Vanderbilt Basketball: Can This Commodore Team Make a Deep Run in March?

Harrison BucContributor IIDecember 3, 2011

No. 19 Vanderbilt suffered a tough loss in overtime on the road at No. 6 Louisville on Friday night.
No. 19 Vanderbilt suffered a tough loss in overtime on the road at No. 6 Louisville on Friday night.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When the selection committee sorts out the field every March, powerhouse SEC teams like Kentucky and Florida are expected to reach postseason play; Vanderbilt is now considered to be amongst that group.

This Commodore squad is made up of experienced and skilled players who are capable of leading a deep NCAA tournament run.

However, in Vanderbilt's past three tournament appearances, the Commodores have been knocked out in the first round.

Last year, the 'Dores were defeated as a No. 5 seed and previously upset as a No. 4 seed in 2008 and 2010.  Each of their first-round upsets were losses to tough teams from weak conferences (Sienna, Murray State and Richmond).

The Vandy basketball program has been on the rise since 2004, and Kevin Stallings has produced tournament teams five out of the past eight seasons.

The ‘Dores reached the Sweet 16 in 2004 and 2007 but have never made it past the third round under Kevin Stallings.


So, will this be the year Vanderbilt makes a deep run in the tournament?

This Commodore squad easily contends as the most complete Vanderbilt team in the past decade.

With a healthy Festus Ezeli and consistency from Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins (or better known as “The Big Three”), there’s no reason the ‘Dores can’t make a deep run in March. Also, the Commodores are stacked with six seniors on the roster and have proven to be a skilled crew. 

Kevin Stallings has been the Vanderbilt coach since 2000.
Kevin Stallings has been the Vanderbilt coach since 2000.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

An experienced starting five and a very deep bench give Vandy a realistic chance to make a run for the Final Four.

Vanderbilt’s offense relies heavily on the three-point shot, especially with Festus Ezeli currently out of the lineup.

With Ezeli missing, John Jenkins and senior Jeffery Taylor are arguably the two best players on the floor.

SEC leading scorer John Jenkins has the ability to make deep threes from any spot on the floor. Jenkins is averaging 20.2 points per game and has been providing the Commodores with plenty of scoring.

If this pure shooter gets any space, expect him to knock down the jumper. 

Taylor’s ability to power through the lane and drive to the hoop has added another fierce component to V.U.’s offense.

When he is on, Taylor contributes pure finesse around the basket and possesses the skills to make the NBA. Also, his lock-down defense and pass-making ability make him a complete strong forward for the 'Dores.

All five starters (Jenkins, Taylor, Goulbourne, Tinsley and Tchiengang) have the capability of hitting threes, but if the ‘Dores don’t start getting production down low, it could be another early exit from the Field of 68. 

The reason Vanderbilt ‘s post game has been nonexistent is due to the absence of star center Festus Ezeli, who has been injured with a sprained knee.

Festus Ezeli has been missing from the lineup all season with an injured knee.
Festus Ezeli has been missing from the lineup all season with an injured knee.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

When Ezeli comes back to the lineup, he will provide the much-needed strength at the post position.

Vanderbilt is having trouble rebounding the ball this season, which results in limited second-chance opportunities. Ezeli has major post presence, delivering post-up plays and down-low muscle points for the ‘Dores.

A deep run in March depends heavily on how Vandy performs towards the end of the regular season.

The SEC is a long, brutal season, but by staying consistent with good defending and utilizing their offensive strengths, the Commodores can be an extremely dangerous team. Finishing strong in the SEC could help Vandy avoid early exit from the tourney. 

Look for Vandy to heat up in SEC play and carry their momentum into the tournament. This senior-studded team holds the keys to winning, but they must execute on both sides of the ball and limit turnovers.