Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quite the showdown

If you're CBS, how do you hype tomorrow's showdown between Georgia and Arkansas? I'm guessing it'll be something like this:

It's Sundiata Gaines! It's Gary Ervin! It's Dave Bliss! It's Steven Hill! It's Georgia vs. Arkansas in the SEC title game next on CBS!

After winning four league games all season, Georgia has won three in three days, defeating Mississippi State 64-60. Earlier in the day, Arkansas edged Tennessee 92-91 on Hill's lone basket of the game, a turnaround jumper with 5.3 seconds remaining.

It's been a disaster (pun intended) of a week for the SEC. It was bad enough that a tornado damaged the Georgia Dome, forcing the league to move its tournament to Georgia Tech. But, now Tennessee will probably not get a No. 1 seed and two low-profile teams will be on the national stage.

Picked up pieces from the SEC Tourney...

Just got back from Atlanta, where I managed to survive the tornado that ripped through downtown. Leaving the Georgia Dome late last night was an eerie sight -- yellow caution tape lined the streets, debris, cinder block and broken glass was everywhere, huge pillars and trees had fallen, cars were destroyed. It truly looked like a war zone.

In this AJC piece, two people are dead and Atlanta is under a state of emergency as the city picks up from the first downtown tornado in history. Click here for photos. It's an awful scene and my heart goes out to everyone in Georgia who has been affected by the disaster.

The SEC Tournament was moved to Georgia Tech today, but Mississippi State and Alabama were in the middle overtime last night when the storm hit and here's what players and coaches had to say about the experience:

“Again, we planned for a lot of things. We certainly didn't plan for a tornado. What a moment that was, and for that moment it made you forget all about that game, for that instant. I had no idea what was left on the clock and what was going on.”
– Miss. State coach Rick Stansbury
“It's got to be one of the worst environments I ever been in as a player. You know, to see stuff falling from the roof, it really scared me, so I really didn't know what to do. Last time I've been in something like that a bat was in the gym, so this really tops that one.”
– Miss. State forward Charles Rhodes

“I think from our perspective, the SEC and the people here at the Dome did as good a job as you can do considering the circumstances. They got us off the floor quickly. They communicated with us frequently. They made sure our families and everybody was safe. Whatever the engineers did with the building was right. They brought us back out and gave us time to warm up correctly…So I think you've got to give those guys a lot of credit for that.”
– Alabama coach Mark Goddfried

“There was a lot of that going on, trying to call our folks. We all had a lot of family members here being in Georgia and us being from Alabama. I couldn't get a hold of them. I think everyone was calling and the phones were tied up so that was something to worry about. I finally got a text message through from my dad saying everyone was okay and just focus on the game.”
– Alabama forward Richard Hendrix
In basketball-related news, three things we learned:

1) Arkansas loves Atlanta. The Razorbacks are back in the finals after beating Tennessee 92-91 on ugly Steven Hill's short jumper in the closing seconds.

2) Georgia gets to play a double-header today. They beat Kentucky 60-56 in overtime this morning and will play Mississippi State in the semi-finals tonight.

3) Kentucky fans, who travel better than any fan base in the SEC and possibly the country, are not happy. I can't say I blame them. Approximately 20,000 of them drove down to Atlanta, paid for tickets and hotels and didn't even get to see their team play. Talk about a rough weekend...

VU-SC Baseball Update

It's not looking good. The 100 or so fans brave enough to sit out in the cold after a two-hour, 15-minute rain delay are being treated to a 13-1 Gamecock shellacking. We're only in the fourth inning.

Nick Christiani lasted only 2 1/3 innings as he gave up nine runs (five earned) on 10 hits. Steven Schwartz has given up two long homers to left as SC continues to pour it on. No point in further updates on this one; it's been a long weekend for Commodore athletics.

Assuming the rain holds off, the rubber game in this series will take place tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Hawk. Barring extra innings, you should be able to watch this one in its entirety before the NCAA tournament selection show gets underway at 5:00.

