SCOUTING THE COMMODORES
Vanderbilt, 2-0 after its win in the opening tournament round against Nebraska, starts four juniors and a sophomore in a tall, athletic line-up. Among best of the bunch is a beefed up Jeffery Taylor, which the school is touting as an All-American – though ironically Taylor is from Sweden. The 6-7, 225-pound swingman added 25 pounds in the offseason and seems to have kept his versatility. A solid spot-up shooter (five of six from 3pt. thus far), Taylor can also take foes off the dribble and score around the rim. He scored 438 points last season and is off to a 20-point average this year to go with 2.5 rebounds. This will be an excellent early-season test for West Virginia's defense and rebounding ability, the latter an aspect that was mediocre in the opening round tournament win over Davidson. WVU needs to get a body on Taylor and be able to provide some help-side defense as needed when he challenges the rim. This is an all-SEC caliber player, and likely the best pure athlete WVU has seen thus far in the season.
Fellow backcourt players Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins are also skilled, with Jenkins being named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year last season as a freshman. The 6-4, 220-pounder made 48.3 percent of his three-pointers and should continue that tear this season though more thorough he has missed 10 of 11 thus far this season. Jenkins is averaging 16 points per game and will be used by head coach Kevin Stallings to force West Virginia away from the bucket and create pass and driving lanes for Taylor and others. This is a player who must be guarded anywhere close to the arc, and all shots must be challenged. Tinsley (6-3, 210 lbs.), the point guard, is averaging nine points and a surprising eight rebounds. Able to slide to the two-spot, he'll start at the one against West Virginia. The junior isn't apt to put much pressure on the rim, instead content to protect the ball and distribute as needed. He'll shoot it when open, and has solid range, but isn't going to blow past foes, especially with WVU's Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla working against him.
Forward Andre Walker (6-7, 220 lbs.) doesn't pack a ton of scoring punch on a night-in, night-out basis. But he has better range than one would expect, and he'll shoot the three often. A fourth-year player, Walker started 31 of 32 games last season and scored six points while tallying five-plus rebounds. A bit injury prone (a foot issue ended his prep school career and he sat out most of the 2008-09 season with an ACL tear), Walker is a nuts-and-bolts player, one who doesn't appear to have done much until one sees his numbers in the box score. Center Festus Ezeli (6-11, 255 lbs.) averages eight points and a team third-best five rebounds. The Nigeria native, who was recruited by West Virginia and Connecticut, among others, made five starts last year after taking most of the first year in the program to add weight and muscle and get accustomed to the speed of American collegiate basketball. He had 43 blocks last season, sixth-best in program history, and has shown the ability to score well against lesser foes. He can change shots and alter approaches to the rim, but doesn't fare nearly as well against good interior competition of the kind he will see from the Mountaineers. He has a very good upside, though, and it is beginning to be realized in his fourth season and first as a full-time starter.
|Fri. Nov. 19
12:30 p.m. EST
Coliseo de Puerto Rico
WVU - 3
Vanderbilt - 278
The primary backcourt reserve is guard Kyle Fuller (6-1, 200 lbs.). The freshman averages three points in about 13 minutes per game thus far. Tinsley's backup, Fuller is a California native who had offers from UCLA, USC and Cal, among others. He is still developing, but has decent potential to become a very good player. Three-man backup Lance Goulbourne (6-8, 230 lbs.) is averaging about 16 minutes and five points and four rebounds a game. An "explosive talent," the Brooklyn native was a top 100 recruit. He played in 31 games last season, and if he can hone the raw ability a bit, could be a major contributor. The marquee reserve is junior Steve Tchiengang (6-9, 245 lbs.). The forward shoots the three well and is a good defender. His six rebounds and five points in 20 minutes off the bench are needed additions for Vandy, which has a lot of talent without much experience outside of its top six. Frosh forward Rod Odom (6-9, 215 lbs.) has played roughly10.5 minutes and is typically inserted for spot duty. Long and lean, Odom was recruited by the Mountaineers and several other big name schools.
This is easily the best team West Virginia has played this season. Vanderbilt is expected to compete well within the SEC, and has the talent and length to challenge the Mountaineers on the boards. It can shoot the three from certain positions, and it has some experience and a couple go-to scorers in Jenkins and Taylor. The Commodores have worked the ball into the interior with much success in their first two games, but WVU's length and quickness will negate that. Not surprisingly, shooting and rebounding will be keys. Both teams lock down the three-point line well and will battle foes on the boards. It appears Vandy has a bit better shooting touch, especially with Da'Sean Butler having departed. But the Mountaineers are a bit more seasoned, and perhaps mentally tougher, and should be able to win the rebounding. That was an aspect it was supposed to handily win against Davidson as well, though as head coach Bob Huggins said, WVU's missed free throws contributed mightily to Davidson's rebounding numbers. If West Virginia plays it's typically tough defense, limits Vanderbilt's three-pointers and offensive rebounding and doesn't get into foul trouble, the game should be won. Another day of multiple foul outs and missed foul shots, and the upset is ripe.
West Virginia has now won 51 of its last 56 games against unranked foes. The Mountaineers are trying for their 110th win against 39 losses since the start of the 2006-07 season.
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WVU went 27-0 last season when holding foes to less than 70 points. It is 74-3 under Huggins when it leads in a game by at least 10 points.
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The Mountaineers are 24-27 all-time against current SEC members. Huggins is 1-0 against Vanderbilt. Cincinnati defeated the Commodores 88-72 in 2004. He is 2-0 against Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings.
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Vanderbilt beat Presbyterian in its opener, then best Nebraska by 10 in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-off to advance to the semifinals.
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Lance Goulbourne, the Vandy reserve small forward, was an excellent prep tennis player whose serve topped out at 130 mph.