By Jeff Goodman
They have become the Forgotten Team. More so than Xavier, than Memphis, more than their SEC counterparts from Gainesville.
The Vanderbilt Commodores.
Kevin Stallings' team slipped up early and often, losing to a pair of mid-majors in Cleveland State and Indiana State as well as Xavier and Louisville.
Everyone wrote off the team that began the season ranked seventh overall.
I figured the time to judge this Commodores team would be after the New Year, but that's when Festus Ezeli figured to be back at 100 percent. That wasn't the case.
Ezeli's left knee injury, a sprained MCL and PCL, had healed. Ezeli appeared to on his way back when he made his season debut with 15 points and six boards in 21 minutes against Davidson on Dec. 7. Then his other knee, the one that underwent surgery back in the offseason due to tendinitis, began feeling sore.
Ezeli sat out games against Longwood and Lafayette before returning in Vandy's smackdown of Marquette in Milwaukee.
Ezeli has logged limited minutes in the past four games and has averaged just four points and six boards per game, but his impact is clearly noticeable on the defensive end. Teams are shooting just 37 percent overall and 31 percent from beyond the arc in the last four games -- all Vandy victories.
This team, one that most refer to as soft, went on the road and kicked the you-know-what out of a Marquette team that has become synonymous with the word "tough."
Vanderbilt still isn't worthy of judgment quite yet. Ezeli is still working his way back -- both physically and mentally. Defensively, he's fairly close. Offensively, it's going to take more time.
But just having Ezeli on the court, clogging the middle and being a threat in the post, the trio of John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Brad Tinsley has made 35-of-64 3-pointers -- 55 percent.
Stallings said he's optimistic that Ezeli should be back at 100 percent in the next couple of weeks.
Then we can begin to truly evaluate Vandy.