A Quick, Fake Summary: All Else is Castles Built In The Air

Posted by Gerald Smith on November 28th, 2011

Festus Ezeli busted a deal and spun the wheel. (He also spun his MCL; he’ll be out for a while.) Vanderbilt has been spun about without him, though it might not be due to his absence.

At the beginning of the season, it was theorized that Vandy’s seniors would rise up and contribute more with Ezeli out. Against Xavier tonight, the Commodores of Musictown still couldn’t barter themselves a decent offense. Senior forward Lance Goulbourne (18 points on 8-17 FG seven rebounds), junior guard John Jenkins (20 points on 8-18 FG & 4-9 3FG) and senior forward Jeffery Taylor (18 points on 6-11 FG, five rebounds) all led the charge defensively but faded as near the end. Not one Commodore scored a single point in the last 3:56 of the second half.

Earlier in the that half, senior guard Brad Tinsley had controlled drives into the paint that resulted in easy assists. Like the rest of the ‘Dores, Tinsley tried to do too much late in the game. With his limited defensive ability, Xavier guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons finally took control and powered the Musketeers to a 82-70 overtime victory.

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Vanderbilt needs a big win with or without Festus Ezeli

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 28th, 2011

This is a big week for the SEC, and an even bigger week for Vanderbilt. The  Commodores play two top 25 home games this week, against #11 Xavier on Monday night and at #6 Louisville on Friday night. I know the Commodores are without starting center Festus Ezeli. Undoubtedly, this will be a different team once Ezeli returns, but a loss in late November or early December still counts as a loss. Even without Ezeli.

Ezeli isn't walking out on the court tonight for Vanderbilt (Associated Press)

Why do I think this week is a Make or Break week for Vandy? Besides the fact that they’re playing two Top 25 ranked teams, the implications could be further reaching than more early season losses.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 28th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The quality of games kicks into high gear this week with a pair of good ones to start it off.

Long Beach State at #9 Louisville – 7 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

  • Louisville’s depth has taken a big hit recently with Wayne Blackshear, Mike Marra, and Peyton Siva all dealing with injuries. Siva returned from a sprained ankle Friday against Ohio in a closer than expected Cardinals win but he remains in a shooting slump. He is just 5-24 (20.8%) in three games this season but is managing to dish out six assists per contest. The Cardinals are winning games defensively as they are ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency while only putting up 67 PPG on the other end of the floor. A Long Beach State team that plays quick without much defense could be the recipe Louisville needs to gain more confidence offensively. However, Louisville must avoid turnovers against the 49ers, a team that loves to get out in transition. The Cardinals are averaging 15 turnovers per game with Siva at a shaky 3.7 per game.

    Louisville Will Have Its Hands Full With Long Beach State

  • Long Beach State has lost twice on the road since winning at Pittsburgh, falling to San Diego State and Montana. The 49ers defense has not been up to par and that is hurting them significantly. They love to play at a fast pace but they are very average defensively as well as on the boards. Casper Ware going up against Siva should be a terrific match-up and he will need to carry the team all night as he did against Pittsburgh on November 16. Long Beach State is not going to get many opportunities to score against the strong Louisville defense so limiting turnovers, especially on the road, has to be its top priority. They average 15 a game but simply cannot afford that many in this game. To win, Long Beach State must play its best defensive game to date and get to the free throw line where they will have a significant edge over Louisville. Depth has to be a concern for Dan Monson, whose team only goes seven deep.
  • Larry Anderson and James Ennis have a height advantage at the two and three positions against Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, but they must stay in front of their men all game. Ennis is a good on-ball defender averaging 2.3 steals per game, but the Louisville guards may be able to exploit Long Beach State from the three-point arc. In the paint, T.J. Robinson is a terrific rebounder but he will be going up against the 6’10” Gorgui Dieng (3.4 blocks per game) and a Louisville team that rebounds well as a unit. To earn more possessions for his team, Robinson likely has to have a big game on the glass as well as offensively. That will be extremely difficult against a Cardinals front line that allows only 33.5% shooting inside the arc. Long Beach State does have a chance to win the game but there is one major difference between Pittsburgh and Louisville. It is defense and that is why we feel the Cardinals have the ultimate edge in this game tonight.
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SEC Morning Five: 11.23.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 23rd, 2011

  1. Ready to debate? By all means, grab a cup of coffee first and let’s get to it. Ron Chimelis of The Republican says John Calipari doesn’t need to win an NCAA title to be a Hall of Famer. Chimelis thinks Calipari already has the resume to make it in. He cites Cal’s 512 wins (42 of those were later vacated by the NCAA leaving him with 470 official wins), three Final Fours appearances (two of those were wiped from the record books), and his remarkable turn-arounds with Massachusetts and Memphis. Chemelis thinks Calipari will in fact win the title that has evaded him throughout his career, but he has a Hall of Fame resume without it. What say you? Will there be a HOF ballot more criticized and talked about than Calipari’s? Does he need a national title to punch his ballot into the Hall? Or do you despise Calipari so deeply that you don’t want him in no matter how many championships he wins?
  2. Regardless of your feelings for Calipari, you have to agree that he has produced a long line of talented point guards dating back to his days in Memphis. Cal has taken up for his newest floor general, Marquis Teague, by taking to Twitter. Teague has been erratic in his first four collegiate games for Kentucky, committing 18 turnovers and never quite settling in to the flow of the game. Calipari tweets, “Gotta love the #BBN, only our fans would point out that my last two PG’s also had 18 turns in the 1st 4 games. DRose & Tyreke had a bunch 2.” He quickly followed with another tweet, “Marquis will be fine. I’m gonna spend more time w/ him & once we get it figured out everyone will be talking about how good he is.” Freshmen, especially point guards, almost always take a little time to adjust to the speed of the college game. Remember, Teague has only played in four college games. Give the young man time. Cal has proven that he has an outstanding track record with point guards, and Teague will be another first round draft pick after developing in the Kentucky system.
  3. As was mentioned here in the SEC Morning Five on Monday, Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell injured his knee in practice last Thursday. The results of his MRI revealed torn ligaments that will cause the Razorbacks’ star to miss the rest of the season. This is unfortunate news for Powell and Arkansas. “This is definitely a setback, but I told him that sometimes you have to have setbacks in order to have a great comeback,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “He is in good spirits and looking forward to helping his team in any way that he can.” The Razorbacks are down to nine scholarship players. It is crucial for Anderson’s system to have the depth to sub in and out for his fast-paced style of play. Powell was averaging 19.5 points per game and his absence will require another (or several) Razorback(s) to step up to fill the scoring gap.
  4. John Gasaway writes that Vanderbilt’s defense has not been nearly as bad as the discussion has indicated. He says the Commodores are an excellent defensive rebounding team and create a good amount of turnovers to offset the high number of two point field goals that they allow. Gasaway has been somewhat impressed with the Commodores saying “this will be the best Commodore team of recent years when (Festus) Ezeli returns.” The problem according to Gasaway is that Kentucky, Alabama, and Florida are all better than they have been in recent years as well. League play will be brutal at the top of the conference, as the top four are sure to trade off tough losses. The notion expressed in Basketball Prospectus is the same one shared here — while the SEC may not be the best conference from top to bottom, the top four is as good as any conference in the country. Vanderbilt certainly belongs in the top tier, and their defense will only improve once Ezeli returns.
  5. Speaking of Ezeli, Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports says that Ezeli’s return will be a game-changer on both ends of the court for Vanderbilt. Ezeli’s defense and shot blocking ability gives the Commodores an inside presence to guard the low post, which has been a concern in the early going. On offense, he demands respect from opposing defenders, opening up the floor for the shooters – John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley. His presence will mean the difference between a Vanderbilt team that is hanging by a thread at the bottom of the latest Top 25 poll, and the team that was ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason. “He’s as important to us as a guy like Jared Sullinger is to Ohio State,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “I’m not saying he’s as good, but he gives us the same presence. You have to game plan for him.”
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SEC Morning Five: 11.16.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 16th, 2011

