Vanderbilt is already in unfamiliar territory.
Coach Kevin Stallings feels the Commodores’ experienced roster
will keep them there.
Returning five starters for the first time in 12 seasons under
Stallings, seventh-ranked Vanderbilt looks to get the 2011-12
season off to a strong start against visiting Oregon on Friday
Expectations are unusually lofty for the Commodores, who haven’t
started a season this high in the AP poll since being ranked fifth
“If we start worrying about the expectations of the media and
the expectations of fans or parents and family and friends, then we
are going to drive ourselves crazy because the only thing we can
control is the kind of effort we put forth each day we come out
here to prepare ourselves,” Stallings said.
Vanderbilt is highly regarded because it returns all five
starters from a team that finished 23-11 last season and was a
fifth seed in the Southwest Regional of the NCAA tournament. The
Commodores, however, were quickly eliminated, losing their first
game to 12th-seeded Richmond 69-66.
Still, Stallings feels those experiences will prove worthwhile
as Vanderbilt looks to reach the NCAA tournament for a third
consecutive season for the first time in school history.
“I think experience, next to talent, is the best thing you can
have, and I feel like we have both,” Stallings said. “So I think
our experience will allow us to deal with challenges, deal with the
expectations, deal with the demanding schedule.”
John Jenkins is one of those experienced players, and the guard
led the SEC with 19.5 points per game as a sophomore last season.
Building on that will be important since center Festus Ezeli is out
for up to eight weeks with sprained ligaments in his right knee.
Ezeli was already slated to sit out the first six games due to an
NCAA suspension for accepting a meal and hotel room from an
Ezeli was a force in the paint last season, averaging 13.0
points and 6.3 rebounds, and he’s expected to be replaced by fellow
senior Steve Tchiengang and freshman Josh Henderson.
Tchiengang has started just one of his 67 games over the last
two seasons, averaging 4.8 points and 3.0 boards in 2010-11.
“We don’t have the luxury of having Festus out there,” forward
Jeffery Taylor said. “He turned out to be our bailout guy last
year. We could throw him the ball and he could make a shot. … It
has made it a little more difficult, but we have a lot of great
Taylor averaged 14.7 points last season, while Oregon native
Brad Tinsley led the SEC with 4.6 assists.
Vandy is 4-2 against Oregon in the all-time series, winning all
three home meetings. In the most recent Nov. 30, 2005, the
Commodores won 76-75 on Mario Moore’s 30-footer at the buzzer.
The Ducks are trying to improve upon a title-winning season.
They defeated Creighton in the best-of-three championship series in
the College Basketball Invitational, ending the season at
“We’ve got a much deeper team than we had a year ago,” said Dana
Altman, who is entering his second season as coach. “We are more
athletic, but I’m concerned about our skill levels and when you’re
trying to blend eight new scholarship players in, we’re going to go
through some growing pains. We’ve got a lot to work on.”
Five transfers are among Oregon’s newcomers as it tries to
replace two of its top three scorers.
E.J. Singler, the younger brother of former Duke standout Kyle
Singler, is likely to be the focal point of the offensive play. He
averaged 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds last season, and hit a
running jumper with 2.0 seconds left for a 71-69 win in Game 3 of
CBI championship series.