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No. 7: Vanderbilt Commodores


Mike Miller

Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 23-11 (9-7), 3rd in SEC East
Lost in NCAA tournament first round

Coach: Kevin Stallings, 236-148, 13th year (359-211 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2009

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: No team can match the Commodores threesome of John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli. All three can dominate games at times, though there’s little doubt Jenkins is THE man.

The 6-4 junior is an elite scorer and perhaps the nation’s best shooter. He spent the summer leading Team USA in scoring at the University Games and is on the shortlist for national player of the year. Jenkins is the type of player who can elevate a program from good to a Final Four.

Ezeli, a 6-11 center, and Taylor, are right behind in terms of efficiency and usage, giving Stallings three guys he can lean on when the need arises. Also crucial are the additions of guards Dai-Jon Parker and Kedren Johnson, both of whom will be an improvement at point guard.

The bad: Vandy’s late-game offense last season often morphed into this: Jenkins has ball, Jenkins shoots. Sometimes that works, but it usually just means everyone stands around and watches.

That helps explain how Vandy lost 11 games last season, including another early NCAA tournament exit. That puts a little more pressure on Parker and Johnson to distribute the ball, but that’s asking a lot of two newcomers.

More reasonable would be if Jenkins’ game became more diverse. Or to just go Jimmer on people.

The unknown: Will Taylor’s production ever match his talent? The 6-7 wing has the physical gifts to thrive in college and the NBA, but he can disappear at times. Adding a 3-point shot to his game last season helped, though improving his stroke (34.5 percent) is next.

That happens, he’ll become a complete offensive threat who’ll help free up shots for Jenkins and take double-teams off Ezeli. That’ll be crucial when teams with similar or more talent (read: Kentucky) come along and take away Jenkins or Ezeli as options. Then it’ll fall to Taylor to shoulder more of the load.

And is a Top 10 spot expecting too much of a team that’s usually cast as an overachiever? If there’s ever a time Vandy defies that typecasting, it’s now or never.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

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