Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
It was easy to get energized about Vanderbilt’s chances next season once the somewhat surprising news was announced that versatile swingman Jeffery Taylor would return for his senior campaign. Taylor joining forces with an experienced and talented guard tandem of John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley, along with efficient big man Festus Ezeli and quite a bit of depth, immediately gave folks in Nashville reason to believe they could contend with the powerhouse roster Kentucky assembled in the SEC. While those are four legitimate reasons for excitement – it’s awfully rare a team without a brand name like Duke, Carolina, Kentucky or UCLA returns their top four scorers (including three possible first round picks) from a top-15 efficient offense in the one-and-done era – I won’t be completely sold on Vanderbilt’s chances to usurp the Wildcats, or even fend off Florida, if their team defense doesn’t improve dramatically. The ‘Dores ranked a meager 88th in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, a mark good for tenth in the SEC, well behind the likes of both Kentucky and Florida. Their inadequacies on defense were a major reason why those of us tantalized by Vandy’s talent last season was so dumbfounded when they couldn’t quite put it all together on a sustained basis and why they ultimately dropped their final two games of the season to Florida and to #12 seed Richmond. The most confusing part: Vandy seemingly has the ancillary parts to be a strong defensive club. Taylor is regarded by NBA scouts as a premier stopper on the perimeter and Ezeli ranked 16th in block percentage in 2010-11.
The near-unanimous reaction following the NBA Draft declaration deadline was that Texas was the big loser. This isn’t necessarily false, but were we all that surprised Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson bolted for the pros, especially once it was known Thompson would be a lottery selection? Playing with a fellow Canadian in Myck Kabongo may seem enticing until millions of dollars are staring you in the face. Hamilton was never suited for a structured college game, either, and could really take off in the pros as a polished, explosive scorer capable of putting up points in bunches. The most shocking decision was that of Cory Joseph, who opted to leave school primarily on the basis of one workout just prior to the deadline, a decision that very few saw coming from an undersized point guard without mature floor instincts. Joseph likely saw the writing on the wall – that he’d be playing primarily as a two-guard opposite Kabongo and this move would devastate his draft stock even more – and ditched while he had a chance at the first round. Ben Howland must have been even more crushed than Rick Barnes, though. With Derrick Williams and Momo Jones out in Tucson, the opportunity was there to re-establish UCLA’s status as the premier Pac-10 representative after two tumultuous seasons. Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee are far from locks to have their name called in the first round, yet both made the abrupt decision to forgo their remaining eligibility and take their talents to the NBA. With Honeycutt and Lee joining forces with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith, Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and incoming two-guard Norman Powell in the fray, UCLA had a top-10 roster had the parts stayed together. It’s a shame, really.