  1. Kentucky looked a little rusty on offense in the first half against Kansas on Tuesday night. There might be a good reason for that. Calipari says the Cats have just gotten around to installing necessary things like out-of-bounds and late-game plays. This doesn’t seem that unusual as practice time is limited, and games seem to be sneaking up earlier and earlier in the calendar each season. After watching the Wildcats dismantle a good KU team last night, however, it is scary to think how dominant this team can be with some additional time together.
  2. Jay Bilas went all access with Kentucky as the Cats and head coach John Calipari prepared for Kansas. Calipari spoke about his winning ways at Kentucky, competing at the highest level and getting the most out of his freshmen. This video included a good scream from Cal about poor defense and even a threat to put one of his players on a treadmill at 14 miles per hour. And now we now how Cal motivates his players at halftime.
  3. Florida coach Billy Donovan felt the Gators should have passed the ball down low to sophomore Patric Young more in the first half of last night’s game against Ohio State and standout center, Jared Sullinger. According to Gainesville Sun writer Kevin Brockman’s tweet last night, Donovan thought Young could have gotten Sullinger in foul trouble had the guards better fed the post. The Gators only passed the ball inside to Young once in the first half. Florida adjusted at halftime, and Young finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds while limiting Sullinger to only 16 points.
  4. Vanderbilt came up with a win against Bucknell, but it didn’t come easily. The Commodores played without leading scorer John Jenkins who was out with a sprained right ankle. Jenkins tweaked his ankle in the loss to Cleveland State, and his injury, along with the absence of Festus Ezeli, makes it two all-SEC players on the sidelines for the ‘Dores. And with starting point guard Brad Tinsley also nursing a wrist injury, Vandy needs to get healthy as quickly as possible. Vanderbilt will play in the TicketCity Legends Classic on Saturday against North Carolina State, and then face either Texas or Oregon State on November 21.
  5. The hot seat got hotter for a couple of SEC coaches with bad losses last night. Darrin Horn and South Carolina lost to Elon by the score of 58-53, while LSU and  Trent Johnson fell to Coastal Carolina 71-63. The SEC has lost a couple of unlikely games to mid-majors already this season, but these losses will impact the job security that both coaches feel going forward. Both came into the season feeling a bit insecure about their job prospects, and no doubt both are likely feeling quite a bit hotter under the collar at this point.
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SEC Morning Five: 11.14.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2011

  1. Senior point guard Brad Tinsley’s minutes were limited in Vanderbilt’s shocking demise against Cleveland State on Sunday. The Vandy offense looked out of sync, and as a result, they were pressured into 21 turnovers. Tinsley was bothered by a hand injury that was aggravated during the Oregon game a couple of nights ago. “Brad’s hand has been an issue,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said in his postgame press conference. “I didn’t ask him how the hand was feeling (today).” It seems unclear whether Tinsley sat during crucial minutes of the game because of his defensive liability or because of the injury. This will remain a situation to keep an eye on. One thing remains clear, Tinsley will have to stay in front of quicker guards defensively in order to stay on the floor in the future.
  2. Vanderbilt’s surprising loss has the critics out in full force. Some tabbed the ‘Dores as a team that didn’t belong in the top ten. And well, they won’t be for long. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports isn’t hitting the panic button just yet, because it is November after all. And the Commodores are without Festus Ezeli. Parrish acknowledges, however, that this loss doesn’t help the perception that Vandy is in fact overrated. A 71-58 loss to Cleveland State looks bad, but Vanderbilt has time to correct its mistakes.
  3. Arkansas’ 83-63 win over USC Upstate started the Mike Anderson era for the Razorbacks, but the biggest storyline was the attendance in Bud Walton Arena for that game. Anderson’s first game brought in 10,500 fans, but he believes this is only the beginning. “This is a style of basketball that hasn’t been played here in a while,” Anderson said. “There is potential here, but we have to keep working. We are by no means where we want to be.” As long as Anderson continues winning and playing an exciting brand of basketball, the attendance numbers will continue to grow in Fayetteville.
  4. The SEC had many outstanding freshmen take the court this past weekend, and they generally didn’t disappoint. The CBS Eye on College Basketball blog took a look at the first glimpse of the nation’s best freshmen, and all five SEC freshmen on the top 20 list scored in double figures. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague impressed in a blowout win against Marist. Davis scored 23 points, grabbed ten rebounds and earned five blocks in a high flying display of athleticism. Florida’s Brad Beal scored 14 points, and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope pushed the Bulldogs to victory with 15 points. These young stars are already looking good, and it was only their first game in a college uniform. Just wait until they become truly adjusted to the college game and their new teams.
  5. It wasn’t all about the freshmen this weekend though. Some sophomores were turning in impressive performances as well. Tennessee is looking for a scorer in the Cuonzo Martin era, and they may have found him. Sophomore point guard Trae Golden lit up UNC Greensboro for a career high 29 points in a game where he was 10-14 from the field with six rebounds and nine assists. His performance has Martin and the Volunteers excited that they may have found the offensive weapon that they so desperately need. But if we’ve learned anything from this opening weekend, it is still very early and a lot can change over the next few weeks and months.
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A Quick, Fake Summary: Don’t Worry, Vanderbilt…We All Have Our Little Faults

Posted by Gerald Smith on November 13th, 2011

Throughout the season, RTC’s Gerald Smith will be bringing you off-the-cuff and odd recaps of games: Quick, Fake Summaries. This first one of the season involves Vanderbilt‘s shocking 71-58 home loss to Cleveland State Sunday afternoon.

Vanderbilt was flying high into this season. Despite another early NCAA Tournament exit, the Commodores returned seniors Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins to a team that led the SEC in scoring last season. They opened up their gym to two teams of green; one (Oregon) self-destructed with unforced turnovers on Friday. Today, the other green team was glowing and sapped the strength from the Super-Seniors.

Cleveland State’s quick guards hindered Jenkins (5-14 FG, 2-8 3FG, 5-7 FT for 17 points), preventing him from getting comfortable shooting behind screens. Those quick-as-a-Flash guards nullified senior point guard Brad Tinsley (two asists, three turnovers) by making him a defensive liability; head coach Kevin Stallings was forced to play Tinsley only 21 minutes and sophomore guard Kevin Fuller (three turnovers) fared little better. The senior forward Taylor was practically nonexistent with just nine points, four rebounds and six turnovers.

The Vikings’ broad-shouldered Aaron Pogue out-muscled senior forward Steve Tchiengang (five points, ten rebounds, one block). With senior center Festus Ezeli out with an injury and suspension, Vanderbilt had no inside-out post game. Well, no post game completely: the Commodores scored just 10 points in the paint. Without any offensive push and no ability to stop the Viking’s constant scoring, Vanderbilt wimpered all the way into the pool of defeat.

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SEC Make or Break: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted 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.

Vanderbilt will miss Ezeli's defense and post presence during his absence.

The three key non-conference games that will make or break the Commodores’ schedule this season:

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SEC Opening Night Recap: Kentucky and Vanderbilt’s First Half Follies

Posted by Gerald Smith on November 12th, 2011

Kentucky 108, Marist 58

The Kentucky team that coach John Calipari claims could be beaten a hundred other NCAA teams appeared in the first half of their contest versus a physical Marist team. Perhaps the team stayed up too late worried sick about Terrence Jones, who had quite the Thursday night on his own. The Red Foxes used forward Andy Kemp to facility an inside-out game that sliced and shot-over the sluggish Wildcats defense. Calipari said after the game that without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11 points, five rebounds and nearly every positive defensive play in 1st half) and Anthony Davis (ten points, five rebounds in 1st half), “we are down at halftime.”

Kentucky forward Anthony Davis' ability to dunk nearly any lob pass let the Wildcats stay ahead of Marist. (Photo via 247 Sports.)

In the second half, as Marist coach Chuck Martin said afterwards, “the No. 2 team in the country showed up.” With ten blocks and five steals and eight forced turnovers in the second half, Kentucky held Marist to just 22 total points on 17.1% FG. Kentucky’s Davis finished with 23 points and should have a special stat created for him called, “Points Not Scored On Dunks.” Wildcat point guard Marquis Teague finished with 16 points, four assists and three turnovers.

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Oregon Opens Season With Road Test At Vanderbilt

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2011

Welcome to hoops season, Pac-12 fans. Yeah, we’ve had seven games this week so far (including a couple featuring Arizona), but let’s face it: tonight is the real opening night. We’ve got 131 games on the docket involving Division I teams, and we’ve got seven Pac-12 teams in action (Oregon State and Washington hold their openers on Saturday evening, while Washington State and Utah will wait until Monday to get going). And while fans of each team will be interested to see exactly how their teams look in their first official competition, the one Pac-12 game tonight that should have fans around the country interested is Oregon’s trip to Nashville to face the #7 in the latest RTC poll, Vanderbilt. And while the basketball matchup with the Commodores may only serve as prelude to the main event for most Duck fans this weekend, for us hoops junkies, this is every bit as worthwhile.

While Oregon head coach Dana Altman was hoping to put together a solid schedule this season, opening the year on the road in one of the tougher places in the country to play, Memorial Gymnasium, was not necessarily the goal. But a road game with Auburn fell through in August and Oregon had to scrape around to find a replacement, eventually landing on Vandy (the ‘Dores will return the favor with a trip to Eugene in future years).

John Jenkins, Vanderbilt

John Jenkins With A Clean Look At The Hoop Is Not A Sight Oregon Fans Want To See Tonight

For Oregon fans, it is their first look at a remade roster, featuring three newly eligible Division I transfers, four incoming freshmen and one junior college transfer to pair with the six returnees from last year’s CBI championship team. While one of those transfers, point guard Devoe Joseph, won’t be eligible until the middle of December, 6’7” senior forward Olu Ashaolu and 6’11” junior center Tony Woods should play big minutes right away and give Altman an element of size up front that was missing last year. And, given that Vanderbilt’s starting center Festus Ezeli is out for this game with a knee injury (he would have missed the game even without the injury due to an NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits), that could be a strength for the Ducks. Read the rest of this entry »

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