College Basketball Nation: Steve Tchiengang

Editor's note:’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on SEC, click here.

Five offseason storylines in the SEC ...

1. Life is good in Lexington: At any other program, with any other coach, when you win a national title and send your six best players to the NBA draft, you are not supposed to compete for a national title 12 months later. But this is not any other program, or any other coach. This is Kentucky as led by John Calipari, a finely tuned college hoops machine.

After harnessing the insane talents of Anthony Davis and the team-first ethos of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- the NBA draft's No. 1 and No. 2 overall selections -- Calipari has cleared the "one-and-dones can't win a title" hurdle, if it existed in the first place. So now what? Naturally, Calipari reeled in another talented recruiting class -- the No. 2 class in the country, according to RecruitingNation, the first time in four years Kentucky hasn't been ranked No. 1 -- that includes the No. 1-ranked player in the class, center Nerlens Noel, and top-15 recruits Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin. Sophomore power forward Kyle Wiltjer, a top-20 recruit in 2011, will take on a much larger role, and former NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will step in at point guard.

Is Calipari's latest refresh as good as Davis & Co.? Doubtful. Then again, few teams are. What's certain is that the Wildcats will again be ranked in the top five to start the season, will defend like crazy and are a clear threat -- if not the outright favorite -- to repeat as national champions. Indeed, the state of Big Blue Nation is strong.

2. Missouri and Texas A&M deepen SEC hoops: Few realignment moves have driven as much discussion (read: vitriol) as Texas A&M and Missouri's respective decisions to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC. The 2012-13 season will be the first for both under the new banner, and the Tigers are more likely to make an immediate impact. In addition to returning guards Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey, a big-time breakout candidate, coach Frank Haith has assembled a transfer-heavy team (Alex Oriakhi, Jabari Brown, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross) that should compete for the SEC title right away. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy has a more protracted rebuild on his hands, but if A&M continues the program growth it experienced in the past decade, the SEC -- where basketball has always been football's little brother -- will be much stronger for it.

3. South Carolina lands … Frank Martin. Huh? South Carolina is not a basketball school, but the Gamecocks made the best -- and most surprising -- hire of the offseason when they persuaded Kansas State coach Martin to leave his budding program behind. Martin has relentlessly denied rumors that his departure stemmed from untenable disagreements with K-State athletic director John Currie, particularly involving senior Jamar Samuels' NCAA-imposed ineligibility debacle in March. For his part, Martin sounds sincere when he says he felt embraced by South Carolina and that he relishes the chance to build something from scratch in Columbia. It will take a while, but Gamecocks fans have every reason to be thrilled.

4. Other new faces in new places: Martin wasn't the only offseason coaching change in the SEC. At LSU, Trent Johnson -- whose final three seasons never came close to his debut 2008-09 campaign -- was replaced by former North Texas coach Johnny Jones. Meanwhile, after two turbulent seasons that capped a 14-year career at the school, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury retired. Former Purdue and Clemson assistant Rick Ray, who was an applied mathematics major and Chicago-based actuary before deciding to take a chance on coaching, gets his first crack at a head-coaching gig in Starkville.

5. Vanderbilt starts fresh, to say the least: Did any team in the country lose as much this offseason as Vanderbilt? The Commodores waved farewell to their top six players, including all five starters: All-SEC guard John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, Brad Tinsley and backup forward Steve Tchiengang. That's the entire core of coach Kevin Stallings' excellent four-year run in Nashville. With few proven reserves waiting in the wings, the 2012-13 Commodores are the biggest mystery in the league.

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.

If you missed it: Wednesday's quirky stats

January, 19, 2012
A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of fun oddities and standout performances. Here are a few we found from Wednesday:

Creighton 66, Missouri State 65
For the second time in three games, Creighton’s opponent committed three turnovers and still lost. On Friday night, it was Illinois State. Wednesday it was Missouri State.

Eastern Michigan 62, Western Michigan 59 (OT)
Western Michigan’s Mike Douglas played 40 minutes and attempted two shots. The only other player to play 40 or more minutes and attempt two shots or fewer this season is Steve Tchiengang of Vanderbilt.

Villanova 84, Seton Hall 76
JayVaughn Pinkston and Maalik Wayns of Villanova attempted 17 and 16 free throws, respectively. It’s the second time this season two players on the same team have attempted 16 or more free throws (the other being Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre and Marquise Carter, who each attempted 18 against Eastern Washington).

