbourne is capable of stepping out to the three-point line but doesn't shoot it at a high-percentage. Still, teams will have to respect his range which should create more room for Ezeli to operate on the block. Rod Odom is a talented backup power forward who gives Kevin Stallings a lot of depth up front. Freshman Shelby Moats likely won't factor into the rotation.
Jenkins and Taylor form one of the best wing duos in the country. Jenkins is a deadly pure shooter and improved in his ability to attack the rim but still has a ways to go in that area before he becomes a true all-around threat. Taylor is the opposite; effective off the bounce and explosive at the rim but still honing his outside shot. He did show growth in that area last year and is a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions. Vanderbilt will only go as far as this duo takes them when the calendar turns to March.
There is talent behind Jenkins and Taylor on the bench but a lot of inexperience. Dai-Jon Parker is considered the best of the Commodores' freshmen class and gives Vanderbilt a sharpshooter off the bench. James Siakam redshirted last season and will bring some athleticism off the bench.
Brad Tinsley returns to run the point and brings stability to the floor. He understands his role as a distributor but can also score when needed. Kedren Johnson is a big, physical point guard who is capable of overtaking Kyle Fuller as Tinsley's back-up. Johnson can also play off the ball if Stallings decides to use him in that capacity.
With experience, an inside threat like Ezeli, versatile wing like Taylor, scorer like Jenkins, and plenty of complementary role players, it could be a very special season for the Commodores. First things first though, make it through a fairly brutal non-conference slate without their starting center.
Player to Watch: John Jenkins, SG
In my opinion, Jenkins has a little Stephen Curry to his game with the way he is able to get his shot off quickly and pull the trigger from several feet behind the line. He is not a one-dimensional player by any means but can really take his game to the next level by improving his ball-handling and driving ability.