Signing day was a godsend. The news of Coach Franklin pulling down big recruits like LaFonte Thourogood, Darien Bryant, and Josh Grady signaled the biggest recruiting haul in years for the Commodores. It was a reason to smile instead of curse when thinking of Vanderbilt athletics this week.
Of course, since I am a sadist (and so are you, if you're a Vandy fan), I am bringing us right back down with a look back to Tuesday's awful loss in the O-Dome. That night, Vanderbilt and Florida played a game that neither team deserved to win. In the end, only some gutsy plays by the Gators - along with a little help from a referee that Kevin Stallings must have owed money to - secured the Commodore loss. The defeat dropped the 'Dores to 0-3 in overtime and drew plenty of attention to the flaws that could end this team's season early in March.
Let's get this over with, shall we?
1. Jeffery Taylor might not be injured, but his current mental state makes him another Commodore running at 60 percent. Taylor was unable to build on the momentum of his monster performance against Mississippi State, and now has followed up his best game in black and gold with two of his worst. He's become too perimeter oriented and has settled for too many threes over the past few games, attempting 20 since the MSU game. Comparatively, John Jenkins has taken 18 threes in that same span.
Is Taylor hurt? Is he afraid to keep plowing into the paint for fear of injury with the Commodores paper thin at forward? Or is he just in the middle of a slump that will dissipate soon? It's tough to tell. Bringing him off the bench Tuesday night did nothing to help his psyche, but you can't get too down on the young man just yet. Vanderbilt needs him to get anywhere in March, and if that means the team has to ride through this valley with him, then so be it.
2. No rebounding and no ball movement means no win. The 'Dores totalled just eight assists and 29 rebounds Tuesday night, killing the team's open looks and contributing heavily to their 37.5 percent shooting rate. Vanderbilt couldn't work against Florida's tight man defense - which was especially frustrating given Taylor's athleticism - and was unable to free shooters inside the arc or make timely cuts to the basket. The Commodores got only two assists from their point guard position; that's a number that will lead to defeat in most situations.
On the boards, Lance Goulbourne and Festus Ezeli were mostly forgettable, allowing Steve Tchiengang to have the best performance of all the team's big men. However, between the three of them they combined for as many fouls as rebounds (13). Florida ended up posting a +13 advantage on the glass and pulled down 12 offensive boards. Fortunately, the combination of Vandy's defense and the Gators' sloppiness kept the home team from taking advantage of this disparity and blowing the 'Dores out. Still, these problems were enough to cost Vanderbilt the game.
3. Jason Fukuda is smarter than me, possibly you. BrianSWard brought this back to my attention, and Fukuda's level of insight is pretty impressive. Not only has John Jenkins emerged as the top option on offense for the Commodores, he's done it while adding a few new moves to his repertoire - mainly the ability to get into the lane for layups and drawing fouls. He's still not great at creating his own shot and won't ever be more than a complimentary passer, but he's shaken off any concerns of a sophomore slump and put this team on his back in the games where it has mattered most. Almost halfway through the SEC slate, he's emerged as the best scorer on this team. There's still time for Jeffery Taylor to make his case as option 1A, but so far it's been Jenkins for most of the season.