Commentary

CBB Summer Buzz: Vanderbilt

With all five starters back, Vanderbilt has the talent to make March Madness noise

Updated: August 9, 2011, 10:07 AM ET
By Elena Bergeron | ESPN The Magazine
John JenkinsAP Photo/Mark HumphreyJohn Jenkins (left) hopes to lead Vandy to plenty of high-fives in Nashville this season.

Insider knows you're hot for hoops during the summer, so we're bringing you a closer look at a few of the big-profile schools before most freshmen have even moved into their dorms. We continue with Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Commodores

2010-11: 23-11 (NCAA tournament -- Round of 64)

On paper Vanderbilt looks great, as usual. The team returns all five of its starters, including the SEC's scoring (junior guard John Jenkins, 19.5 ppg) and assist (senior guard Brad Tinsley, 4.6 apg) leaders. Coach Kevin Stallings even got potential NBA draft picks Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor back, to boot. Jenkins, Taylor and Ezeli each ranked on Basketball Prospectus' top 20 college players this season (the only team with three ranked players). Behind that talent, Vandy's a projected top 10 preseason team for the first time this decade.

"We're a team that gets in the national rankings somewhere in the middle of the season," says senior swingman Taylor, "so it's a little bit of a change that people are having us in the top 5 or top 10."

But if things go the way they have for the Dores the past three seasons, that on-paper projection will be nothing but origami by mid-March. The upperclassmen-laden lineup has entered the NCAA tournament as no lower than a five-seed each of the past three years. They're 0-for-3 in that span. No matter what month they enter the polls, the vets realize that this is their last opportunity to make good on their collected talent.

"The main thing is us maintaining that ranking," says Jenkins. "Rankings can't get us over the hump, our play is gonna have to. We have a more focused approach this year mainly because we're older and we want to win so bad."

While each member is individually skilled, collectively the Commodores didn't always maximize their talents. Ezeli had to sit for stretches throughout the season due to his poor FT shooting or foul trouble. And the final game of last season ended when Vanderbilt couldn't hit free throws or get a shot off on the last possession, problems veteran teams aren't supposed to have. Getting past the first round this season hinges on Vandy finally putting it all together.