Vanderbilt's typically cookie-cutter out-of-conference basketball schedule just got a bit more exciting. With the release of the 2010 Puerto Rico Tip-Off Bracket, the Commodores are now looking at potential showdowns with perennial contender North Carolina and 2010 Final Four veterans West Virginia before SEC play kicks off. The strength of the tournament is a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of Vandy's past early season showdowns, which included games against such luminaries as Utah State and Bradley (2007 South Padre Island Invitational), Drake and Virginia Commonwealth (2008 Cancun Challenge), and lackluster Cincinnati and Arizona teams (2009 Maui Invitational, the OOC highlight of recent years).
The jump in competition is a step in the right direction for the 'Dores, although several issues could keep the tournament from having a major impact on their 2010-2011 strength of schedule rating. As always, there's no guarantee that the team faces anyone aside from Nebraska, which would do little to raise their profile. Secondly, teams like North Carolina (coming off a down year and having lost their most talented player), West Virginia (coming off an amazing year but dealing with the loss of their best player as well) and Minnesota (consistently inconsistent) may not prove to be the landmark opponents that Coach Kevin Stallings wants them to be when all is said and done. If the Commodores advance far enough to take on some of the tournament's more established teams, there's no guarantee that the squads they get will be the powerhouses they are advertised to be.
Despite these concerns, Vandy's players and fans have to be happy with this draw. This team will have an immediate chance to prove that the progression of players like Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins will be enough to offset the loss of Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy. Add in the guaranteed national exposure and this team will have three straight games early in the season to establish a position as a Top 25 squad as well as push the star power of swingmen Jenkins and Taylor. If the team can come away from Puerto Rico with a pair of quality wins, it will lend a lot of credence to the idea that Vanderbilt can get it done away from Memorial Gym - and the confidence built there would do wonders for a young team staring down another NCAA Tournament berth.