Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Team (Of This Current Very Precise Moment)

The last time I attempted to make a case for a national title contender outside of the top 4 in the AP and Coaches’ Poll, they went ahead and lost that same night to UConn. You know who you are, West Virginia. This time, it’ll be different. Instead, I’m picking a team that freshly lost, and doesn’t play again until tomorrow: Vanderbilt. Take a jaunt with me down Vanderbilt boulevard, sip some of the Commodores’ Kool-Aid and together we’ll explore why they could be legit.

Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room first. It would have been much easier to make this case if they could have beaten Kentucky at home on Saturday. Instead they fell just short, 58 to 56. John Wall came up with a timely block towards the end and then iced a pair of free throws for the Kentucky win. Still, there were a lot of positives for Vandy. They held the wildcats to 35% shooting from the field. They beat Kentucky on the boards. And they were a missed Ogilvy runner away from beating the number 2 team in the nation. They just happened to shoot 2 for 20 from 3-point range. That’s 10% shooting. That’s what you call a fluke. Kentucky played them tight, but it wasn’t all defense that led to that abysmal percentage. If Vanderbilt could have sunk just one more 3, then it’s a different story.

The story that is for Vanderbilt is balance. At the head they have Jermaine Beal, who can score and is a decent distributor. He’s averaging less than 3 assists a game, but Brad Tinsley, who also adds a nice 3-point threat, lends a hand in that department. In addition, Vanderbilt has a tremendous pair they can play at center in A.J. Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli, both at 6’11. If Ogilvy can get deep on a team, he’s almost a sure thing. They are incredibly efficient as a whole on offense, and shoot over 53% from the field. There isn’t a true facet for opposing defenses to zero in on with the Commodores.

Their RPI ranking is 13, better than their showing in the AP and Coaches’ poll, and they’ve won 5 games against teams in the RPI top 50. They’ve beaten Tennessee handily, twice. They have an eyesore in their loss to Western Kentucky, but that was back in December. Since then, it seems like they’ve figured a thing or two out.

So why might Vanderbilt not be a team to pencil in at the end of the bracket? Because even though their loss to Western Kentucky was back in December, their loss to Georgia was just a few weeks back. And while they have good guard play, Jermaine Beal is not a floor general, more of a facilitator. Then there’s the matter of 3 point shooting. The 2 for 20 performance was a fluke, but on the season they’re only averaging 30 percent. That’s nothing spectacular and not a fluke.
Yet, going into the tournament Vandy seems bound for a 4 seed. I like them as a 4 seed. They’re going to be undervalued and dangerous. This team is likely to make some waves and maybe come up with a few upsets. Will that take them all the way? I don’t know. For this very current and precise moment, I’m willing to consider it.

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