» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
Home
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
X
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 36 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 20, 2012

Local colleges on way to breakout basketball seasons

Print | Front Page | Email this story

If you’re consumed by the NFL football playoffs or the Predators’ early-season success, you might not realize there is some pretty good college basketball being played in and around Middle Tennessee.

Vanderbilt, Belmont and MTSU are all enjoying banner seasons, and there is a real chance all three schools will make the NCAA Tournament field in March.

Kevin Stallings’ Commodores have recovered from some early non-conference stumbles to be neck and neck with Kentucky atop the Southeastern Conference through the first three games of league play.

Much was expected of this Vanderbilt team, with some predicting the Commodores will reach the Elite Eight or even Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. That’s high praise for a program that has developed a bad habit in recent years of flaming out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

And there was cause for concern when the Commodores lost games against Cleveland State, Xavier and Indiana State during the non-conference portion of their schedule. Vanderbilt has since won seven consecutive games going into Thursday night’s contest at Alabama. They are 13-4 overall and 3-0 in SEC play.

Certainly, the return of center Festus Ezeli has boosted the Commodores’ fortunes, giving Vandy the needed inside presence and force to complement the scoring of John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, who are averaging 19 and 16 points, respectively.

How good is Vanderbilt? We won’t know until March. Under Stallings, the Commodores have a tendency of to peak too early then run out of gas once the conference and NCAA Tournament arrive.

Vanderbilt’s success is no longer measured by getting to the NCAA Tournament; it is now measured by how far the Commodores can go once they get there.

Nearby, Belmont is again making noise among the mid-majors, as Rick Byrd’s program is showing itself to be the class of the Atlantic Sun, even as it prepares to make its exit to the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Bruins have become one of those “teams to watch” for those who like to follow bracketology. Belmont hasn’t quite reached the notoriety of mid-major powerhouses such as Butler or Gonzaga, but it is 13-6 overall and will be a favorite to win the A-Sun Conference Tournament in March and earn an NCAA bid.

If the Bruins are in, opponents will look at a one-point loss at Duke in November and know Belmont is capable of being a double-digit seed that can pull of a win in the opening round.

And speaking of the tournament, folks in Murfreesboro are talking about March Madness for the first time in more than two decades.

The program went to the NCAA Tournament four times in the 1980s, the final time in 1989, highlighted by a first-round upset of Florida State.

It has taken Coach Kermit Davis awhile, but the Blue Raiders look to finally be back after 20-plus years of wandering in the basketball wilderness. Led by center LaRon Dendy, a transfer from Iowa State, the Blue Raiders made headlines earlier this season with a 20-point win at UCLA, followed by a 12-point win at Ole Miss.

The Blue Raiders are 17-2 overall and 6-0 in Sun Belt Conference play. Those types of numbers, if they continue, might be good enough to help MTSU secure an at-large bid to the tournament, even if they somehow stumble in the league tournament.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
Name
Email  
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0