College Basketball Nation: Jeffery Taylor

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A quick look at fourth-seeded Wisconsin's 60-57 victory Saturday over No. 5 Vanderbilt:

Overview: The Badgers might have been a top-15 team and a high pick in the Big Ten. But if you saw this team early in the season against Marquette, then losing to Iowa in the Big Ten, there is no way you would think Wisconsin could be a Sweet 16 team. But Wisconsin muzzled Vandy early, made key 3s, and got crucial rebounds to limit Vandy to one shot to prevail in a highly entertaining second half. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan knew this wasn’t his most talented team, but it may have been his most improved. Vandy’s senior class, which had accomplished so much, couldn’t close out against a Wisconsin squad that simply made the late-game plays. This was as impressive a victory as you’ll see in the weekend by a team that followed its own script perfectly.

Turning point: Jordan Taylor was getting defended quite well. The shot clock was winding down. With a second left he launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key and buried it for a 59-57 lead with 1:34 remaining. Vandy had just gotten a huge Festus Ezeli block and a scoring move inside to take a 1-point lead. Taylor’s shot was a big swing.

Key player: It’s a tough call between Jordan Taylor and Ryan Evans. Evans was hot early. But Taylor once again showed that he makes plays when the shot clock is winding down. Taylor finished with 14 points, but his three 3s were all daggers and he ran a steady game for the Badgers.

Key stat: The Badgers have to make 3s to win. They made 10. They also took 33. But that’s OK. They have to do that to pull off a win like this over Vandy.

Miscellaneous: Vandy coach Kevin Stallings benched Ezeli to start the game, opting to start Steve Tchiengang. The Commodores got down 10-2 to start the game. Hard to say if that had a direct effect. ... Old school here at the Pit as the wave made a cameo in the second half. ... Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor is deceptively quick. He broke down Vandy on multiple occasions with his fleet first step. He found openings to the hole when he needed them. Meanwhile, Jeffery Taylor might have had the broken-ankle move when he got Rob Wilson on the court with a crossover move. Taylor then buried the 3-pointer. ... More old-school stuff here in the Land of Enchantment as a beach ball made its way around the arena until a security guard popped it, much to the dismay of the fans.

What’s next: Wisconsin will take on Syracuse in Boston on Thursday. And to take this team lightly would be a major mistake. Wisconsin finds a way. Always does.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A look at Saturday’s Round of 32 doubleheader at The Pit:

No. 5 seed Vanderbilt (25-10) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (25-9), 6:10 p.m. ET

Vanderbilt can see itself in Wisconsin. The Badgers see the Commodores as a mirror image as well.

These are two programs that have been consistently good under Kevin Stallings and Bo Ryan, yet constantly undervalued in their respective conferences.

They are never the first pick to win the league title. They don’t get the top choice in recruits. Yet they remain in the mix near the top of their conferences, usually have upperclassmen contributing at a high level and have had their share of NBA talent.

Wisconsin has won Big Ten titles. Vanderbilt finally won an SEC one, at least in the tournament. It still counts.

And now they will meet in a 4 vs. 5 East Region game Saturday afternoon with the chance to possibly take on top-seeded Syracuse in Boston next Thursday if the Orange can get past Kansas State -- no easy feat -- Saturday in Pittsburgh.

“I would say there is a lot of truth in all those things, but they’ve probably done it at a better level than we have,’’ Stallings said Friday. “We’ve tried to be a consistent program. And for the most part we’ve been able to accomplish that. They’re usually picked to finish lower in the Big Ten and they end up in the top two or three. They’ve done a great job there.’’

Vandy hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2007. Wisconsin went last year.

“For us the consistency is all about Coach Ryan,’’ said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor. “Everyone buys into what they’re trying to teach. Everyone loves to say that we’re not athletic or not as athletic as other people. They say the same thing about Vanderbilt in comparison to Kentucky. But guys buy into what is being taught, they want to win and be successful.’’

Taylor will make money somewhere playing ball. Vandy has three players that will be in the NBA in John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli.

“Both programs consistently win a lot of games, but we’ve struggled to get over the hump,’’ Jeffery Taylor said. “It should be really fun [Saturday] since the team that wins has a chance to make a run."

Vandy should win this game. The Commodores, as Ryan noted, have senior starters that dominate the minutes. And the Badgers have overachieved the past month after struggling early in the season and losing a blasphemous three home games. But wins at Ohio State and over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, coupled with a convincing hammering of Montana in the NCAAs, have the Badgers believing in a Sweet 16 berth.

“I’m so happy with this team, especially what we did in Columbus,’’ Ryan said. “We came together.’’

The Badgers will have to make 3s to advance. But neither team will or should be tight. Vandy simply had to get that first win after losing in the first round three of the past four years.

Taylor said it was nice to sit around Friday and watch other teams in the tournament and know the Commodores were still alive.

“It was so nice to get that first game because it can ruin your season,’’ said Stallings. “You work so hard to get to a point where you’ve accomplished enough to be a 5-seed and get rewarded for it and then it can all go in the trash can if you don’t win the first game.

“There was a lot of pressure and high tension intensity,’’ Stallings said of the Harvard game. “Now we can relax and go play and let it hang out. Now we got past it and we can relax and hopefully just do our best.’’

No. 11 Colorado (24-11) vs. No. 3 Baylor (28-7), 8:40 p.m. ET

The Bears should be Kentucky’s most formidable opponent in the South bracket. Baylor has the length, the athleticism and the overall productivity at every position to match the Wildcats. But that matchup wouldn’t happen until the Elite Eight in Atlanta next Sunday.

But the Bears are playing a team in Colorado that may be as loose as any in the tournament. The Buffs weren’t supposed to be here. No, not just in the third round. They weren’t supposed to be in the NCAAs. But they won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days. And then took down No. 6 seed UNLV on Thursday.

“They will be the most talented team we will have faced,’’ said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “We’ve got to limit them to one shot. We can’t let them have second or third opportunities. We have to be physical against them. We’ve played against a team like them, but not as long or athletic.’’

But CU hasn’t faced a team as talented as Baylor during this five-game run.

The pressure is all on the Bears to win.

“We’re loose,’’ Boyle said. “We’re confident and have nothing to lose.’’

So much is made of the Bears’ ability to dominate the backboards with Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Deuce Miller and the sturdy yet disruptive play of point guard Pierre Jackson.