Duquesne 80, Massachusetts 69
UMass became the second team this season to commit at least 29 turnovers and 28 personal fouls in one game. Norfolk State is the other.

Trillion of the night: Davante Drinkard, Southern Illinois -- Played 11 minutes and did not record a single stat in a 75-68 overtime loss to Drake.

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.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – His nickname is “Dolla Beal.”

And sure enough, Jermaine Beal was money Wednesday night in No. 23 Vanderbilt’s 85-76 victory over 14th-ranked Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Or better yet … straight cash.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Beal
Don McPeak/US PresswireJermaine Beal scored 25 points in Vanderbilt's win over Tennessee.
His coach, who’s not one to unnecessarily gush, called him spectacular and the ultimate security blanket, among other things.

“It’s one of the first things I said to the team after the game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings recounted. “When your senior plays like a senior, things get a lot easier. And he certainly played like one tonight.

“He was awesome, really awesome.”

Indeed, Beal shot holes in the Vols’ defense and took over in the second half on his way to 25 points. He played 38 minutes and didn’t have a turnover. He made all three of his 3-point attempts in the second half. He was simply the best player on the court.

“He was the difference,” Tennessee senior guard Bobby Maze said. “And what made him so terrific was that he was able to knock down shots.”

Nobody needed to tell Beal that this was his last shot in Knoxville after some horrific shooting performances against the Volunteers the last couple of years, particularly in this building.

A year ago, Beal was 1-of-10 from the field for three points in a 69-50 loss in Knoxville. He missed both of his 3-pointers. He wasn’t much better in the game in Nashville, going 1-of-7 from the field in a 76-63 loss to the Vols. He missed all five of his 3-pointers in that game.

And two years ago in Knoxville, Beal was 1-of-5 from the field in an 80-60 loss to Tennessee.

So when the game was hanging there in the balance in the second half Wednesday, Beal never blinked.

“I haven’t won here forever,” said Beal, who scored eight straight points to turn a six-point game into a 74-60 runaway with 4:57 remaining. “My only chance to win here was tonight. The main thing was to go out and play hard and leave everything out there, and I feel like we did that.”

As a result, the 23rd-ranked Commodores (16-3, 5-0) extended their winning streak to 10 straight games. It was also their third straight road win in the SEC. The last time they won their first three away from home in the league was the 1964-65 season.

It’s a given these guys are pretty good in Memorial Gym with the funky setup and the benches at the end of the court. They’re a tough out at home and always have been.

But the makeup of this team makes you think the Commodores are going to be a tough out no matter where they play or who they play the rest of the way.

You name it, and the Commodores have it. They have depth, size, shooters and a senior point guard who knows when to take charge.

And when things got testy Wednesday, Vanderbilt proved to be the tougher, more physical team.

“We have a physical team,” Stallings said. “A year ago, we were not physical, and we could be taken advantage of in games like that. We are more physical this year. I don’t know that we’re the most physical, but we’re more physical than we’ve been.”

Getting Andre Walker back from his knee injury last season has been huge. His stat line every night is usually the same. He had nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks against the Vols.

The emergence of sophomore post players Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang has been equally important, and Stallings said 6-11 junior A.J. Ogilvy is in better shape.

“Our big guys do a decent job of giving us a presence in that lane area, and that’s a big key for our team,” Stallings said.

And when the Commodores shoot the ball the way they did against the Vols (15-4, 3-2), they can make a case for being the most complete team in the SEC.

Freshman John Jenkins has been a terror shooting the 3-pointer off the bench. His 3 at the 7:39 mark to answer Maze’s jumper was one of the biggest shots of the night.

The trio of Brad Tinsley, Jenkins and Beal was a combined 8-of-12 from 3-point range for the game.

“I think it’s the most complete team I’ve played on, definitely,” said Ogilvy, who scored 12 points and took advantage of an ailing Wayne Chism, who had 16 rebounds, but had trouble scoring after hyper-extending his knee Saturday at Georgia.

“We’re bigger and stronger and a lot more athletic than any team I’ve played on and have the ability to shoot the ball. We have every piece of the puzzle, really.”

Where it goes from here for the Commodores in the short term remains to be seen. They get Kentucky on Saturday in Lexington and then Mississippi State at home next Wednesday.

But if everyone stays healthy, this is a team built for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Don’t tell that to Stallings -- not yet anyway. He can’t see past the next practice.

“If you get to a point where you think you’ve arrived, then you’ve got some problems,” he said.

True enough.

But right now, these Commodores are full of answers.