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 and overall league titles.
By Don Yates
The 2009-10 Vanderbilt basketball team welcomes all but one player back from a year ago and has one goal in mind: Get back to the NCAA Tournament.
After just missing last year’s Big Dance with a 19-12 (8-8 SEC) record, the Commodores should have a good shot at achieving that goal with their impressive number of returnees along with a heralded true freshman who has joined the squad.
Reserve guard George Drake, who transferred to UAB, is the only player that did not return to the team.
At center, the Commodores return 6-11 junior A.J. Ogilvy, who garnered second-team All-SEC honors a year ago after averaging 15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game despite being hampered by back pain through much of the season. Ogilvy is reportedly fully recovered from his back problem.
Ogilvy and his Vanderbilt teammates visited the big center’s homeland of Australia in August and played five exhibition games, winning three. Ogilvy is not the only big man on the Vandy roster. Redshirt freshman Festus Ezeli averaged 3.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game last year. While he is not as quick as Ogilvy under the basket, he does have better leaping ability than the Aussie.
At the forward position the Commodores return 6-9 sophomore Steven Tchiengang. Tchiengang started 16 games a year ago and averaged 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds a game. The other forward position will likely be another sophomore, Jeffery Taylor. Taylor was the third leading scorer a year ago averaging, 12.2 points a game and the second-leading rebounder (6.2), behind Ogilvy. The 6-7 Taylor has the skills and athleticism to play either a shooting guard or forward position.
Still another sophomore, Lance Goulbourne, got significant action last season. He played well off the bench, averaging 5.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest. Another player who could get significant playing time at forward is Andre Walker. Walker played significant minutes early in the season, and scored 10 points against Illinois in 23 minutes of action, but unfortunately he injured his ACL in the next game and missed the rest of the season. The NCAA awarded him a medical hardship for the season.
Darshawn McClellan is another player who may get increased playing time this season. Early last season he played significant minutes, but as the season progressed and several freshmen became more used to head coach Kevin Stallings’ system, his minutes began to decline.
The Commodores will be in good hands at the guard positions. They return senior starter Jermaine Beal at point. A year ago he had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the conference in addition to averaging a dozen points a game. Shooting guard Brad Tinsley was the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 11 points per game. Both Tinsley and Beal shot better than 40 percent from three-point range and 80 percent at the free throw line.
Joining Beal and Tinsley this season will be shooting guard John Jenkins, who is considered one of the most highly-sought after players to ever sign with Vanderbilt. As a senior, Jenkins averaged 42 points a game and earned not only Tennessee Mr. Basketball honors but also Parade and Reebok All-America honors. He shot better than 47 percent from three-point range and 88 percent from the charity stripe.
One of the problems with the 2008-09 team, a problem also shared by other SEC teams, was that the NCAA selection committee considered the Commodores’ strength of schedule too weak. The 2009-10 schedule should be formidable enough to keep that issue from re-occurring this season. Early on Vanderbilt will travel to California to face Saint Mary’s.
The Commodores will head even farther west to play in the prestigious Maui Invitational in Hawaii, facing Cincinnati in the opener and then either Maryland or Chaminade in its second game. Later Vandy will host Missouri and Western Kentucky and visit Illinois. Then after only a couple of cupcake games the Commodores will begin their rigorous SEC slate.
SEC Predicted Order of Finish
4. South Carolina
1. Mississippi State
2. Ole Miss
Overall League Champion: Kentucky