But the Bears may have an option that can really squash the Buffs’ ability to play catchup. If guard Brady Heslip is hot from the perimeter and makes 3s in bunches, then the Buffs may not have a chance.

“He makes the floor get spaced and you have to know where he is at all times,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

Heslip’s appearance as a key member of this team makes it even harder to fathom that Boston College passed on his services. Heslip was recruited by Pat Duquette and played on semester for Al Skinner before he was forced out at BC. New coach Steve Donahue didn’t think Heslip fit into the Eagles' plans, even though he’d be perfect for the Cornell-style offense.

“I didn’t take it personal but that’s how they viewed it and after meeting it made sense to move on,’’ Heslip said.

Heslip said it means the world to him to be in the NCAA tournament for the first time and now with a chance to be on a team that can advance deep.

Drew said Heslip deserves all the credit for losing 24 pounds and toning his body. He has made himself into a player.

And as a result, he can provide the necessary dagger for the Bears in a tight game or when a lead needs to be stretched.

Vanderbilt sheds its NCAA albatross

March, 15, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Vanderbilt finally solved its Kentucky problem by winning the SEC tournament on Sunday in New Orleans.

But that did nothing to answer its larger issue: winning in the NCAA tournament.

Double-digit seeds had flummoxed the Commodores in three of the past four NCAA tournaments with losses to Siena, Murray State and Richmond.

Harvard was a sentimental favorite in making its first NCAA tournament since 1946. Oh, and the Crimson were seeded No. 12, making this one of those dreaded 5-12 games.

“It’s well publicized that Vandy’s lost in the first round the last three out of four years,’’ said Harvard senior guard Oliver McNally. “So we knew if we were hanging around, we’d put that thought in their head and see what happened. And I thought we were going to do that.’’

Vandy had an 18-point lead on Harvard on Thursday afternoon at the Pit. And then suddenly it was five.

“Credit to them for coming out really strong after that and being strong with the ball and making free throws,’’ McNally said. “But we made a great run.’’

The Commodores held on to win 79-70 and looked every bit the part of a team that could beat No. 4 Wisconsin on Saturday in a third-round game for the right to possibly take on East top seed Syracuse (if the Orange can knock off Kansas State in Pittsburgh on Saturday).

John Jenkins was sensational with 27 points. The Dores got plenty of pop from Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor and 11 boards from Festus Ezeli. Vanderbilt’s big four came through when it mattered most.

Vandy can exhale -- for now.

“I didn’t want to be in that tight of a situation with the way we had the game going in our favor,’’ said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. “But since we won, I’m glad it unfolded that way.’’

Stallings knew the toughness question was relevant with this squad during the SEC tournament. The Dores simply didn’t have the track record to back up their belief that they were over their late-game issues.

And comments like Taylor’s that the big lead led to a bit of relaxation and too much standing on offense just contributed to the narrative. But there was something the Dores had that had been missing even in last-second losses in previous NCAAs to Siena and Murray State: composure.

Jenkins used a different word -- poised. “I think leadership is definitely a factor in that guys huddled up and decided we need to lock down and get rebounds down the stretch,” he said. “We did what we had to do. We hit big free throws.’’

The Dores had one possession that took the lead from 11 to 14 with a four-shot sequence that ended up in a traditional 3-point play for Jenkins. That lead ballooned to 18. Harvard made its run, but the hole was too deep.

“I think our maturity showed up a little bit there,’’ Tinsley said. “We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. You can never do that, especially in the NCAA tournament.’’

[+] EnlargeBrad Tinsley
AP Photo/Matt YorkBrad Tinsley, right, and Jeffrey Taylor cheer as Vanderbilt puts away Harvard during their second-round meeting.
Vanderbilt could finally talk about its albatross after the win.

“It really means a lot for the seniors to be our last time in the NCAA tournament,’’ Tinsley said. “We just kind of got that monkey off our back and win a close game in the first round. It just means a lot to us old guys, the coaching staff and the program.’’

Getting into the NCAA tournament did that as well for Harvard. The Crimson didn’t just show up for the first time in 66 years. They got off to a rocky start and scrapped their way back.

Harvard senior Keith Wright said that getting into the NCAA tournament and representing the Ivy League, especially after losing the playoff to Princeton at the buzzer last season, was a celebration of all the hard work put forth.

“It’s just really special and I’m really glad to be a part of it,’’ said McNally. “They sell you on all kinds of dreams but Coach (Tommy) Amaker had a plan and this plan was followed through. Not only were there good players but really good people. We made the tournament. We wanted to advance. That was obviously the ultimate goal.’’

But this meant more to the Ivy League and to Harvard to have its flagship name finally make the dance.

Alumni from the White House to an 86-year-old surviving member of the 1946 team — the Crimson's previous NCAA entry — could all feel good about this run. The latter was Don Swegan, who was at the Pit in his old Harvard sweater. He was in his glory, talking to other alumni. The Friends of Harvard hoops read about Swegan on and wanted to make sure he made it to Albuquerque from near Youngstown, Ohio, so they paid for his expenses. NCAA president Mark Emmert and Harvard alumnus and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott wanted to have their picture taken with Swegan.

These were good memories for him, the Harvard program and a clear signal that the Crimson aren’t going into NCAA tournament hibernation.

“For us to represent our school and conference for the first time in so many years and to have so many folks come and cheer us on means so much to us,’’ Amaker said. “This has been and is a big deal.’’

NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky coach John Calipari has made no bones about it; he does not like the SEC tournament.

It's an aggravation, and an understandable one at that. The Wildcats have spent the past three months making their case as the nation's best team, they've secured the league's regular-season title and, regardless of what happens in Sunday's championship game against Vanderbilt, they've secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Calipari's disdain for conference tournaments is well-documented, but that disdain is a luxury he can afford. Dating back to his days at Memphis, he has won six consecutive conference tournaments -- 2006-09 with the Tigers, and two in a row with Kentucky, with designs on a third.

As a program, Kentucky has no overwhelming need for another SEC tournament trophy, either. The Wildcats have claimed to 27 of the 52 SEC tournament championships, including the inaugural event in 1933 and the two most recent tournaments.

That attitude doesn't fly with Vanderbilt, which, after downing Ole Miss 65-53, enter the weekend's final game with hopes of ending the Wildcats' stranglehold on the tournament. In a jubilant post-semifinal locker room, despite the fact that they knew the NCAA tournament awaited in just five days, the Commodores insisted to a man on the importance of a tournament title.

