2008-2009 Record: 19-12, 8-8 SEC (t-7th)
Key Losses: George Drake (5.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Key Returners: AJ Ogilvy (15.4 ppg, 7.1 ppg), Jermaine Beal (12.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg), Jeff Taylor (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Brad Tinsley (11.0 ppg)
Newcomers: John Jenkins
(photo credit: VUCommodores blog)
Vanderbilt brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country last year, and when paired with veterans AJ Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal, those freshman helped lead the Commodores to a reasonably successful season given their youth. With basically everyone returning, Vandy could be a sleeper in the loaded SEC East.
Vanderbilt's success this season will start with the interior play of Ogilvy. As a freshman, Ogilvy was the horse inside for a highly ranked Vandy team. While the Commodores last season did not come near the success of that '07-'08 squad, Ogilvy continued to prove himself a force in the paint. There may not be a more skilled low post player in the country. Mechanically and fundamentally, he has all the tools you want in a back to the basket big man. Far from the world's best athlete (the biggest knock on his game is his lack of leaping ability and a slow first step), Ogilvy gets by thanks to a dazzling array of post moves. If he can continue to improve his face-up game and jumper, he could be a monster this year thriving in Vanderbilt's Princeton-style offense.
Joining Ogilvy up front is a slew of guys standing about 6'8". The best of the bunch is sophomore Jeff Taylor. Taylor, who is originally from Sweden, was one of the best freshman in the country you never heard about last year. His long, 6'7" frame already has NBA scouts drooling (he was named the best NBA prospect in the SEC by Draft Express). Taylor is a phenomenal athlete, excelling in the open floor and on the defensive end. While his skills have yet to catch up to his tools, Taylor should be effective running back door cuts and attacking the offensive glass in Kevin Stallings system. Taylor is going to be key in helping Vandy match up with the oustanding athleticism of teams like Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida.
The Commodores front court will be deep this year. Junior Darshawn McClellan and sophomores Steve Tchiengang and Fetsus Ezeli were all part time starters last year. Given Ogilvy's so-so defensive ability (and the fact that he has is a bit foul prone), these three will be counted on for toughness inside, both defensively and on the glass, and their 15 combined fouls.
Senior leader Jermaine Beal will once again be the rock at the point for the Commodores. Beal is everything you look for in a point guard in this type of system. He is a good decision maker (3.2 apg, 2.0 a:t/o ratio), can create at the end of the shot clock, and last year showed the ability to be a spot-up three point shooter. He is a physical guard with a great understanding of the system and how he fits into it.
Joining him in the back court will be sophomore Brad Tinsley, who proved as a freshman to be one of the best spot-up shooters in the league as he tied a school-record of 69 3's by a freshman. That shooting prowess will help keep the floor spread for Ogilvy inside. The Commodores really have just two other returners on their perimeter—Lance Goulbourne and Charles Hinkle. Goulbourne, who is 6'8", is an athletic wing with a bit more of a polished perimeter game than Taylor. He had a promising freshman year despite a bout of mono early in the season. Hinkle is a tough defender who can guard multiple positions and will provide Stallings with the ability to use different line-ups. He is the typical glue guy most teams need.
Perhaps the x-factor for this year's team will be freshman John Jenkins. Jenkins, who was a top 25 recruit, is a big time scorer and shooter, averaging over 40 ppg as a senior in high school (he had 30 in every game). His offense is geared around his exceptional shooting ability, which extends well beyond the three point line, although he has shown some ability to put the ball on the floor and pull-up in the mid-range. He will remind a lot of Vandy fans of Shan Foster. He fills a hole for the Commodores as a big-time scorer on the wing.
Outlook: Vandy will be an interesting team to keep an eye on this season. They return basically their entire team. But so does the rest of the SEC. Case in point: while the Commodores will be a borderline top 25 team in the preseason, they are arguably the fifth best team in the SEC East. They are not only deep and talented, you would be hard-pressed to find a more balanced team in the country—a big-time low post scorer, a experienced senior leader at point, multiple shooters on the perimeter, and enough size and athleticism to match up with just about anyone. I really like this team, and would expect them to hang around the top of the SEC. 25 wins and a 4-6 seed come tournament time is not a stretch by any means.