Monmouth (NJ)-Vanderbilt Preview
Despite an overall successful start, Vanderbilt has not made things easy on itself through the first two weeks of the season.
The No. 18 Commodores should have a less difficult time when they host winless Monmouth (N.J.) on Friday night.
Vanderbilt (4-1) began the season ranked seventh in the country but slipped out of the top 10 two games into the season after it was upset 71-58 at home by Cleveland State on Nov. 13.
Though the Commodores have won three straight since that loss - the last two to capture the Legends Classic in New Jersey earlier this week - coach Kevin Stallings knows his squad is far from being a top 10-caliber group.
"We've got a habit of making it hard on ourselves than it has to be," Stallings said. "It's frustrating."
The Commodores had to work to win their third regular-season tournament in five years.
They overcame a 31-of-62 shooting performance from North Carolina State by making 51.9 percent of their own shots in an 86-79 win over the Wolfpack on Saturday. Two nights later Vanderbilt overcame 22 turnovers to beat Oregon State 64-62 on Brad Tinsley's 15-foot jumper with 4.5 seconds left in the championship game.
"We can't play not to lose, we have to play to win," Stallings said. "We've got to take care of the ball and get better defense."
Vanderbilt has a good opportunity to improve in both of those areas against Monmouth (0-5), which has averaged 55.0 points on 33.8 percent shooting this season. The Hawks are giving up 86.4 points per contest and should be in for a major challenge trying to contain Vanderbilt stars John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor.
The SEC's leading scorer averaging 20.8 points per game, Jenkins was named MVP of the Legends Classic after he totaled 42 points on 15-of-29 shooting for the two games. He went 8 of 16 from 3-point range. The junior guard has scored in double figures in 37 straight games dating back to Vanderbilt's 62-52 loss to Mississippi State in the 2010 SEC tournament.
"Day in and day out, John Jenkins has proven to be one of the best shooters in the country,'' said Tinsley, averaging 11.0 points this season. "John is such a great weapon."
Taylor also was named to all-tournament team in New Jersey after he recorded 30 points and 16 rebounds against N.C. State and Oregon State. He also played a key role defensively by helping hold Beavers star Jared Cunningham to nine points after the junior guard scored 35 and 37, respectively, in his previous two contests.
The Commodores won't have to worry about shutting down a prolific scorer Friday night against a Monmouth team that does not feature a single player averaging double figure points. Junior forward Ed Waite averages a team-leading 8.6 per game and has been limited to 22 total points his last three contests.
Monmouth has dropped eight in a row since a 57-51 win over St. Francis (Pa.) on Feb. 17. The Hawks did win the only previous meeting with Vanderbilt, 81-67 at the 2001 Hawaii Pacific Thanksgiving Classic.