The reason? The last time Vanderbilt was on this stage was 1951, the date of their lone tournament championship -- a full eight years before Calipari was born.

With history like that on the line, Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said it's easy to get motivated.

[+] EnlargeJohn Jenkins
Chuck Cook/US PresswireJohn Jenkins turned in another solid game for Vanderbilt, which can win its first SEC tourney title since 1951.
"You play to win. That's why you play. Our players actually informed me, because I didn't know this, but Jeffery Taylor informed me yesterday that it's the first time since 1951 that Vanderbilt's been in the championship of this conference tournament," Stallings said. "We appreciate that. We're proud of that. We're excited about that."

The excitement for a tangible milestone was evident in the Commodores' locker room. This program has made big advances in recent years, reaching five NCAA tournaments in the past decade with designs on a sixth next week. But Vandy hasn't lifted a championship trophy since it won the SEC regular-season title in 1993, and 1951 remains its lone tournament triumph.

"We know that it's really special to play for a championship. Not a lot of teams get to do that," said Vandy guard Brad Tinsley.

Tinsley, one of four senior starters to help Vanderbilt on its run of two (going on three) consecutive NCAA berths, said the chance to pick up some hardware is one the Commodores take seriously.

"When a lot of teams sit down and make their goals at the start of the season, it's to win a championship -- conference championship, NCAA championship, whatever it is," he said. "We have the opportunity to compete for one, and I think this team really looks forward to this opportunity."

As Stallings pointed out, his players were more aware of what's on the line than he was. Whether it was John Jenkins, who has been the Dores' heartbeat all season, Tinsley, or fellow senior Lance Goulbourne (who posted 10 points and 12 boards against Ole Miss), it seemed Vanderbilt's entire roster was focused on Sunday's possibilities rather than next week's tournament.

"We knew going into the game that Vandy hadn't been to the championship game since 1951, which was the only year they won the tournament," Goulbourne said. "It's pretty cool for us to be the team to break that streak, but it's not over for us yet. We want to win the championship -- just getting to the championship is not enough for us."

To pull that victory off, the Dores are in for 40 minutes of toil against one of the biggest, baddest rosters in the nation. Vanderbilt's date with the Wildcats will also be the both teams' third game in three days -- a careful stat to consider when the pair open their NCAA tournament runs late next week.

Regardless of that fatigue factor, Stallings said the Commodores will throw everything they've got at Calipari's Cats. Regardless of public perception, the chance at a championship isn't something to pass up.

"It's tough in every way when you play Kentucky. But we'll rest for a day or two after that and try to get ready to play on Thursday or Friday or whenever we get to play," Stallings said. "We can't worry about fatigue right now; we'll worry about fatigue when we're done. And hopefully that won't be for awhile."

NEW ORLEANS -- A 22-point win tends to ease a team's missteps.

But for a team that relies as heavily on its shooting as Vanderbilt does, Friday's dismal first-half offense troubled coach Kevin Stallings.

The Commodores averaged 46 percent shooting as a team this season, and they led the SEC in 3-point percentage at 40. But in the first 20 minutes of the eventual 63-41 blowout against Georgia, Vanderbilt looked like it had forgotten what a jump shot looked like.

Those percentages, so vital to Vandy's success, dipped to 34 percent from the field and a troubling 23 percent from beyond the arc.

"In the first half, we were abysmal offensively, and it was really not good offense," Stallings said. "In the second half, we got more movement and [Festus Ezeli] started creating problems inside. We were just a lot more crisp."

It's true that the scoring effort picked up after the break. The shooting percentage jumped all the way up to 51 percent to bump the game average to a more respectable (and familiar) 43.9 percent. Most of that had to do with Ezeli causing problems in the paint, though, and the Commodores also added 14 points off turnovers.

"We did a better job of getting the ball to the basket, and things like that. ... We were getting the ball inside and trying to drive it inside, and not settling for as many jump shots," Stallings said.

A win is a win, especially in the postseason. But the road to that victory was unusual enough that Stallings looked nonplussed by it. The Commodores weren't just shaky, they were plain bad from 3-point range (6-of-25).

"You don't see us with 20-point victories when we go 6-of-25 from 3 and only shoot 11 foul shots," Stallings said. "Generally we're a good 3-point shooting team, and we get to the foul line a lot, and that's why we're a good offensive team. But tonight, obviously, it was much different than that."

[+] EnlargeFestus Ezeli
Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireFestus Ezeli made his presence felt in Friday's second half as Vanderbilt put away Georgia.
Brad Tinsley was the only Vandy shooter who didn't seem to drop off against the Bulldogs. The Dores' usual duo of John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, who lead the SEC in scoring, were ... OK. Taylor struggled to 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting. When he made his first and only 3-pointer of the night with 3:56 to play, he pumped his fists and looked toward the ceiling in exasperation, as if he had been worried he had lost his shot for good.

Jenkins' 15 points led the team -- perhaps it goes to show how valuable he is that his night seemed like a bad one. Regarding efforts like Friday's, Jenkins said the Commodores have to hope their defense shines the way it did against the Bulldogs -- who shot 22 percent as a team in the second half.

"We kind of wore them down a little bit with our defense, even though our offense wasn't clicking," he said. "We moved around a lot more and had the energy in the second half to make some shots, but not a lot."

Whatever issues Vandy has with its offense, the Dores don't have long to ponder them. The Georgia game ended a little after 11 p.m. Central time, and Saturday's semifinal against Ole Miss tips off at 2:30 p.m.

That leaves two issues to consider in not a lot of time: The Rebels put on a defensive showing of their own earlier Friday night. They held Tennessee to 28 percent -- a measly 18 field goals -- in an overtime game, no less. Granted, the Commodores bring better weapons to the court than do the Volunteers.

It's an interesting give-and-take. The Rebels looked stout in their win against Tennessee, while Vanderbilt's shooting fell apart against Georgia. Roughly a month ago in Oxford, the Commodores put on a terrifying shooting clinic against Ole Miss. They dropped 12 of 19 3-pointers and racked up 102 points.

So with a berth in the SEC tournament championship game at stake, who shines through?

"We played very well down there; still though, they're a different team now," Tinsley said. "It's the postseason -- a lot of teams are fired up and energized. It's going to be a tough one."
NEW ORLEANS -- A quick look at Vanderbilt's 63-41 victory over Georgia on Friday:

Overview: Georgia hung around against the Commodores using the same defense that baffled Mississippi State on Thursday night. The Bulldogs never got much going offensively, so it was good for them they kept up the defensive intensity. Georgia actually took a 25-24 lead into the locker room by holding Vanderbilt to a surprisingly low 34.6 team shooting percentage.

Yours truly opined that Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins would be two of the highlights of the quarterfinals. Taylor finished the first half with 1 point and only managed 6 total. Jenkins' 15 for the night fell short of his league-best average of 20 points.

The harassment continued well into the second half. The Bulldogs eventually fell behind, thanks to their lagging offense, but they managed to cut the deficit as close as four with about 13 minutes to play.

Turning point: Given enough time, the Commodores' weapons found their shots. Jenkins hit his stride, shooting 6 of 13; Brad Tinsley and Festus Ezeli chipped in 12 and 10, respectively.

When Georgia scored to make it 36-32, Vanderbilt went off. The Commodores went on a 27-9 tear to close out the game, burying the Bulldogs in every kind of offense. Jenkins and Lance Goulbourne hit consecutive 3s to start the run, and the Commodores went inside for 12 points.

In the span of about five minutes, it went from a scrappy fight to a Commodore runaway.

Key player: Jenkins' 15 led the Commodores in scoring, but it seemed like Tinsley sparked Vanderbilt to a stronger second half. The senior scored Vandy's first five points out of halftime, and he finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Key stat: Georgia turned the ball over 17 times, shot 32 percent from the field and only 12 percent from 3-point range.

Miscellaneous: The Commodores hit 16 of 31 shots in the second half after burying only 9-of-26 in the first. It seemed like the Bulldog defense wore down toward the close, but who can blame them considering Vanderbilt's wide array of options.

What's next: Vanderbilt completes the field of four SEC semifinalists. It will face Ole Miss tomorrow afternoon for a berth in the conference title game. Georgia's season is over.

Casting our ballots: SEC

February, 29, 2012
Editor’s Note: To see our expert picks for each of the nation’s 12 top conferences, click here. To cast your vote in these races, visit SportsNation.

A quick assessment of the player and coach of the year races in the SEC:

Player of the year

No player in the SEC has altered the outcome of games more than Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. Opposing coaches have to worry about him blocking, altering and affecting shots before they’ve even been attempted.

[+] EnlargeDavis
Mark Zerof/US PresswireKentucky freshman Anthony Davis has been the most dominant player in the SEC this season.
He is now scoring facing the basket as well as on the offensive backboard, on the break or on an alley-oop. He had his most complete performance against Vanderbilt last weekend with 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. Davis was seen as a huge get for John Calipari last spring because of his ability to dominate the defensive end. But his evolution as an offensive threat has made him a complete player, Kentucky a national title contender and Davis the SEC player of the year -- and possibly the national player of the year as he tussles with Thomas Robinson of Kansas.

If there was a No. 2 in the SEC race, then it might be Davis’ teammate in Lexington, fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins have put up great numbers, but haven't always been great in the biggest games as the Commodores vacillated between a true contender and a team that is a notch below the Wildcats.

Coach of the year

You could make a case for Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin or maybe LSU’s Trent Johnson if either of those schools finishes in the top four, which is still plausible here in the final week of the regular season. Both of those programs were picked to finish in the bottom third of the league and both coaches have done outstanding jobs surviving rough stretches of play.

But really, there is no other choice than John Calipari. Kentucky’s dominance in the SEC has been as impressive as the sport has seen in a power-six conference this season. For the third straight season, Calipari has taken a team led by freshmen and risen to the top of the league.

Calipari has managed sophomore Terrence Jones well and found a way to work around a still-developing Marquis Teague at the point. Davis has continued to become a complete player by being a much more offensive presence to match his dominance on the back line. Kidd-Gilchrist has been the most impressive offensive player with the Cats and their hardest worker. Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer have all had their moments.

Calipari has blended each one of them and used them effectively. The road woes of a year ago are no more. This may not be his most talented team at Kentucky (the first one still holds that distinction), but it clearly is his best shot at winning a national title.

Kentucky obviously has the most talent of any team in the SEC, but Calipari still had to manage it and win consistently. He’s done that without a hiccup. He’s the SEC Coach of the Year.

What we learned from Saturday night

February, 12, 2012
Saturday afternoon transitioned into Saturday night as smoothly as Kentucky transitions from an Anthony Davis block to the fast break. In the process, we saw Michigan State defend like crazy at Ohio State, Creighton take a beatdown by Wichita State and the aforementioned Wildcats again assert their dominance, this time at Vanderbilt. That and more in the evening edition of What We Learned.

[Editor's note: For recaps of all the afternoon games, click here.]

No. 12 Michigan State 58, No. 3 Ohio State 48: As far back as August, Tom Izzo -- in typical Izzonian fashion -- proclaimed far and wide how much he loved his team. Not necessarily because he knew the Spartans would be good or because he knew they would keep getting better (although he often seemed to assume as much), but because this Michigan State team, perhaps more than any other in recent years, does the two things Izzo seems to value most: It rebounds. It defends.

The Spartans began Saturday allowing the fourth-fewest points per possession in the country (adjusted, per Ken Pomeroy). They also ranked in the top 10 in both relevant rebounding categories, chasing down 39.9 percent of their misses on offense and yielding second chances on just 26.1 percent of opponents' possessions. Throw in the focused vocal leadership of forward Draymond Green, the back-from-the-dead reclamation of Derrick Nix, one of the toughest point guards in the country in Keith Appling and a batch of dedicated supporting pieces, and, well, no wonder Izzo loves this team. Compared to last season's incoherent, apathetic bunch, he must occasionally feel like he's coaching an entirely different game.

For as consistently as Michigan State has demonstrated those qualities throughout this season, never have they been more clear than Saturday night. Izzo's team held the third-ranked Buckeyes -- in Columbus, mind you -- to a mere .75 points per trip. How? How do you stop a team with so many weapons, with one of the best forwards in the country anchoring it all, in a building where it has won 39 in a row? The Spartans know how: You scrap. You claw. You fight. You make everything difficult for that team's best player. You frustrate him at every turn.

