Seventh-ranked Vanderbilt will open their 2011-2012 campaign tonight at Memorial Gym against a tough Oregon squad at 9 PM Central time. The Ducks, who are coming off a 21-18 season in which they won the College Basketball Invitational, will provide a tough test for the Commodores in their official home opener. On Monday, Vandy routed Xavier (LA) 102-62 in exhibition play.
Vanderbilt's national ranking is their highest since opening the 1965 season at fifth overall. That team had Clyde Lee at the helm and was coming off their first ever SEC Championship (since then, they've only won two more) and an Elite Eight berth (that's the only one). This 2011 squad features more superstar depth than any other to play in Memorial Gym. Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor, and John Jenkins all have the skills to be All-Americans. Each one, on their own, could be the number one option on a NCAA Tournament team.
They'll meet a rebuilding Oregon team that is tasked with replacing leading scorer Joevan Catron. Much of that weight will fall on E.J. Singler (of the basketball Singlers), a junior wing who shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range in 2010-2011. Singler is an efficient shooter who scored 11.7 points per game as a sophomore on 8.3 attempts per game. He's also a decent rebounder and a pesky defender, averaging more than a steal per game last year.
Young players and transfer students will have to carry the weight in what could turn out to be a rebuilding campaign for the Ducks. Five-star recruit Jabari Brown, a 6'4" shooting guard, will have the chance to mark his mark in his collegiate debut at Memorial Gym. Brown is a great shooter who can score from beyond the arc or in the paint. He'll test John Jenkins's developing defensive skills if the two are matched up Friday night.
Olu Ashaolu will exhaust his final year of NCAA eligibility after graduating from Louisiana Tech in May. He nearly averaged a double-double for the Bulldogs, scoring 14.2 points per game and adding 9.4 rebounds despite standing just 6'7". He'll go head to head with Lance Goulbourne in the paint in what should be a strong battle of tenacious rebounders.
Ashaolu will likely split time at power forward with Tyrone Nared, a 6'8" senior who started the bulk of last season's games there for the Ducks. Also, he's from Rhode Island, which is why I felt the need to highlight him. Congratulations on your Ocean State roots, Tyrone.
Unfortunately for Oregon, Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph won't be eligible to play until the spring semester. He put up solid numbers with the Gophers and will add strength to the Ducks' backcourt once he's cleared. Without him, the team will turn to diminutive sophomore guard Jonathan Lloyd and freshman Bruce Barron. Both are solid ballhandlers but streaky shooters.
The Commodores will be without Festus Ezeli, who is out for approximately 4-6 more weeks with a knee sprain (which coincides with his six-game NCAA suspension). Steve Tchiengang will handle duties at center in his place. Fortunately for Vanderbilt, Oregon doesn't have the size to exploit Ezeli's absence in the paint. The game will also mark the NCAA debuts of Dai-Jon Parker and Kedren Johnson, who along with Kyle Fuller comprise Vandy's backcourt of the future.
Vanderbilt doesn't get a gimme in their season opener. The Ducks bring back a Singler brother and will be introducing some high-level players to their lineup for 2011-2012. However, if the 'Dores can defend ably, they have the firepower to run Oregon out of Memorial Gym. Between their depth and scoring prowess, the Commodores are a solid favorite for tonight's matchup.
For more preseason analysis, check out our breakdowns of every position for 2011-2012: