Note: This article was originally published at Bleacher Report.
Basketball season is on its way, and as I’ve said before, I’m thrilled that Vanderbilt isn’t considered Top 25 material in the preseason, because I much prefer “surprising”, to “meeting expectations”, or, perhaps, “disappointing.”
For Vanderbilt fans, high hopes are a catch-22: As expectations rise, so too does a deep-seeded cynicism. I, for one, have gotten uncomfortable hyping individual players on my blog, which, for the record, serves no purpose butthat of hyping players.
But that taste, the sickly sweetness of high expectations, may just be the nasty molasses that is Vanderbilt football. I had high hopes for that team this year, and my heart has been dashed, again and again, against the cold linoleum floor of the SEC basement.
But Commodore basketball is not necessarily plagued by the same demons. To consider Vanderbilt basketball history, my hopes have never been higher than they were Matt Frieje’s senior year, and he most certainly did not disappoint, nor did anticipated seniors Derrick Byars and Shan Foster. But I digress.
If you’re looking for reasons to get interested in Vanderbilt basketball, let me give you a few story lines to follow.
1. A.J. Ogilvy: He’s good. Is he good?
Ogilvy is a preseason first-team all-SEC player, according to the coaches’ poll. As a freshman, the Man Down Under made quite a racket in the preseason, before calming down a bit against SEC foes. Ogilvy nonetheless finished strong, averaging 17 points and seven rebounds a game, and gaining a smidgeon of NCAA tournament experience.
In his sophomore season, despite averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game, Ogilvy proved to have a weakness[es]. To the untrained eye, Ogilvy was wildly inconsistent, blowing up against LSU (10 rebounds, 33 points), Alabama (12 rebounds, 20 points), and South Carolina (five rebounds, 28 points) while getting completely shut down against Tennessee (seven points), Florida (four points), and, um, South Carolina (three points).
A popular theory, formulated by people who followed his facebook status updates, was that Ogilvy was getting anti-pumped for games by ruminating about past girlfriends and feeling generally sad. As it turns out, he simply listens to terrible music. His inconsistency was rather due to Vanderbilt’s two-dimensional offense, which lacked the perimeter threat to give Ogilvy room to work.
Ogilvy was double-teamed in the aforementioned games against the Vols, Gators, and Gamecocks, and left with only one defender in his big games. With the whole offense improved, and the addition of John Jenkins, he could have plenty of room this year. Will he be a beast of consistency?
2. John Jenkins: Can he live up to the hype?
Vanderbilt’s freshman class is arguably the most hotly anticipated class in Vanderbilt history, and it only has one person. As a high school senior, John Jenkins led the nation in scoring with 42.3 points a game, never scoring below 30. If he’s half as good as we all think he is, he’ll turn heads, win games, and be a real threat to Kevin Stallings’ formidable powers of retention.
3. Jeffery Taylor: Can he live up to the oxymoronic “‘underrated’ hype”?
I have made much of Jeffery Taylor’s remarkable athleticism. His weakness, though, is in his intensity. Taylor may provide the five most memorable moments of a game, but he stays very quiet between those moments. His highlight reels are unbelievable, his statistics rarely top “quite good.”
Be this an issue of attitude or conditioning, he can certainly be more productive. Vanderbilt fans and NBA scouts alike drool over Taylor’s potential.
4. Jermaine “Dolla” Beal: Senior leadership?
Jermaine Beal is beloved especially amongst old-school Vandy fans for his steady hand. He’ll show occasional flash and intensity, but more importantly, he never falls apart and ruins a game. The guy is a pitch-perfect role player, the very pinnacle of a backcourt anchor.
It’s his senior year now, and Beal must want the spotlight, but this team needs a Russell Lakey, not a Mario Moore. Can Beal step up and play the rock-steady basketball that’s become his hallmark?
5. Who’s going to get loud?
Brad Tinsley, Andre Walker, and Lance Goulbourne each have the ability to explode and dominate a game. Tinsley may be an even steadier hand than Beal, and he quietly led last year’s team in 3-point efficiency, despite a tendency to bail on open shots.
Walker and Goulbourne are similarly primed to blow the minds of fans and opponents alike, as each was handicapped last year, Walker by an injury, and Goulbourne by illness. Walker has been praised for his versatility, Goulboune for his athleticism and smile. If any (or, ideally, all) of these players break out this year, Vanderbilt could be one of the deepest teams in the country.
Bonus: Lovable African wildcards Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang are two question marks that may be answered with exclamation points, or, if we’re lucky, interrobangs. Neither of these big men had played basketball at all before six years ago. Think about that for a moment.
6. Media respect.
The media likes us at 30th. The Dores, as usual, must earn their respect the hard way. But this team has the potential to win with a quiet, respectable character that will make Kentucky fans stare blankly into space until someone shakes something shiny in front of them.
In a league where Kevin Stallings is picked behind John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, who demand more attention than drag queens at an NRA rally, there’s a real “can’t wait to see the look on their faces” kind of glee among Vanderbilt fans.
7. Kentucky: How terrible?
Vanderbilt fans are optimistic, but I won’t ignore the possibility that the Dores could completely flop. If that happens, Vanderbilt fans must unite to insult Kentucky and its fans. Because no matter how optimistic Vanderbilt fans are, they do not even come close to the stratospheric blend of arrogance and ignorance that is Wildcat basketball. They are, simply, the worst.
So. there you have it. If this doesn’t get Vanderbilt fans excited about basketball, perhaps playing football against Florida this weekend will.