Jared Sullinger was, of course, the focal point of MSU's defensive strategy, and it worked. Sullinger still scored 17 points and grabbed 16 boards, but he needed a 5-of-15 performance to get there, and he committed 10 turnovers in the process. (The 17-16-10 is the first turnover-laden triple-double of the college basketball season, per ESPN Stats & Info. Former Buck Evan Turner had two of them in his final season. The Evan Turner Special lives!) Sullinger was noticeably frustrated throughout the game, arguing for fouls (sometimes rightly, oftentimes wrongly) and forcing shots into the teeth of State's interior defense, anchored brilliantly by forward Adreian Payne (who was also 6-of-6 from the field).

The performance reminded me of Ohio State's loss to Kentucky in last season's Sweet 16, when UK forward Josh Harrellson harassed and harangued Sullinger into a performance far below his usual standards. Harrellson was one of the few players in the country with the size and strength to hold his ground against Sully's girth. Nearly a year later, Payne and Nix demonstrated the same abilities. It's a testament to Sullinger's ability that he still grabbed 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive, but every putback was challenged, every touch contested, every dribble met with reaching slaps.

Sullinger didn't get much help from his teammates. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas combined to shoot 4-of-24 (!!), Aaron Craft was 3-of-7, and all told, the Buckeyes shot 2-of-15 from beyond the arc and 26 percent overall -- its third-worst shooting performance of the past 15 years. Yikes.

The Spartans weren't great on offense (.91 points per trip). Ohio State's defense is its best quality, and the Buckeyes were again good on that end of the floor. But Michigan State didn't have to light it up to get this victory. When you defend this well, when you execute your defensive game plan this perfectly, when you thoroughly dominate one of the nation's elite teams in its own building, you don't have to put up points in bunches to get the job done. No team in the country this season has posted 40 minutes of defense this strong against a team this good.

So, yeah, Tom Izzo loves this team. Can you blame him?

No. 1 Kentucky 69, Vanderbilt 63: You have to hand it to the Commodores: They didn't go away.

That's the biggest positive Kevin Stallings' team can draw from this loss. From the opening tip, UK's brilliant defense was again, well, brilliant. As late as the 4:42 mark in the first half, Vanderbilt had scored just 13 points. The Commodores finished the first half with a whopping 23 as Kentucky led by 13. Terrence Jones was engaged. Anthony Davis was dominant. As it has so often in the past three weeks, John Calipari's team appeared ready to roll to another very impressive SEC victory. Ho and hum.

Then, only a few moments into the second half, things just sort of ... opened up. The Dores not only started finding open shots, they started making them. Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins came alive on the perimeter, while Festus Ezeli started finishing things down low. Soon -- almost before you knew it -- what "GameDay" host Rece Davis called Kentucky's "aura of invincibility" fell away. By the 8:26 mark in the second half, the Commodores led 55-51, the culmination of a 32-17 run.

They would score just eight more points the rest of the game. No one could have known it at the time, but Tinsley's jumper at the 4:09 mark would be Vanderbilt's last bucket of the day. Just as soon as VU had opened the game with solid man offense, crisp passing and accurate shooting, Kentucky shut it down. Davis recorded four blocks in the final seven minutes of the game; he finished with seven total. One of the major themes of the broadcast was Calipari's stated desire to see his team challenged, to see how it would respond. The Wildcats were. Vanderbilt kept swinging. Kentucky took Vandy's best punch. It absorbed a combo or two. And then, as all great fighters do, it emerged stronger and stronger as the game wore on. If Calipari wanted to see how his team would react to a challenge, he had to be thrilled with the result.

Kentucky played a solid, experienced team. It played said solid, experienced team in said team's unique building, with its weird sight lines and elevated court and baseline benches. It did so in front of a crowd that had spent all day goosed by "GameDay," hyped for the glorious chance at knocking off No. 1, something this school has done six times over the years. It didn't matter. Kentucky went 3-of-14 from 3. And it still emerged unscathed.

If Christian Watford's last-second shot doesn't fall in Assembly Hall on Dec. 10 -- back when Kentucky was still figuring things out -- the Cats are undefeated and we're talking less about this sudden surge of brilliance than whether UK could make it to the NCAA tournament with an unbeaten record. This team is one shot -- one 10-second defensive breakdown -- away from legendary comparisons.

Oh, well. As it is, Calipari's team is rounding into one of the most complete -- if not the most complete -- of his career. Davis is a transcendent force anchoring a team with zero defensive holes. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best two-way players in the country. Jones can dominate when he wants. Doron Lamb is a lights-out shooter. Darius Miller is an underrated offensive presence and an all-around glue guy extraordinaire.

There's a reason this team is awash in that so-called aura of invincibility. The Wildcats aren't actually invincible, of course. But right now, they're the closest thing going.

Wichita State 89, No. 15 Creighton 68: When you've got a national player of the year candidate ripping through each and every opposing defense he sees with a rare blend of volume and efficiency, it's easy to disguise your team's warts. After Wichita State's end-to-end dismantling of the Bluejays on Saturday, those warts are now fully exposed.

The score line tells the story here, but it's nothing new: Creighton is, at best, a fairly mediocre defensive team. The Bluejays entered this Valley showdown ranked No. 119 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. They force turnovers on just 16.3 percent of their defensive possessions, which ranks them No. 336 out of 345 Division I teams. This so-so defense has been hidden well all season because Creighton outscores everybody. Doug McDermott and company have the nation's highest effective field goal percentage and its sixth-most efficient offense overall. But in the past three games -- losses to Northern Iowa, Evansville and now Wichita State -- the Bluejays' offense has suddenly cooled off. Creighton's effective field goal percentage figures in its past three games are 46.5, 44.2 and 44.7 percent.

And therein lies Saturday's problem: Wichita State is not a one-way team. Rather, Gregg Marshall's squad combines excellent defense (KenPom rank: No. 26) with efficient offense (KenPom: No. 11), tops in MVC play in both metrics. Despite their hugely impressive per-possession stats, the Shockers have flown below the radar recently thanks in large part to that triple-overtime loss at Drake in late January. But in basically every other Valley affair, even the 68-61 loss at home to Creighton in this series' first game, the Shockers have been comprehensively good.

