The SEC has three teams in the top 10 of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Kentucky (No. 2) and Florida (No. 10) are perennially near the top of the rankings, yet the third team, Vanderbilt, finds itself in unfamiliar territory.
|(Matthew Tosh/Creative Commons)|
Coaches feel so strongly about this year’s team that the Commodores are ranked seventh in the nation, ahead of the likes of Louisville, Baylor, and Kansas.
Much of the reason for the high praise is the fact that all five of head coach Kevin Stallings’ starters from last year have returned for another season. Vanderbilt’s standout superstar is guard John Jenkins. Jenkins averaged 19.5 points per game in his sophomore season, and could have been drafted by an NBA team. Instead, he opted to come back for his junior year and is ready to make his mark in Commodore history.
Along with Jenkins, seniors Brad Tinsley, Festus Ezeli, and Lance Goulbourne, and junior Jeffery Taylor round out the starting five.
A lethal combination of experience and talent has catapulted the Commodores into national contention. Vandy obtained a No. 5-seed in the NCAA tournament last season, before falling to Richmond, 69-66. This year, the expectations are loftier, and a first-round departure will not suffice.
In order to succeed and improve upon their 23-11 campaign from a year ago, Vandy will need to fare well in key matchups against out-of-conference and SEC opponents. Out-of-conference, the Commodores match up against Xavier (No. 15), Louisville (No. 8), and Marquette (No. 21). In-conference, they face Alabama (No. 17), Florida twice, and Kentucky twice.
The huzzah surrounding Vandy’s season has not gone unnoticed by ESPN. The Commodores have fourteen games scheduled on ESPN’s family of networks, including home games against Kentucky and Florida, on February 11th and 28th.
Prior to this season, the Commodores often flew under the radar. Though they have compiled an impressive five-year streak of 19+ win seasons, there hasn’t been this much hubbub encircling Vandy in quite some time. In fact, the elite ranking of number seven in the country is the team’s highest since 1966 (No. 5).
Jenkins and the rest of the starting five are destined for excellence. However, Vandy will need to remain injury-free and get valuable production from the bench as the season unfolds in order to make a tournament run.