Vanderbilt Basketball: Soft Defense Will Prevent Deep NCAA Tournament Run

Chad MintonCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2011

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 02:  Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals defends John Jenkins #23 of the Vanderbilt Commodores during the game at KFC YUM! Center on December 2, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's hard to find a team that has performed further below expectations in this young college basketball season than the 7-4 Vanderbilt Commodores.

The Commodores have limped through the non-conference schedule so far, and just got done getting bounced from the Top 25 rankings for the second time this season after losing to Indiana State at home.

Many thought that the Commodores would start playing like their preseason ranking once they got Festus Ezeli back at center, but Ezeli has looked rusty in his two appearances.

Ezeli missed last night's route over cream-puff Longwood, which brings up the main problem the Commodores are facing as a team. They play very little defense no matter who they're playing.

There's no excuse for a team with Vanderbilt's talent to give up 71 points to a team that just entered Division I hoops in 2007.

In fact, at many times Longwood matched what Vanderbilt was able to do on the offensive side. Luckily for the Commodores, Longwood was its own worst enemy like most teams of their caliber.

The struggles of the Commodores has just reached the tip of the iceberg if they continue to play soft defense and rely on scoring 80 to 90 points every game to get a win.

That philosophy simply won't work against higher caliber teams like Kentucky, Florida and Alabama. Even Mississippi State and LSU will make a soft defense pay the price in the loss column.

Collapses in their defense led to blown leads against both No. 14 Xavier and No. 4 Louisville. Just winning one of those games would have the Commodores in a much better place right now.

Head coach Kevin Stallings has little time to get this issue figured out as No.10 Marquette still looms on the schedule along with a resurgent Middle Tennessee State team that is 10-2 with wins over UCLA and Belmont under their belt.

Furthermore, both of those squads rank in the top 50 out of over 300 Division I teams in scoring per game.

If the Commodores don't improve their defensive toughness then they'll drop at least two more non-conference games, which would be uncharted territory for Vanderbilt teams led by Stallings.

Some may say that the Commodores shouldn't panic because all that really matters is making the NCAA Tournament and going from there, and that's partially true.

However, there's no guarantee the Commodores will get the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday if they continue to sleep walk through this tough non-conference schedule.

There was some silver-lining that indirectly came the way of the Commodores as Davidson upset Kansas, which could end up leading to the Commodores getting credit for a quality win with their road win over Davidson a few weeks ago.

With the exception of that possible quality win, the Commodores have yet to notch a single win that will impress the selection committee.

It's certainly not too late for the Commodores to live up to their lofty preseason expectations, but guys like John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley certainly have to improve their defensive presence.

Ezeli also has to live up to how he played last season to give the Commodores a chance in this brutal schedule.

There's still plenty of chances on the schedule for the Commodores to shift the momentum back their favor, but dramatic changes have to occur.