Will Vanderbilt live up to its talent level in 2011-12?

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Expectations for Vanderbilt’s 2011-12 season just went through the roof. I can’t decide if this is good or bad.

John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli will all return to school next season, according to Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com. That means three of the SEC’s top players – they combined for nearly 47 points a game last season – are back for a team that went 23-11 and finished one game behind Kentucky in the SEC East standings.

Jenkins is a supremely talented shooter and efficient scorer, Ezeli’s an underrated rebounder, shot blocker and post presence and Jenkins is the most athletically gifted of the bunch. All three would’ve likely been first-round picks in the NBA draft.

Now, Vandy coach Kevin Stallings welcomes back every starter and two solid recruits in shooting guard Dai-Jon Parker and point guard Kedren Johnson. It’s not a roster with the star power of say, North Carolina or Kentucky, but it does make Vandy a top 10 team.

And there’s the rub.

How do the Commodores handle those expectations? They’re usually hailed as a solid team that spends a few weeks in the Top 25 because it pulls off some impressive wins and is seen as overachieving. But this amount of talent on the roster changes that.

The Commodores have lost their last three NCAA tournament openers, twice as a five seed and once as a four seed. If they play up to their potential next season, a two or three seed is possible. A four seed seems like the worst-case scenario.

If Vandy loses again, or doesn’t make the Sweet 16, it should go down as a massive disappointment given the talent and experience on the roster.

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