(5) Vandy vs. (11) Richmond
Coming off a 24-win season and a loss to Murray State in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Vanderbilt flew under the radar coming into this season. The Commodores started slowly, losing three of their first nine games (all against unranked opponents) before reeling off ten straight wins en route to a 21-win regular season and a third place finish in the SEC East. Kevin Stallings’ team is lead by a trio of stars in John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor, all of whom were named first or second team All-SEC. Jenkins is one the best scorers in the country, averaging nearly 20 points per game and shooting better than 41 percent from beyond the three-point line. Ezeli gives the Commodores an interior presence on both ends of the floor, averaging 12.8 points (on .579 shooting) and 6.2 rebounds while ranking 16th nationally in blocked shots. Vandy comes into NCAA Tournament play having lost four of its last seven games, but the team’s offensive balance and ability to defend the three-point line gives the Commodores a chance to make a run.
Hailing from the Atlantic 10 as the tournament champions is the Richmond Spiders, led by two of the league’s best scorers in Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson. The two combined to average 34 points a night, while Dan Geriot is the only other scorer averaging double figures for the Spiders at 10 per contest. Harper is the most explosive on the team, going for 20 or more on 13 different occasions this season. The Spiders are 2-3 against the RPI Top 50 with notable wins over Purdue and Virginia Commonwealth. They’re a very scary team to have to defend when they’re hot from deep, where they make at least eight each contest on 40% shooting. Their biggest weakness is on the glass, where they’re outrebounded on a gamely basis. Their inability to rebound will really be exposed in the tournament, making it to where they have to be nearly perfect offensively.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Vanderbilt. Richmond’s explosive back court will keep them in this game, but the interior presence of Festus Ezeli will left the Commodores into the second round.