Marquette Golden Eagles (9-3) at No. 24 Vanderbilt Commodores (9-2)
Memorial Gym – Nashville, TN
Wednesday, 8 PM CST
TV: ESPN 2, Clay Matvick (play-by-play) & Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
Coming into Wednesday evening's matchup both Marquette and Vanderbilt find themselves on two-game winning streaks following tough losses to Wisconsin and Missouri respectfully. For the Golden Eagles, the contest will mark their first real test on the road while a similar story holds true for the Commodores as for the first time this season they will welcome a tournament team from last year to Memorial Gym.
Vanderbilt will pose one of the toughest challenges for Marquette to date as they possess a unique combination of size and outside shooting that most clubs can't match. Not only do the Commodores have 11 – that's right Marquette fans, eleven – players that go 6'7" or better, they also shoot almost 48% from the floor including an impressive 39% from beyond the arch.
Like the 2008-2009 Marquette squad, the Vanderbilt attack is lead by a three-headed monster. Unlike that Golden Eagle team however, the Commodores' attack has a much more profound inside presence.
Juniors Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli anchor a strong and deep frontcourt while sophomore guard John Jenkins gives Kevin Stallings one of the best shooters in the country in his backcourt.
It all starts and stops for Vanderbilt with Jenkins who is the team's leading scorer at over 18 points per game. In high school, Jenkins was one of the nation's most prolific scorers – averaging 30 ppg his junior year and leading the country at 42.8 ppg as a senior – and not much has changed since.
The sophomore from Hendersonville, TN has shown time and time again that he is a constant threat to tickle the twine. His two most impressive outings of the year came against arguably the Commodores stiffest competition. He poured in a season-high 27 points in heart-breaking loss to West Virginia and chipped in 23 points in an overtime loss to Missouri. Jenkins has knocked down four or more three-pointers in seven games and also excels at taking his defender off of the dribble.
As the aforementioned alludes, the frontcourt is the strength of this Commodore club; and Taylor and Ezeli lead the way.
Taylor is revered as one of the best defenders in the SEC and his combination of length and touch – a near 40% 3-point shooter – make him a dynamic player who is threat from both the block and wing as evidenced by an 18 point, 10 rebound performance against Missouri.
Ezeli, on the other hand, is more of a prototypical bruiser down low. The junior is experiencing a break-out season more than doubling his rebounding average while adding nearly 10 ppg more than a season ago. Ezeli has tallied two double-doubles through eleven games, but was a mere basket or rebound away from doing so on three other occasions. He tends to play with his back to the basket and will do most of his damage on the block.
The other two other players that remain particularly instrumental are juniors Brad Tinsley and Lance Goulbourne. As point guard, Tinsley is the orchestrator controlling the offense and dishing out a team-leading 4.9 apg. Tinsley appears to be more of a pass-first point guard but is certainly a complete player as shown by a triple-double earlier in the year against Presbyterian. Goulbourne is yet another impressive post player who is of the same size and similar skill set to Taylor – perhaps a bit better rebounder but not quite as athletic.
As a team, Vanderbilt likes to play more of an up-tempo style. They are an incredibly athletic bunch and their length and depth allow them to get out and run. For the season the Commodores average about 80 ppg and if the statistics hold, Wednesday night's game should be a high-scoring affair.
Looking forward, all signs appear to point towards an up-hill struggle for Marquette. Vanderbilt has a decided size advantage and also an ability to make a team pay for leaving players open on the wing – something that has haunted the Golden Eagles at times this season. However, if the Commodores do have one weakness it would appear to be their lack of depth at the guard position as their production really falls off after Jenkins and Tinsley.
For Marquette to have a chance of pulling one out, they're going to need their best performance to date. Not only must the Golden Eagles be efficient at the offensive end but they must also keep Jenkins in check and try to limit Vanderbilt's entry passes to the low post.
I would look for a few things from Marquette Wednesday night.
The first being how well – if at all – Vander Blue can slow down Jenkins as I would imagine he marks him from the tip. The next thing I would look for is significant minutes from both Chris Otule and Davante Gardner. Despite their defensive deficiencies at times, both possess the size to compete with the Commodores front line and Gardner could be an asset by drawing fouls on the offensive end. And finally, I would also pay close attention to DJO. He has struggled thus far this season but something tells me he's due for a big game.
Vanderbilt Head Coach: Kevin Stallings (222-139 12th season, 345-202 18th overall)
Probable Commodore Starters
G – John Jenkins (6'4" 215 lbs, Soph.)(18.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
G – Brad Tinsley (6'3" 210 lbs, Jr.)(9.2 ppg, 4.9 apg)
F – Jeff Taylor (6'7" 225 lbs, Jr.)(13.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
F – Lance Goulbourne (6'8" 225 lbs, Jr.)(8.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
C – Festus Ezeli (6'11" 255 lbs, Jr.)(13.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
Key Commodore Reserves
F – Rod Odom (6'9" 207 lbs, Fr.)(5.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F – Steve Tchiengang (6'9" 240 lbs, Jr.)(5.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
G – Kyle Fuller (6'1" 180 lbs, Fr.)(1.9 ppg, 1.7 apg)
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