Yesterday's 95-87 win over the Gators to open SEC play was the kind of outing Commodore fans were hoping for. I know I wasn't the only one who went into yesterday's game concerned that the progress the team had shown after the Western Kentucky loss back in mid-December wouldn't hold up against a quality opponent. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Having watched or listened to every game this season, there is little doubt that Vanderbilt played it's most complete game of the season to beat the Gators at Memorial. Despite allowing 87 points, I thought Vanderbilt played solid defense. The Gators opened up the game on fire, hit their first 7 shots and lead by 7 points early in the first half. But Vanderbilt hung in their. John Jenkins' 2 threes off the bench got the crowd energized.
Vanderbilt showed off their depth yesterday, with 8 guys playing 12+ minutes. Our call for The Future to get more minutes was answered, with the freshman playing 26 minutes, and pouring in 13 points on 4-8 shooting (3-7 from downtown). Coach Stallings also got a big lift off the bench from Lance Goulbourne who did a sensational job spelling Jeffrey Taylor, playing 15 minutes, scoring 7 points and doing a good job on defense.
The stars for the Commodores are obviously A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal, who stepped up and assumed the leadership roles Commodore fans had been hoping for. Sure, Jermaine took a couple ill-advised shots (especially in transition). With that said, if any one of those 3's fall, it was quite possible the roof on Memorial would have blown right off. And, he his several jumpers that slowed Gator charges in the second half. Here's Beal's line: 22 points on 6-14 shooting (2-8 from 3), 8-8 from the charity stripe, 5 assists, and 2 turnovers. That is a complete game.
A.J. Ogilvy started out a little slow, and looked a little passive early. But that didn't last long. The junior scored 24 points, including a few great cuts to the basket, 7-13 from the field, 10-12 from the line, and 8 rebounds. A.J. scored the Commodores first 8 points in the second half, and gave every coach in the SEC reason to fear him.
The unsung hero of the game, to me, was sophomore forward Andre Walker. Walker might have had the most complete line with 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. Coach Stallings referred to Andre as a "glue guy" in a column in today's Tennessean by David Clymer. I couldn't agree more. Andre's ball-handling was extremely effective at alleviating the Gator press, and he made point passes that many point guards can't make. I tweeted yesterday that his play reminded me, at times, of Scottie Pippen. While he might not be a future hall of famer, I stand by the comparison.
While the emergence of Andre Walker as a press-breaking, offense-settling presence, coupled with the continued maturation of John Jenkins is great for Commodore fans, it certainly spells trouble for guard Brad Tinsley. Brad's shooting woes continued yesterday, going 0-6, including 0-3 from downtown. On the year, Tinsely is averaging just 30% from 3, and 37% from the field. But most telling for Brad is that, on the year, he's averaging 27 minutes a game. Yesterday, he played just 16 minutes against Florida. Coach Stallings is clearly frustrated with Brad's play. But he also knows that he's a good shooter and is capable of breaking out of his shooting slump at any time. CKS doesn't want to do anything to hurt Tinsley's already shaky confidence. With that said, Brad isn't contributing much. He's looked shaky when he's spelled Jermaine and played the 1, has not handled pressure particularly well, and as discussed above, is not scoring. That, coupled with Andre Walker's ability to distribute the ball and alleviate pressure, combined with Jenkins' play means it's more likely than not that Brad's minutes will continue to diminish. Right now, Vanderbilt's best line-up is Beal, Jenkins, Walker, Taylor, and A.J. While Lance, Festus, and Steve T. are also contributing more off the bench than Brad is. I personally think Vanderbilt can be extremely effective with a 9 man rotation that includes Brad Tinsely. I also think that it's time for John Jenkins to crack the starting line-up.
Vanderbilt travels to Alabama on Wednesday in what will be another important game for the Commodores. The Crimson Tide, under new head coach Anthony Grant, is 11-4 and handily handled LSU 66-49 to open SEC play yesterday. In year's past, Alabama was an incredibly dangerous, and erratic team, that always had a lot of talent, but a team that always appeared more interested in a highlight reel than wins and losses. I think that'll change under Grant. Vanderbilt has to be feeling good after their Gator win, let's just hope their isn't a let down Friday.
A quick note about Tennessee's win over Kansas
While it is certainly impressive, that amid all the off-the-court controversies, the Volunteers were able to knock-off undefeated #1 Kansas at Thompson-Bolling 76-68, I still think Bruce Pearl's team, as the season goes on, will have lost too much to be a real factor nationally. They are certainly capable of beating any team any time out, but I still see the race in the SEC East coming down to Kentucky trying to out-pace Florida and Vanderbilt. Bruce Pearl is a good coach and he's got a lot of talent, even without the services of Tyler Smith and the other 3 suspended players, but if the Volunteers finish better than .500 in the SEC, I'll be shocked.