SEC Tournament 2012: Why Vanderbilt Is the Biggest Wild Card

Ross ReadContributor IIIMarch 6, 2012

DENVER, CO - MARCH 17:  John Jenkins #23, Jeffery Taylor #44 Brad Tinsley #1 and Festus Ezeli #3 of the Vanderbilt Commodores look on during a break in play against the Richmond Spiders during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Pepsi Center on March 17, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Any time John Jenkins steps on the court he is arguably the best scorer and a true game changer. His partner Jeffery Taylor makes for a one-two punch that can take out any team in the SEC tournament, including the mighty Kentucky. 

The Vanderbilt Commodores have a real shot at winning this year's SEC tournament if Jenkins and Taylor can be consistent and score enough points to carry their team past Kentucky and Tennessee. March Madness is all about star power and a team riding a hot streak. This time of year is not always about the best team, just the one who puts it all together at the right time.

John Jenkins is streaky. His last game he only went five for 15 from the field and three for 10 from behind the arc in a loss to Tennessee. The game before that he lit up Florida for 22 points including six for nine from three. One constant in his game is his free-throw shooting. He is 85 percent from the charity stripe and that is a crucial asset in the postseason. 

In order for Vanderbilt to beat Kentucky they would need Jenkins to have a good shooting game, which he is fully capable of. The last time the two teams met, Kentucky won 83-74 and Jenkins only went six for 18 from the field with 18 points. The meeting before that Kentucky won by six with Jenkins shooting only five for 14 with 15 points. He is the X-factor. A hot John Jenkins could eliminate Kentucky tournament format. 

While Jenkins is the key, he is going to need some help. Jeffery Taylor has to continue to take pressure off of Jenkins by being the consistent second scorer on the team. His ability to rebound and stretch the floor has given Kentucky fits all season. The last meeting he shot the ball well and had 19 points to go with nine rebounds. The matchup before that was a 13 point nine rebound effort.

It's safe to say if he scores around 16 points and continues the strong rebounding, the Commodores will keep the game close enough for Jenkins to take over down the stretch and win. 

Size and strength down low are key as well. Senior center Festus Ezeli has to be able to battle with Anthony Davis and other bigs around the SEC. Standing at 6'11'' 255 lbs he has to be able to provide the muscle down low necessary for tournament play.

His rebounding numbers for the season are lower than where you would want a player of his size to be at. He has to be better in that department, but he has the ability to do so. He started the season slow due to a suspension and subsequent injury, but seems to be in shape and hitting his stride at the right time.  

For a couple of seasons the Commodores have been a postseason disappointment. Last season they lost to Florida in the semifinals and went on to an upset loss in the NCAA tournament in the second round to the Richmond Spiders. This team is better than the one last year and can make a long run in both tournaments.

To call a Vanderbilt a wild card is something they should be accustomed to. After returning all five starters this season, they were picked by many to be a top 10 team going into the season. The suspension to Ezeli and losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State have caused some to take them off the national radar.

The talent is there. The team has enough firepower to score with anybody in the country. Returning all five starters provides experience most teams would dream of. John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli are all potential first-round draft picks in the NBA draft. A wild card is not the team you expect to make noise, but the one you always have to look over your shoulder to worry about.

Come Championship Week, there will be plenty of teams in the SEC wishing they did not have to play the Vanderbilt Commodores down in New Orleans.