Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division titles. Here is a look at the Vanderbilt Commodores.
By Don Yates
After a Georgetown buzzer-beater kept the 'Dores out of the Elite Eight two seasons ago, Shan Foster and company suffered a different kind of heartbreak last March, when upstart Siena routed Vanderbilt, sending the 4th-seeded Commodores home early.
Foster, the school's all-time leading scorer, has graduated along with Alex Gordon, Ross Neltner, and Alan Metcalfe, leaving the 'Dores without a senior on the roster. Just like last year, though, Stallings has landed heralded recruits expected to make an instant impact in Nashville. Led by center A.J. Ogilvy and point guard Jermaine Beal, a freshman class that ranks among the nation's best looks to propel the Commodores to a third straight NCAA Tournament.
The 6-11 Ogilvy was a bit of an unknown commodity entering his freshman season, but he burst onto the scene in a big way, leading all freshmen and ranking eighth in the conference with 17.0 points per game. Without Foster, the conference's leading scorer from a year ago, Vanderbilt will count on Ogilvy to lead an offense that ranked second in the SEC in scoring last season.
Joining Ogilvy in the frontcourt are 6-7 sophomores Andre Walker and Darshawn McClellan. Walker has the perimeter skills to play out on the wing, while McClellan's tenacity on the boards should provide a needed boost in the paint.
New to the Vanderbilt frontcourt are 6-11 redshirt freshman Festus Ezeli and 6-8 true freshman Steve Tchiengang. Ezeli's combination of size and athleticism has Vanderbilt fans buzzing about a potential "twin towers" lineup; at the very least, the Nigerian native should provide some much-needed interior defense. Tchiengang, like McClellan, is a strong rebounder who can also step out and hit the perimeter jumper.
The loss of Foster, Gordon, and transfer Keegan Bell leaves the 'Dores lacking proven scoring punch on the perimeter. They'll look to the 6-3 junior Beal to tap into his scoring potential a bit more while continuing his stellar point guard play. Beal's 3.1 assist-to-turnover ratio led the SEC last season, and though he doesn't have Foster to dish to, he'll have a stable of athletic swingmen at his disposal.
Junior George Drake might be the Commodores' best athlete, but he has yet to emerge as an offensive threat. A pair of 6-7 true freshmen, Jeff Taylor and Lance Goulbourne, will give Beal and the 'Dores ample opportunity to get out on the break, as both combine perimeter skills with explosive athleticism. This highly-touted wing tandem could bring back memories of Foster and Derrick Byars.
A couple of long-range threats round out the Commodore backcourt. Brad Tinsley, a 6-3 true freshman, and Charles Hinkle, a 6-6 redshirt freshman, will stretch opposing defenses night in and night out. Tinsley also brings superior point guard skills to the table; don't be surprised to see him start alongside Beal or come off the bench to facilitate the second unit.
A home date with Illinois, trips to Georgia Tech and UMass, and a bout with South Florida in the SEC/Big East Invitational are the highlights of Vanderbilt's non-conference schedule. Like last season, the 'Dores will look to gel and find an offensive identity during a relatively quiet non-conference slate in order to make some noise during SEC play.
If the newcomers can make anywhere near the impact Ogilvy did last season, expect the Commodores to be in the NCAA conversation come March. At the very least, this will be a more athletic, better defensive group than last season's team. Offensive questions abound, but if Tinsley, Taylor, and Goulbourne can make up the scoring lost with Foster and Gordon's departure, this could be the SEC surprise team of the year.
Predicted Order of Finish
5. South Carolina
3. Ole Miss
4. Mississippi State