Last night wasn't the first big game that the Commodores won this season while one of their best players sucked outright. In fact, the last time it happened, it sent John Jenkins on a tear that might just end in a SEC Player of the Year nod.
Jenkins threw up a 4-21 stinkbomb against Marquette back in December, nearly bombing the Commodores out of a tight game with the Golden Eagles at Memorial Gym. He finished with a paltry 13 points, a 2-15 mark from three-point range, and zero assists. After sitting out the team's next game with Davidson with a concussion, he came back with a vengeance, going off for 27 points against South Carolina and staking his claim as the SEC's most dangerous scorer in nearly a dozen games since.
|John Jenkins Since the Marquette Game|
So can Jeffery Taylor have a similar turnaround? The junior forward has been streaky all season and has fallen to the team's second offensive option as a result. Recently, his inconsistency has even taken a pattern; two-games-on and two-games-off. Taylor played well against St. Mary's and Mississippi State, had a negative impact versus Arkansas and Florida, and then repeated this trend over the team's past four games. It's been a disappointing result for a player that many still feel can be a lottery pick in the year's NBA Draft. Now, the question that remains for both Vanderbilt's season and JT's draft stock is this: can a game as bad as his 2-18 performance wake him up and provide the motivation Taylor desperately needs?
As much as the fan in me wants to take last night's dismal performance as a sign that he'll get on track and recover like Jenkins did, familiarity with Taylor's play keeps me skeptical. Consistency has never been Taylor's strong suit, and unlike Jenkins the Swedish Eagle's more diverse game has proven to be disruptive to the junior's offensive abilities.
However, the number one thing that keeps Taylor from a JJ-esque renaissance might just be Jenkins himself. With his performance over the past few weeks, Jenkins has firmly asserted himself as the team's number one scorer; the go-to guy when the Commodores need a bucket. Taylor, as a result, has taken a backseat. Psychological repercussions of this shift aside, John Jenkins's emergence has lessened the impact of Taylor's offensive game and created some defined roles on this team. JJ has been needed only in a scoring role, while JT is this team's defender, occasional decoy, and - with the team's frontcourt reeling - their strongest rebounder. Despite Taylor's 18 shots last night, his offensive presence hasn't had the same importance as it had earlier in the season.
Time will tell if these roles evolve again, but for now the team has proven that it can win tough games with Taylor contributing almost exclusively as an elite defender rather than a proficient scorer. However, this won't last unless someone can step into a complimentary scoring role alongside Jenkins to ease the pressure off "the Flamethrower." That could be Festus Ezeli (an important piece - teams rarely get far in March without a post presence), Brad Tinsley (also inconsistent, but growing into his role), or even a darkhorse like Steve Tchiengang or Lance Goulbourne - but someone is going to have to step up.
Even with those options, it's clear that Jeffery Taylor is still the most likely guy to come through down the stretch. Maybe it will take the return of Andre Walker to lessen some of the defensive pressure from his shoulders. Maybe he'll hit his stride when big rivalry games like Florida and Tennessee come up at Memorial Gym. Or maybe he just needed a 2-18 deluge to wake up like John Jenkins did before him. For this team to reach it's enormous potential it 2011 they'll need Jenkins and Taylor to connect and share a lights out game between the two of them. Once that happens, it could propel this team to a Final Four.