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Will Festus Ezeli fix what’s wrong with Vandy?

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When it comes to college athletics, calling a team “controversial” generally means that they are playing by the Jim Calhoun rules of recruiting.

Not so with Vanderbilt.

The Commodores, who are probably as clean as a program can be playing at the high-major level, are the most controversial team in the country not because of the way that they landed their three first-round picks, but because of the product that Kevin Stallings puts on the court.

I made the argument a week ago that Vanderbilt cannot be judged as a team until they get Festus Ezeli back, and I still believe it. Festus Ezeli is a first round pick and one of the best big man in the SEC, if not the country. He’s a force on both ends of the floor. There is no way that inserting that presence into your lineup won’t have an effect.

But the question that can be asked is if Ezeli’s presence can fix the flaws of this Vanderbilt team.

Are Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins going to be able to defend a talented back court? For the majority of the Commodore’s 82-70 loss to Xavier on Monday night, they did a solid job. While the Musketeer back court of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons finished 13-38 from the floor against Vandy, they made all the big shots and big plays down the stretch. Lyons went coast-to-coast for a pretty, spinning layup to tie the game and force the extra period while Holloway hit two huge threes in overtime that put Xavier up eight points.

The other problem is that a number of the misses from Xavier were the result of over-dribbling and bad shots being forced by those two. Some of that credit has to go to the defense, but a lot of it is also the result of poor decision-making for the first 35 minutes of the game.

A bigger issue, however, is Vanderbilt’s offensive execution in the clutch. The Commodores pushed their lead to as much as ten early in the second half, but a flurry of bad turnovers allowed Xavier to make a run and take the lead. Much of that came against Vanderbilt’s bench, and once the starters came back in the game, they were able to regain control of the game on a John Jenkins three with 4:03 left that pushed the lead back up to 66-62.

For the next 6:39, however, Vanderbilt went scoreless. Their offense, which is supposed to be their strength, lost all of its flow. When Vanderbilt needed a bucket, the ball ended up in the hands of Tinsley. On Vanderbilt’s last possession of regulation, Jenkins wasn’t even looked at as Tinsley forced a tough 15 footer that squirted out of his hands. After Vandy had cut the lead to four in regulation, the next two possessions ended with Tinsley threes.

Vanderbilt is not complete. They will get better when Ezeli returns.

But if tonight proved anything, its that the boost they get from their big man may not address the weaknesses that are costing Vanderbilt games early in the season.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Michigan gets Caris LeVert back in a win over No. 18 Purdue

Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan (50) tries to steal the ball from Michigan guard Caris LeVert (23) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Zak Irvin scored 22 points and Michigan’s outmanned front line held Purdue’s redwoods to just seven offensive boards, six second chance points and just 22 points in the paint as the Wolverines landed a critical, 61-56, win over the No. 18 Boilermakers.

Depending on who you listen to, Michigan entered the day, at worst, on the bubble and at best, in headed for the 8-9 game.

And they picked up a top 25 win.

So yes, this win was big for them moving forward.

But more important than the win itself was that Wolverine fans got a glimpse of all-american guard Caris LeVert. He played just 11 points and didn’t return in the second half, he didn’t score and he missed the only shot that he took, but LeVert took the court for the first time since Dec. 30th. That day, LeVert rolled his left ankle and most likely reinjured a foot that had had a broken bone surgically repaired twice in the last 20 months. Michigan never confirmed what the actual injury was and never gave a timetable for when he would be back in the lineup, which is what made his brief appearance so important.

LeVert isn’t done for the season.

And since the Wolverines managed to post a 9-4 Big Ten record with LeVert acting as little more than a spectator, they have a chance to make a run in the Big Ten tournament and get into the NCAA tournament.

That will happen with LeVert in the rotation and, if all goes according to plan, the starting lineup.

So even with a loss against Purdue, the Wolverines had a good day. Bolstering their NCAA tournament profile was an added bonus.

VIDEO: Memphis’ Shaq Goodwin gets technical foul for copying famous Vince Carter dunk

Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin (2) shoots over Cincinnati forward Quadri Moore (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
(AP Photo/Gary Landers)
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Memphis senior forward Shaq Goodwin picked up one of the dumbest technical fouls of the season on Saturday with the Tigers on the road against Tulane. Goodwin attempted to copy Vince Carter’s famous arm-in-the-rim dunk from the 2000 NBA dunk contest. This would have been okay during pregame warmups, but Goodwin tried to pull this off on a breakaway near the end of the first half. He was quickly hit with the T for hanging on the rim.

Goodwin has good timing when it comes to current events, as the NBA’s dunk contest airs on Saturday night, but the timing of pulling this off in the first half of a tight conference game is not so great.

For past reference, here’s Carter’s original arm-in-the-rim dunk from 2000, which had everyone astonished since it had never been done before.

(H/T: The Cauldron)