SEC Make or Break: Vanderbilt CommodoresPosted by Brian Joyce on November 13th, 2011
The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. The next team in the series is the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Vanderbilt entered the last two NCAA Tournaments as a #4 seed (2009-10) and a #5 seed (2010-11), yet lost in its first game both years. The Commodores last made the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. So, it’s understandable if national college basketball writers and analysts are a bit hesitant to declare Vandy as a Final Four contender. Last year, Vanderbilt was unable to put teams away, especially in close games. The ‘Dores lost a double-digit lead in five of their 11 losses. Their inabililty to close out opponents is a cause for concern this year for a team that is expected to challenge for the SEC title.
Of course, Vanderbilt returns all five starters, including SEC Player of the Year, John Jenkins. This Vandy team has high expectations, and the offensive firepower to be amongst the nation’s best. The ‘Dores also boast some of the best non-conference games in the country as they have several top 25 matchups to test their talented and experienced squad. Preseason All-SEC center, Festus Ezeli, will miss many of their big matchups early on as he recovers from a sprained MCL and PCL injury.
The three key non-conference games that will make or break the Commodores’ schedule this season:
- November 28 – vs. Xavier: Ezeli and Xavier’s seven footer Kenny Frease would be a great low post battle, but Vandy will have to go against Frease with replacements Steve Tchiengang, Rod Odom and Josh Henderson. Do the ‘Dores have the toughness inside to contain Frease without Ezeli? Frease will provide quite a test for the committee of big men. A little bit of the zest from this Top 25 matchup is gone because of the lack of Ezeli, but Vandy will find out very quickly who will be able to play the five position off the bench when Ezeli returns.
- December 2 – at Louisville: Louisville boasts an excellent point guard in 5’11″ Peyton Siva who likes to penetrate and dish to outside shooters. Siva averaged 5.2 assists per game for the Cardinals last year. Vandy’s backcourt has struggled with perimeter defense in the past, so Siva will serve as a good measuring stick for the progress in the Commodores’ defensive efforts. It will be interesting to see if head coach Kevin Stallings takes slower guard Brad Tinsley off the one on one assignment of Siva to keep Tinsley’s offensive strengths on the court without making him a huge defensive liability. If the ‘Dores’ can frustrate Siva and stop him from getting into the lane, Vanderbilt could win what could be a matchup of two top ten teams.
- December 29 – at Marquette: Buzz Williams’ team could be one of the most underrated teams in the country, and Marquette is one of the few teams that has the offensive firepower to hang with Vanderbilt. The Golden Eagles like to play fast, and will look to go right at the Commodores shaky defense. With so much offense on display, this game could be decided by who is able to step up and make stops on the defensive end. Ezeli should return to the lineup by this point giving Vandy an inside presence, and a chance to test out their complete and hopefully healthy lineup against the Top 25-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles.