Sunday, November 15, 2009

Vanderbilt Basketball OFFICIAL Season Preview

While the truth is we here at VSL have been previewing basketball for at least a month now, we’ve decided to bless you faithful readers with our “official” season preview. In the effort to ensure you’re fully informed, we’ll first tell you a few goings-on with the team, including some rumors and reports, provide a by-position breakdown of the unit, and discuss what should be a vastly-improved conference in the SEC.

Where They Were

Last year, the Commodores finished with a 19-12 overall record and 8-8 in conference. The Commodores were very young with no seniors, but sported the most decorated recruiting class of the Kevin Stallings era. Naturally, this led to a rough opening as the Commodores dropped five of their first six games in conference play. But down the stretch the Dores managed to take 7 of their last 10 before the season ending loss to Alabama in the conference tournament. With the weak conference and a light-weight non-conference schedule, the Dores found themselves shut out of the NCAA and the NIT, and opted to end the season there. The season wasn’t without bright spots, as freshmen Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley grew into their roles and solidified themselves as benchmarks of our starting lineup, with Taylor earning All-SEC Freshmen team honors. A.J. Ogilvy, who struggled with injuries and illness throughout the year, performed admirably in a road win at LSU and a big win at home over South Carolina, and earned Coaches All-SEC Second Team honors.

What They Did

The Commodores added John Jenkins, the highest ranked recruit in Vanderbilt history, to a roster of budding young players. Jenkins had a monster year after signing an early LOI to Vanderbilt in the fall, going on to be the nation’s leading scorer at 42.7 points per game. In addition, the Commodores lost only one key contributor in George Drake, who decided to spend his fifth year at UAB.

Kevin Stallings made major news headlines after footing the bill for his team to take a trip to play in Australia over the summer, providing his young team a great opportunity to experience some international level talent, as well as to further gel into a cohesive unit. Reports from that trip noted great improvement from Redshirt Sophomore Festus Ezeli, a highly athletic big man with a lot of upside, even though a tad bit raw, after notably playing organized basketball for only a few years. has an excellent daily blog of the team’s performance and it’s definitely worth checking out.

Where They Are Now

As the season opens tomorrow, rumors swirl of tremendous play in a “secret” scrimmage against UNC, including a great performance from senior PG Jermaine Beal, who has steadily improved as a perimeter threat. The Commodores gave their fans an initial taste of their potential in an exhibition game against University of Alabama-Huntsville, with solid performances coming from a multitude of players, which we recapped earlier. As the season opens, the Dores remain under the radar, picked to be a sleeper by some, and snubbed by others, but generally thought to fall behind UK, it’s new coach and new talent, as well as Bruce Pearl and his experienced Tennessee Volunteers.

2009-2010 Commodores by Position


Vanderbilt Senior Point Guard Jermaine Beal, the lone senior on this team, leads one of the most talented backcourts to come through the program. Though slightly off his tremendous sophomore year in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio (3.1/1 in 2008, 2/1 in 2009), Beal upped scoring last year from 7.6 ppg in 2008 to 12.5 ppg in 2009. He will be expected to keep a still relatively young team on track. As David Namm of notes, this is Beal’s team.

Beal is joined by Sophomore Brad Tinsley, who had an excellent freshman campaign, averaging 11.0 ppg, and shooting 41% from three. Tinsley also demonstrated ability as a passer, finishing second on the team in assists. Tinsley is a flexible combo guard who can run the point when needed.

Behind Tinsley and Beal waits John Jenkins, to whom we previously alluded. There's a great story in SI where four of the nation's top recruits: Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, Alex Oriakhi, and John Henson, all were asked who the best shooter of the incoming freshman class was. The unanimous vote was John Jenkins. The best part is that Jenkins will not be asked to do too much early on except add another weapon on the perimeter, where we struggled at times last season.

Additional minutes are to be gained from Charles Hinkle, who is a solid shooter, though slightly inexperienced.


For as solid a backcourt as we have, the frontcourt is equally dangerous. The two obvious studs for this unit are Junior 2nd Team All-SEC Center A.J. Ogilvy, who was the first sophomore in Vanderbilt history to cross the 1,000 point barrier, as well as Sophomore Jeffery Taylor, who earned All-SEC Freshman team honors.

Ogilvy’s numbers were slightly down last year as he averaged only 15.4 ppg after an excellent freshman showing at 17.0 ppg. However, A.J. struggled with plantar fasciitis, as well as illness. Notably, Ogilvy has had a couple of injury issues this preseason as he is trying to recover from the effects of a concussion suffered in practice, but Coach Stallings maintains confidence that he’ll get into shape as the season goes on.

Taylor has a lot of scouts drooling about his ability. Jay Bilas noted that Taylor is one of the ten most underrated players in college basketball (link requires ESPN insider registration). Taylor had a solid year and was a real steal for the Commodores recruiting class as he averaged 12.2 ppg while getting 6.2 rebounds per game. Taylor is long, athletic, and can jump out of the gym. Perhaps the one area of his game that suffers is a mid-range jump shot, and if he has developed that, as is reported to be the case, look out.

Ogilvy and Taylor are joined in the starting lineup (projected at least) by Andre Walker, who Coach Stallings considers to be the “glue” of this team. Walker is a multi-purpose player, with an ability to rebound, score, play great defense, handle the ball, and pass. Walker broke into the starting lineup last year, but his season was shortened by a torn ACL against MTSU. Healthy again, Walker is ready to demonstrate the ability that Coach Stallings sees and provide a well-rounded starting five.

Behind these three is a talented bench with a bit of veteran seasoning. Redshirt Sophomore Festus Ezeli, as noted above, came on strong on the Australia trip after proving to be an athletic post presence last year. Though still a bit raw, the reports are that Ezeli continues to improve by leaps and bounds, and could become a force in the post all his own by year’s end. Sophomore Steve Tchiengang was a sought after recruit as well for the Commodores last year and has shown some flashes of brilliance. On more than a couple of occasions last year Steve T. scored 10+ points per game. Steve T. is also a capable mid-range shooter, and can nail the three-ball too if need be. Sophomore Lance Goulbourne is a long, athletic wing player who can really dazzle with his hops. He is a bit raw in his own right, but provides quality depth and an explosive ability to get to the rim. Not to be overlooked is Junior Darshawn McClellan, who is a tenacious rebounder and a hard-worker.

Every single one of those players were involved last year and should provide for a deep, experienced bench. Perhaps most overlooked about the frontcourt is their versatility, as many of these guys can play the 3/4 and 4/5 spots at any time.

Flying Under the Radar

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the snubs of certain members of the media, and we’ve talked a great deal about how that can be an advantage. Regardless, this team has the tools and talent to be a threat in the SEC East, a vastly improved division. That, however, is a discussion for tomorrow, when we continue our preview of the season by discussing the out-of-conference schedule, as well as the SEC’s improvement.


Clark said...

I know this may be really late, but I have a play-by-play of the UNC scrimmage if anyone wants it.

VandyGold28 said...

I'm ready for the season to begin tonight! A game that finally counts. I hope they really come out on fire and win this game early.

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