2012-2013 Overall Rank: #75
Conference Rank: #8 SEC
Vanderbilt sported their best team in a long, long time during the 2011-2012 campaign. But they ended up doing what they usually do, exiting the NCAA Tournament earlier than they expected. The Commodores got off to a bit of a slow start mostly due to an injury to center Festus Ezeli, but they were hot heading into the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin cooled them off with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. Now, nearly literally, everybody is gone. Even the coaching staff may need to have a roster on hand to recognize all of the former roleplayers who now have to become stars.
2011-12 Record: 25-11, 10-6
2011-12 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Kevin Stallings
Coach Record: 351-159 at Vanderbilt, 384-222 overall
John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Ezeli formed the core of the Vanderbilt team for the last few seasons. And replacing their production and leadership may be something that does not happen for decades at Vanderbilt. Jenkins left for the NBA after his junior campaign and was drafted 23rd overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Jenkins was one the best pure shooters in college basketball last season, connecting on 43.9 percent of his 8.7 attempts per game from beyond the arc. On top his 19.9 points per game, Jenkins added 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Taylor was drafted 31st overall after tallying 16.1 points and 5.6 rebounds during his senior season. The wing could score in every possible way. Ezeli was the big man in the paint and averaged 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in his injury shortened season. He also bested Taylor by one spot in the NBA Draft. As if losing those three was not enough, fellow starters Brad Tinsley and Lance Goulbourne, as well as sixth-man Steve Tchiengang, are also gone. That is just how deep and talented this team was last year. Now they have some talent, but the experience is almost completely gone. Only one player on the roster has started more than one game during their collegiate career.
The three incoming freshmen will all get a chance to compete for playing time. A.J. Astroth, a 6-6 guard, will likely make the biggest impact this year due to his shooting ability. Nobody is going to replace Jenkins’ productivity from long range, but Astroth will likely be the best shooter on this team from day one. Kevin Bright is another big guard who could earn a starting job. He is a better all-around scorer than Astroth and his international experience on the German national team makes him a more experienced option than some of the returning players. Sheldon Jeter is full of potential and could be a decent defender as a freshman, but the 6-7 forward is still pretty raw offensively.
Who to Watch:
Kedren Johnson is the team’s top returning scorer at 3.1 points per game. The 6-4 sophomore is a good slasher and will handle the point guard duties this year. He can be a good scorer, although not a great shooter, but running the point and keeping the offense under control will be more important for Johnson than scoring. Kyle Fuller will likely spend most of his time as Johnson’s backup at the point. There is not a whole lot of depth on the perimeter and the Commodores will rely heavily on sophomore Dai-Jon Parker. Parker is a very talented player who averaged 1.7 points per game in 11.1 minutes as a freshman. Those numbers do not do him justice. Parker may not be a great shooter, but he can use his 6-3 frame to attack the basket very well. He will be counted on to do a lot of scoring this year, while a player like Astroth will do the shooting.
The frontcourt boasts the most experienced Vanderbilt player in junior forward Rod Odom. Odom is also a capable outside shooter who can stretch the defense and getting shooters from anywhere will be beneficial for the Commodores. James Siakam is an undersized forward who can do some dirty work in the paint. Shelby Moats is another potential shooter in the frontcourt. The 6-8 sophomore can step outside, but he is also a tough forward who is not afraid to bang around in the paint. However, he only played 4.1 minutes per game in 16 contests last year. Josh Henderson will play a big role this season. After redshirting during the 2010-2011 campaign, Henderson missed almost the entire 2011-2012 campaign with an injury. He played in just nine contests, but had some good moments while Ezeli was out. At 6-11 and 230 pounds, Henderson is easily the biggest player on the roster. If he turns into a decent interior scorer, the talent on the perimeter could actually keep Vanderbilt relatively competitive in the SEC. That will not lead to another NCAA Tournament, but with this young roster, any postseason trip is encouraging for the future.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Kedren Johnson, Sophomore, Guard, 3.1 points per game
Dai-Jon Parker, Sophomore, Guard, 1.7 points per game
A.J. Ashtroth, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Rod Odom, Junior, Forward, 2.4 points per game
Josh Henderson, Sophomore, Center, 2.3 points per game