Does that mean Wichita is 21 points better than Creighton, home, away or neutral? No. Is its offense as good as the 1.4 points per trip it poured in Saturday night? Probably not. But this lopsided result in front of a huge crowd in Omaha does reveal some notable truths about both teams. For Creighton, it laid bare just how important the Jays' offense is to their chances of making a run in the NCAA tournament; it's no coincidence this three-game losing streak came in three mediocre shooting performances. Greg McDermott's team can't afford to miss shots, because it can't get the stops it needs to keep things close.

For Wichita State, well, if you didn't know, now you know: The Shockers are good. Not "dangerous." Not "plucky." Just flat-out good.

Temple 85, Xavier 72: If you're still waiting for a team to round into its full form on Feb. 11, there's a good chance you'll still be waiting on March 11. That appears to be the case with Xavier. The Musketeers haven't been bad in Atlantic 10 play -- they ranked fourth in A-10 efficiency margin as of this week -- but they haven't been particularly good, let alone their usual brand of good, the one that led them to a 15-1 league record last season. Instead, these Musketeers are just sort of, well, mediocre.

Which is to take nothing away from Temple, which blitzed Chris Mack's team early and never looked back. Guard Ramone Moore went off, scoring 30 points on 9-of-16 from the field, while Khalif Wyatt put up 18 points, four assists and three steals, and Micheal Eric contributed 11 points and 16 rebounds. The Owls' backcourt is the undisputed strength of the team, and Fran Dunphy's squad continues to look more and more like the A-10's clear favorite each time that backcourt makes life so difficult for opponents on both ends of the floor. Temple is alone atop the league at 8-2.

The contrast between these two teams is glaring. One is whole, complete, playing its best basketball at the right time. The other is scattershot, struggling, not bad but far worse than it has any right to be, given its talent. The temptation to connect X's continued struggles to the Dec. 10 brawl is worth resisting here. Does it play a part? Maybe. Has guard Mark Lyons (who didn't start) been unpredictable and frustrating since? Oh yeah. But at this point, it's also possible Xavier just wasn't all that good in the first place. Whatever the reasons, the Musketeers -- perennial NCAA tournament fixtures -- are running out of time to figure it out.

A few more observations from the night of hoops:
  • Harvard's preordained run to its first NCAA tournament in decades -- the Crimson are clearly the best team in the Ivy League and were the heaviest of favorites to win it outright -- got just a little shakier Saturday night. Tommy Amaker's team fell to the old-world perennial Ivy favorite, Princeton, 70-62. It's a sign of Harvard's changed status that Princeton students -- who are fans of a program that is the historical Ivy elite, and which just beat one of the league's longtime losers -- rushed the court after their team's 23rd consecutive home victory over the Crimson. Despite the loss, Harvard's chances of winning the league are still very good. Its schedule -- which features Yale, Princeton and Penn at home before a season-ending two-game road swing at Columbia and Cornell -- is a major advantage. Plus, the No. 21 Crimson still own a one-game lead in the standings. But they will be eager to avoid any further slip-ups. If they end up in another one-game tiebreak (the Ivy League awards its NCAA tournament bid to the regular-season winner), anything can happen. Amaker's bunch, which lost its trip to the tourney to Princeton on a tiebreak buzzer-beater last season, knows all too well what can happen when you leave the preordained to chance.
  • We let this one slip by in the afternoon frenzy, but Mississippi State's loss to Georgia probably deserves a mention. The Bulldogs were undone by freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's big-time step-back 3 in overtime (not to mention his other 17 points and eight rebounds), and hey, yeah, sometimes you take a tough OT loss. But Mississippi State's inconsistency is a bad sign for a team with major tournament aspirations. Not a good performance at all.
  • Southern Miss held on for a 78-74 home victory over UCF, yet another gritty, close win in a Golden Eagles season full of them. Don't look now, but Southern Miss is 21-4 on the season with a top-15 RPI. Wednesday night's loss at UAB is certainly a black mark -- especially considering the Blazers lost by 34 to Memphis on Saturday night -- but other than that, this team has a shockingly strong at-large case. Larry Eustachy is reborn!
  • Phil Martelli's team picked up another A-10 home win, as Saint Joseph's took down upstart UMass 73-62 and damaged the Minutemen's outside chances of an at-large bid. Massachusetts could have gone to 8-3 with a win. Instead, it moves backward, into the thick of the league's muddled middle, alongside the Hawks and many others.
  • If there is any justice in the world, tiny Wabash College will find its way to the "SportsCenter" top plays in the coming days. Why? Because of Aaron Zinnerman's shot, one of the more insane and unlikely you'll ever see. The YouTube clip is here. Enjoy. (Important correction! This post incorrectly cited Wabash as the alma mater of Butler coach Brad Stevens. Rather, as numerous alums have informed me, Stevens actually went to rival DePauw. I always mistake the two, but nonetheless regret the error. My bad, everyone.)
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action.

No. 8 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The last time we saw the Tar Heels take the floor against an ACC opponent on the road ... well, you know what happened. The chances we see something similar Thursday night are almost zero. UNC is well aware of what Saturday's drubbing said about its team, well aware of the statistic that says no team that has lost by 33 points in the regular season has gone on to win a national title. As our UNC blogger Robbi Pickeral wrote in her game preview today, Roy Williams wrote the number "33" on UNC's white board, where it will stay for weeks to come. The Tar Heels have been chastised all week. They will be motivated.

That said, and despite Virginia Tech's paltry 0-3 ACC record to date, this game could be tricky in its own way. Seth Greenberg's team has posted the second-best per-possession defense in the ACC in conference play -- second only to UNC, who maintained that figure despite the FSU debacle. The Hokies have the highest opponents turnover rate of any ACC team in league play, and they've been particularly tough guarding the interior, where opponents average just 43.1 percent on their 2s. In general, the Hokies are not as bad as you think, and their record belies their per-possesssion performance to date.

But let's be real: Those minor sample sizes aside, UNC is the better team everywhere on the floor. This is not about how UNC matches up with Virginia Tech. This is about -- and, fair warning, this is going to get into intangible cliché territory here -- how UNC matches up with itself. (Told you.) Can it muster the focus and energy to quiet raucous road crowds? Can it summon the confidence borne of talent that seemed so lacking Saturday? Can it, once punched, come back with the counter? This could be the story of the Tar Heels' season. It begins anew tonight.

