The seventh-rated Commodores host the Oregon Ducks in the season opener for both teams. Tip-off time is set for 10 PM ET at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee with television coverage on ESPN. Vandy’ is favored by -12.5 points.

Expectations are sky high for the Vanderbilt Commodores who begins the 2011-2012 basketball season armed with talent, experience and depth and the highest preseason ranking in recent school history.

Vanderbilt CommodoresVanderbilt returns all five starters from last year’s team that went 23-11 overall and 9-7 in the SEC. They’ve made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament including a 69-66 loss to Richmond in the first round last season but this year’s team is expected to make a deep run in this year’s tournament, and they could hold great value for a team to add to your future college basketball picks.

Locked and Loaded

Vanderbilt is set at every position with Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins leading the returning starters. The 6-foot-7 Taylor who passed on leaving early for the NBA averaged 14.7 points as a junior last season while Jenkins led the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 19.5 points per game. The Commodores will be without center Festus Ezeli for up to eight weeks with sprained ligaments in his right knee. He was a force in the paint last season, averaging 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds while setting a school record with 87 blocked shots. Earlier this week Ezeli, Taylor and Jenkins were named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list, which is comprised of the 50 players in the country.

The Commodores will be tested early and often. Besides playing in the basketball rich SEC where they’ll knock heads with the likes of Kentucky, Vandy also has one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation potentially featuring five games against teams (Oregon, Texas, Louisville, Marquette and Xavier) that reached the NCAA Tournament last year.

Exceeding expectations

Oregon looks to carry over the momentum from last season’s strong finish when it tips off the 2011-12 season against No. 7 Vanderbilt. The Ducks, who were picked to finish last in the Pac-10 last season, tied for seventh and reached the semifinals of the Pac-10 championships before winning the CBI postseason tournament.

Kevin StallingsDespite having nine newcomers to the team, Oregon returns several key contributors who played a significant amount of minutes last season. Forward E.J. Singler the younger brother of former Duke star Kyle Singler, is expected to be the focal point on offense. He averaged 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds last season and also hit the winning basket in the Ducks 71-69 win in Game 3 of CBI series.

Singler also led the team in field goal percentage (46.1) and three-point shooting (39.9). In addition he started all 39 games a year ago. Senior guard Garrett Sims averaged 8.2 points per outing last season and hit a career-best 34.7 percent on 3-pointers.

Tonight’s meeting with Vanderbilt marks just the fourth time in school history that Oregon will open against a ranked opponent. The Ducks are 0-3 in those games. Vandy is one of four Oregon opponents to start the 2011-12 season ranked in the top 25. 

The coaches

Head coach Dana Altman guided the Ducks to championship of the 2011 CBI giving him 14 -straight postseason appearances and 14 consecutive winning seasons. On 13 occasions (in 26 years as a head coach), Altman has posted 20 or more wins in a season and has finished .500 or better in 19 of his 22 seasons. 

Head coach Kevin Stallings is in his 13th season at Vanderbilt and 19th season overall as a NCAA Division I head coach. He has a 236-148 record at VU (career mark of 359-211). 

Harvey’s Take: The Commodores return all five starters, their top three reserves and welcome three incoming freshmen. They were picked to finish second in the rugged SEC. They’ll be tough to handle at home and should easily cover the double-digit number listed on the NCAA Basketball odds boards.