SEC Tournament 2012: Vanderbilt Proves They Are Final Four Contender with Title

Tim KeeneyContributor IMarch 11, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 11:  Festus Ezeli #3 and James Siakam #35 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrate their 71 to 64 win over the Kentucky Wildcats with cheerleaders after the championship game of the 2012 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at New Orleans Arena on March 11, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Vanderbilt Commodores have been trying to live up to preseason potential all year long, and with their win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament final, they are finally there. 

The Commodores were a top-10 squad heading into the season, but have never been able to consistently play like it.

Whether it was because big man Festus Ezeli missed time at the beginning of the season or because of the lack of contributions behind Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, the 'Dores just couldn't put together a long stretch of good basketball.

Fortunately for Vandy, they got to play in the postseason before the real postseason, and they are now playing their best basketball of the year.

Today against Kentucky, the 'Dores were essentially on the road. Yes, the game was in New Orleans, but the crowd seemed to be 80 percent Wildcats.

Every time the 'Cats scored five or seven straight points, it appeared the roof was going to blow off, and if Vanderbilt didn't score the game would be over. But the 'Dores scored every time they had their backs against the wall.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 11:  Terrence Jones #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots between Festus Ezeli #3 and Lance Goulbourne #5 of the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first half during the championship game of the 2012 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at New O
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

That arguably says more about this team than any stat or (enter letter here)PI number. Simply put, when it comes down to it, Vanderbilt can win games. And it showed today it is an elite team.

The 'Dores beat Kentucky, a team that was considered to be unbeatable. 

The 'Dores didn't just beat Kentucky, they handled the Wildcats for most of the game.

Kevin Stallings out-coached John Calipari.

He forced the 'Cats to settle for perimeter shots and he got his team out in transition, which limited Kentucky's terrific length on the defensive end. 

I realize this was a close game, but Vanderbilt looked like the better, more composed team. And I realize Kentucky is still clearly the best team in the country, but the 'Dores need to be considered elite.

You've probably heard the phrase, "hot at the right time" about a million times.

Well, make it a million and one because it applies perfectly to this Vanderbilt squad, which established themselves today as a very dangerous five seed.