Vanderbilt at Alabama, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: With apologies to Duke and Wake Forest and the mothership broadcast immediately preceding UNC-Va. Tech, this is the second-most -- heck, maybe the most -- intriguing game of the evening. Vanderbilt has won eight in a row and repaired its damaged reputation after a disappointing (and Festus Ezeli-less) nonconference slate. The last time it went on the road against a truly quality opponent was its Dec. 29 thrashing of Marquette, in which it jumped out to a 31-6 lead (yes, 31-6) and never looked back. The offense of John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor appears to be running at full speed again, and Ezeli's presence has been a major boost to the Vandy interior on a nightly basis.

And then there's Alabama. We wrote off the once-ranked Crimson Tide pretty quickly in November after back-to-back losses (57-55 to Georgetown at home, 74-62 at Dayton). That appears to have been a mistake. Sure, the Crimson Tide have plenty of issues. Namely: offense. But the defense that guided Anthony Grant's squad to the cusp of an NCAA tournament bid last season is back and better than ever in 2012. The Crimson Tide are holding opponents to the fourth-fewest points per possession of any team in the country, per Pomeroy; Alabama opponents are averaging an effective field goal percentage of just 40.7 on the season.

In other words, this is a great barometer game for both teams. How improved is Vanderbilt? Improved enough to get a tough road win against a punishing defensive team? Coming off a two-point loss at Mississippi State, where's Alabama's ceiling? High enough to compete in the top tier of this league? There are plenty of questions here. Hopefully, some answers are forthcoming.

Everywhere else: Duke hosts Wake Forest in what should serve as a tune-up for Saturday's challenging home date with Florida State. ... Virginia travels to Georgia Tech. ... Illinois will seek to remain the only one-loss team in the Big Ten tonight at Penn State. ... Long Beach State's trip to Cal Poly could be a tricky Big West situation for the Beach, which is perfect in conference play to date. ... And one game sticks out from the Pac-12's typically symmetrical Thursday night offerings: Cal at Washington, where the Bears will look to assert their apparent league superiority against a talented but inconsistent -- and really just insanely frustrating -- Washington bunch. Could be a good one.

3-point shot: Replacing Festus Ezeli

October, 18, 2011
1. Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli's six-game suspension to start the season for accepting a meal and a hotel room from an alumnus should be characterized as a mistake. It is not a trend by a player who has done everything right to get to this point. But the experienced Commodores' can absorb losing Ezeli early in the season. Vandy coach Kevin Stalling said he’ll look to Steve Tchiengang or Josh Henderson to replace Ezeli inside. Tchiengang is more than capable. The ‘Dores are loaded at the wings with Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, but Ezeli offered up balance for the top-10 ‘Dores. He’ll be back against Xavier on Nov. 28. But his absence could help Texas in a potential matchup if the two teams meet on Nov. 21 in the Legends Classic at the Meadowlands. Vandy would need to beat NC State and Texas would need to take care of Oregon State in the semifinals.

2. Kansas coach Bill Self said the loss of freshmen forwards Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor “kills our depth.” McLemore and Traylor were declared partial qualifiers by the NCAA. Neither player can practice or compete in the fall, but they can practice in the spring. If they maintain their eligibility then they would be able to play in games in 2012-13. Kansas’ 2011 newcomer class was ranked No. 22 by ESPNU’s recruiting site. The four-player class is now cut in half with point guard Naadir Tharpe and power forward Braeden Anderson the remaining pair. The loss of McLemore and Traylor will put even more pressure on players like Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey to stay on the court with Thomas Robinson when needed.

3. The NCAA Division I leadership council meeting on Oct. 13 produced some likely precursors for the men’s basketball recruiting calendar model that should go into legislation some time this year. Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, NABC second vice president, said he expects them to be in place. The most significant changes would be working with your own players in the summer, cutting the July recruiting period from 20 days (two 10-day periods) to 12 days (three four-day periods Wed-Sun) and getting a few weekends in April back to recruit.

Vanderbilt has preseason letdown

October, 17, 2011
Expectations remain high for the Vanderbilt Commodores even after the NCAA suspended the biggest of their three big men -- 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli -- for the first six regular season games of the season because he accepted a meal and a hotel room from a Vanderbilt alumnus.

The NCAA violation was quite the unexpected body blow, leaving the team's top rebounder apologetic, embarrassed and saying he "should have known better." It was a big enough mistake for the NCAA to take away a big chunk of the center's senior season.

Ezeli could have taken all the free meals and hotel rooms he wanted had he turned to the NBA. Instead he returned to school to get his degree and leave on a better note after the Commodores' first-round exits from the NCAA tournament the past two seasons.

"After the loss in the tournament, I can't leave on that note," Ezeli said in April. "There’s no rush for me to want to leave. I want to play here with these guys, I enjoy playing for Coach [Kevin] Stallings and this staff, and I look forward to earning my degree."

His loss in the beginning part of the season will certainly hurt. Vanderbilt faces an interesting season opener against a rising Pac-12 team in Oregon looking to make an early statement. There's a possible game against Texas that Ezeli would miss, and he wouldn't be able to play until Nov. 28 against Xavier.

John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor led the team last season in scoring, but it was Ezeli who provided a physical presence averaging 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while setting a single-season school record for blocks.

The season will start with some disappointment, just as it ended in years past.

Richmond's Anderson stands tall in victory

March, 17, 2011

DENVER -- Richmond guard Kevin Anderson insists he’s 6-feet tall while wearing shoes and that he modeled his game off an Allen Iverson highlights DVD his mother purchased for him as a child.

Fittingly, as the Spiders' program continued their giant-slaying ways with a 69-66 win against fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in their second-round NCAA tournament game on Thursday, the senior was at the forefront for hitting big shot after big shot.

[+] EnlargeKevin Anderson
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesKevin Anderson scored 25 points in Richmond's win over Vanderbilt.
He scored 16 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, getting hot from beyond the arc and then hitting a fadeaway over 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli with 18.9 seconds left.

“I can’t go for a regular layup,” Anderson said. “They’re probably going to get a block. I had to shoot my floaters that have been effective throughout the season for me.

“They’re just floaters, regular floaters.”

Behind Anderson’s playmaking ability and low turnover count (one of Richmond’s three), the Spiders now have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 with a win against 13-seed Morehead State on Saturday.

For Vanderbilt, the loss was crushing. The Commodores became the first program in NCAA tournament history to lose in three consecutive round of 64 games as a No. 5 seed or better.

