by Barca Blog
Six of Vanderbilt's first nine games were outside of Memorial Gym with the final contest resulting in a disappointing 76-69 loss to Western Kentucky right down the road at Nashville Arena.
Exams came and went for the student-athletes while the coaches had additional time to get the guys some much needed practice to prepare for the five consecutive home games leading into today's SEC opener against Florida.
The Commodores (11-3) responded by winning each of those games by a scoring margin of +29.4.
Let's look at some of the trends from the current five-game winning streak:
Offense Heats Up: Vanderbilt’s offense has taken off in its last five games, averaging 84.8 points per game while shooting 54.6% from the floor (155-284).
Freshman John Jenkins has found his groove during that stretch. The highly-decorated recruit has been getting more playing time off the bench (23 minutes per game) and has become one of the first options on offense. He's averaging 15.4 points per game and has been lights out from behind the arc (19-for-30, .633).
Defense Getting Better: The Commodores were plagued by a lack of effort on the defensive end during the first part of the season. VU has improved in the last five contests by limiting opponents to a 55.4 scoring average and a .317 shooting percentage. Vanderbilt has also held its last four opponents under 60 points, and has now held its opponents to 30 points or less in six straight halves.
Festus Growing: Redshirt sophomore Festus Ezeli is beginning to emerge for the 'Dores. Fes came into the program as a raw talent but has turned into a force in the middle in his third year. He's altering or changing the shots of any player that decides to challenge him in the lane. He has 13 blocks in his last five games and at least three blocks in three straight games. His aggressive play hasn't meant more fouls either. He hasn't committed more than three fouls since the Saint Mary's game on Nov. 20.
Fes has also boosted his scoring by averaging 8.2 ppg over the last five. He's getting good position in the post and converting at a 61 percent clip (19-for-31). He's seen an increase in playing time (17.6 mpg) and serves as a great 1-2 punch at center with A.J. Ogilvy.
Ogilvy and Beal Respond: After the Commodores' two most experienced starters were benched for the Western Kentucky game, I wondered how they would respond to the message.
With the extra rest, A.J. Ogilvy, who has battled foot problems all season, looks healthier and has shown an extra lift in his jump that we've seen in the past. He's reached double figures in points in the last five while contributing nine blocks and seven steals.
Jermaine Beal has taken control of the point with 20 assists and only five turnovers (4:1 ratio). He's kept up his scoring pace, too, with 11.8 ppg (22-for-49, .448).
Supporting Role: Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang have been effective off the bench as Coach Stallings has reduced his rotation. Goulbourne has provided 4.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 15.8 mpg, and Tchiengang has scored 4.4 ppg and played 10+ minutes in each outing.
What does this mean: Have the Commodores turned the corner? Nobody really knows, to be honest. It's been a good sign to see the 'Dores come together over the last five games, but the true test begins Saturday with SEC play. This grueling 16-game stretch will ultimately decide whether the Commodores make the big dance or stay home in March.
"I thought we had a very difficult non-conference schedule and I am proud of how we came out of it," Stallings said. "Now it's time to turn our attention to the real stuff.
"You don't really know until you get into the meat of the schedule though. You get exposed in conference play. Your strengths and weaknesses get exposed. People know your tendencies better, so we'll know a whole lot more about ourselves going forward with the upcoming games."