Commodores soar into March Madness

If Vanderbilt was looking for a boost of confidence as it headed into the NCAA appearance, it couldn't have gotten a bigger one than its 71-64 victory over top-ranked Kentucky for the SEC tournament championship.

"It's something that we want to build on," senior guard/forward Jeffery Taylor said after leading all scorers with 18 points in the win over the Wildcats. "We are coming off our first SEC tournament championship in 62 years, so it's huge momentum for us.

"Huge confidence lift to beat the No. 1 team. "I mean, they won some 20-some games in a row, so for us, we really feel good about ourselves. We're going to go practice and feel a lot more confident."

Such a victory, achieved when they rallied from a six-point deficit over the final five minutes, could be what the Commodores need to get over the one-and-done scenarios they have experienced in their last two NCAA appearances.

Vandy will go into the 2012 tournament as the No. 5 seed in the East Region. The Commodores, who are 24-10 overall, will open tournament play against Ivy League champion Harvard on March 15 in Albuquerque, N.M. The 12th-seeded Crimson is 26-4.

The winner of their matchup, which is billed as a "second-round game" because of the introduction of the "First Four" a year ago, will get the winner of the 4-13 game pairing Wisconsin and Montana.

If they should advance that far, the Commodores could be facing the region's No. 1 seed, Syracuse, in a regional semifinal.


Vandy-Harvard a smart matchup

--Considering the academic reputations of the two schools, you have to wonder if Vanderbilt-Harvard might not have been a matchup better served with the old "College Bowl" quiz-show competition series that ran on television from 1959-70 and then was continued from 1977-2008 on college campuses around the country. The only private institution in the SEC, Vandy is well-recognized as one of the top academic schools in the country. Harvard is, of course, in the academic-rich Ivy League.

--Vandy is making a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. The Commodores made back-to-back trips in 1988 and '89 and again in 2007 and '08. The deepest the Commodores have made it into the tourney has been a regional final in 1965, when the SEC champion earned an automatic spot in the regional semifinals; The Commodores made regional semifinal appearances in 1988, 1993, and 2007.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our team is like that proverbial box of chocolates. You just don't know." -- Coach Kevin Stallings, calling up a references from the movie "Forrest Gump" to describe his team.


SCOUTING REPORT: A veteran team, Vanderbilt has a strong inside-outside attack with 6-11 C Festus Ezeli in the low post and seniors Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley and junior John Jenkins on the perimeter. Taylor has made a significant improvement in his three-point shooting and continues to be a threat driving to the basket. Senior F Lance Goulbourne is an unheralded workhorse inside. Senior F Steve Tchiengang and freshmen guards Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker provide depth.

FUTURES WATCH: With four seniors starting and another playing a key role off the bench, Vandy has lots of rebuilding to do in 2012-13. If he passes on the NBA draft, Jenkins will be the only returning veteran.

REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: The Commodores got off to a bumpy start when Festus Ezeli missed the first eight games because of an NCAA-mandated suspension and knee problems but still managed to go 11-4 in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Closing out games was an issue that dogged them throughout the year with overtime losses to Xavier, Louisville, and Mississippi State. They also faded in the closing minutes of a six-point loss in the first meeting with Kentucky.


--Junior John Jenkins struggled from the field a bit against Kentucky (3-of-12) but still ended up with 17 points, giving him 55 points in Vandy's three SEC tourney appearances. Jenkins has scored 34 points and gone 11-of-19 from the field in Vandy's NCAA tourney losses to Richmond and Murray State the last two years.

--Senior G/F Jeffery Taylor will be looking to make up for past disappointments in his NCAA appearances. Taylor was 1-of-10 for only four points in Vandy's loss to Richmond last year and 3-of-7 for nine points against Murray State in 2010. Vandy did not make the NCAA field in Taylor's freshman season. Top Stories