Last season, it was Murray State that sunk them at the buzzer. This year, coach Kevin Stallings was left conceding that his team “tightened up” toward the end of the game.

“As hard as we talked and as much as we talked about having a relaxed, confident attitude about us, you could tell we tightened up on a couple free throws,” he said. “But it’s the nature of this tournament. That’s why it’s exciting. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of tension.”

Anderson reveled in it. Richmond trailed by 11 in the first half and by nine in the second half before the barrage of 3-pointers.

After Justin Harper made one, Anderson hit the next three to cap off a 12-0 run that gave the Spiders a three-point lead. Even with 6-foot-7 Jeffery Taylor defending him, Anderson crossed him over and faked him out on one play with three minutes left before hitting a leaner while being fouled.

“They just got hot,” Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins said. “We tried our best to contest shots, but they jumped up and made ‘em. I know we had a couple contested shots, but they kept knocking ‘em down, knocking ‘em down.”

Ezeli and Jenkins led Vanderbilt with 21 points apiece, but Taylor was held to four points on 1-for-10 shooting.

The Spiders got a big lift from their bench, including Darrius Garrett coming up with five blocks and five rebounds. Their bench outscored Vanderbilt’s 23-4, with Francis Martel (12 points, five rebounds) and Cedrick Lindsay (seven points, three assists) also making key contributions.

Anderson said it’s been nice having his teammates pick him up at times when last season’s A-10 player of the year struggled with his shot.

“It’s hard when you don’t have good games and you’re expected to have good games,” Anderson said. “That’s really tough.”

It was the complete opposite against Vandy. When Rod Odom’s contested 3-pointer wasn’t close at the buzzer, Anderson could only think about the Sweet 16 possibility.

“We don’t want to be one-and-done,” he said.

ATHENS, Ga. -- At halftime of Vanderbilt’s 64-56 victory at Georgia on Wednesday night, Commodores guard John Jenkins had zero points and was 0-for-5 from the field.

At least Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, was only half as bad as teammate Jeffery Taylor, who also was shut out in the first half on 0-for-10 shooting.

Making matters worse, Commodores forward Festus Ezeli scored only four points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes.

Together, Vanderbilt’s top three scorers combined for four points on 1-for-23 shooting in the first half against the Bulldogs.

Somehow, the Commodores trailed only 27-21 at the half.

“One of my assistants said, ‘Well, it couldn’t have been any worse,’” Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. “I told him, ‘Yeah, Festus could have missed the one shot he made.’”

Things didn’t get much better for the Commodores at the start of the second half. Jenkins missed his first three shots of the half, and the Bulldogs took a 40-26 lead on reserve Sherrard Brantley’s 3-pointer with 14:33 to go.

Then Jenkins finally warmed up.

[+] EnlargeVanderbilt's John Jenkins
Dale Zanine/US PRESSWIREVanderbilt's John Jenkins scored all 21 of his points in the second half of Vandy's win at Georgia.
The sophomore made his first basket on a 3-pointer with 13:15 to play.

“I just got an open look,” Jenkins said. “They were hard to come by in this game. I knew I had to knock it down because I might not get another one.”

Jenkins, who scored a career-high 32 points in Vanderbilt’s 81-77 win over Kentucky on Saturday, was only getting started. He added four more 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes and scored 18 of his team’s final 24 points. All 21 of his points came in the final 14 minutes.

“My teammates kept telling me, ‘It’s going in. It’s going in,’” Jenkins said. “It’s positive thinking.”

Said Georgia point guard Dustin Ware: “We knew at some point he was going to come in and get hot. He’s a great shooter. You’re never going to shut him down completely.”

Stallings said Jenkins’ hot shooting fueled his team’s intensity on defense. Georgia didn’t make a field goal in the final 9 minutes, 47 seconds, and was outscored 24-3 to end the game.

“We went from our zone to man and we were just physical and played tough and got them to miss,” Stallings said.

With the Commodores leading 58-56 in the final two minutes, UGA had a chance to tie the score or take the lead on two consecutive trips. But forward Trey Thompkins turned the ball over and then Travis Leslie missed a running bank shot.

Georgia’s third close SEC loss at home -- the Bulldogs lost to Tennessee 59-57 on a last-second putback on Jan. 18 and 104-91 in double overtime to Florida on Jan. 25 -- was another blow to its fading NCAA at-large hopes.

With an RPI rating hovering close to the top 40 going into Wednesday night’s game, Georgia desperately needed another signature victory. The Bulldogs are now 2-8 against RPI top-50 foes, beating only Kentucky and UAB. A victory over the Commodores, who were No. 16 in the RPI, would have bolstered their NCAA hopes.

Instead, Georgia heads into the final five games of the regular season maybe needing to win at Tennessee on Saturday or at Florida on Feb. 24 to improve its at-large stock.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt won only its second SEC road game, after also defeating Mississippi State 81-74 in Starkville on Jan. 27.

“It’s a big-time confidence builder because everybody knows we’ve struggled on the road a little bit,” Jenkins said.

Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor throws one down

January, 14, 2011
Vanderbilt junior Jeffery Taylor apparently likes running out-of-bounds plays, coming through with this monster jam in Wednesday's win against Georgia.

"Whenever you have an electrifying play like that, it kind of gets everybody going," Taylor said afterward. "It's what the crowd wants. It's kind of a crowd-pleaser and it definitely pumps your own teammates up, so it's a good thing."

The Swede's sensational dunk was the top play on the top 10 plays of "SportsCenter."

Also, check out today's broadcast for another great dunk from last night's action.

Halftime: Murray State 36, Vanderbilt 32

March, 18, 2010
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Quick halftime thoughts from what's been an evenly-matched game as expected.

  • It's a good thing Murray State has B.J. Jenkins healthy after he cut an index finger while cutting down the net. The junior guard has nine points to lead the Racers.
  • Vanderbilt continues to do well in getting to the free throw line, but has only made 8 of 15 foul shots. Jeffery Taylor leads the Commodores with nine points, but could have had more as he's 3 of 7 from the line.
  • A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt's 6-foot-11 center, has played only five minutes and has two points after picking up two fouls.
  • Vanderbilt has eight points from their usual leading scorer Jermaine Beal. Freshman John Jenkins continues to start alongside him in the backcourt.