UPDATE: South Carolina 17 Vandy 6

Top seeds down early, often

I'm sitting here in the press box at Hawkins Field, waiting through a rain delay before the start of Vandy-South Carolina. Scheduled first pitch is at 4:15 p.m. as they've just taken the tarp off the field. It should be a good one; Vandy walked off with a 4-3 win last night when Ryan Flaherty knocked a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 13th.

While I'm waiting this out, I thought I'd comment on the massive amount of upsets occurring in conference tournaments these past two weeks. Take a look at some of these numbers:

In four conferences, the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds have BOTH lost in the quarterfinals, sending 6, 7, and 10 seeds to the semis. The Big East (Marquette or Pitt), C-USA (Tulsa), Big Ten (Minnesota or Illinois), and SoCon (Elon) each sent or will send a middle-of-the-pack team to the conference final.

The following top seeds lost the semifinals in mid-major tourneys and won't make the Big Dance:

Big West- UCSB (RPI 87) to No. 5 UC Irvine (RPI 149)
Northeast- Robert Morris (RPI 134) to No. 4 Mt. St. Mary's (RPI 159)
Southland- Stephen F. Austin (RPI 64) to No. 5 Northwestern St. (RPI 187)
SWAC- Alabama State (RPI 206) to No. 4 Jackson St. (RPI 266)
WAC- Utah State (RPI 70) to No. 4 Boise State (RPI 93)

Xavier, South Alabama, and VCU also suffered this same fate, but all have a shot at at-large bids.

What does this all mean? In a year where the bubble is notoriously diluted, the bottom half of the field is diluted even more. Stephen F. Austin, who beat Oklahoma in December, won't have the chance to pull an upset as a 12 or 13 seed. Instead, we'll see Northwestern St. or No. 7 Texas-Arlington crapping out on the 16 line. Mt. St. Mary's won't even make it out of the play-in game, whereas RMU (25-6 regular season) might have pulled out another classic 2-15 or 3-14 upset.

I'm actually in favor of conference tournaments in larger conferences. When teams like Virginia Tech and Texas A&M can play their way into the field with a couple of wins, everyone's happy. Even though some of the tournament "locks" like Louisville, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt have less to play for, leading to more of these upsets, it's still fascinating basketball to watch.

But why do these smaller conferences insist on playing the same tourneys when only one team can advance? Wouldn't the Southland Conference rather put SFA through as the regular-season champ to give them a chance at more revenue from an NCAA win? At the very least, reduce the tourney field to four teams to send a reasonably good team to the Dance. In other words, make the regular season mean something. Don't reduce the Lumberjacks' chances to a three-game crapshoot in March at a neutral site.

We'll see what happens when the bracket comes out, but don't bet on many of the 12 and 13 seeds pulling out these upsets. They won't be as good as in years past.

An Absolute Mess: The Georgia Doom

In case you haven't heard, the SEC tournament has been moved to Georgia Tech following the damage to the Georgia Dome.

Because the winner of the SEC tournament earns an automatic bid to Big Dance, the games must be played before the NCAA tournament selection committee announces the draws. This bit of news leaves the winner of the Kentucky-Georgia game in a difficult position. In unprecedented fashion, either Kentucky or Georgia will play two games today. As an aside, how much longer until the NCAA lets a team's body of work across the whole season (instead of these little tournaments) determine the automatic bids?

The claims by those in attendance that a "freight train was approaching" or that it could have been an act of terrorism, might not be all that far-fetched when it has been confirmed that a tornado whisked through downtown Atlanta with 130 mph winds.

Commodore Banter (3/15)

Though Saturday's loss seems like a doom's day to whichever seed the Dores will earn in the NCAA tourney, the team still remains a top 10 RPI team, writes Brett Hait.

A Purdue sports blog lists Kevin Stallings as a National Coach of the Year candidate.

Vanderbilt needed every one of Ryan Flaherty's hits (5) to prove victorious on friday night over a scrappy South Carolina squad.

Amid reports that the NCAA tourney could cost the economy $1.7 billion, one firm has taken steps to re-align incentives to take advantage of the lost time its employees presumably would be following the tourney instead of working, as Chas Sisk writes.

This really has nothing to do with Commodore sports either, but the ending of the Indiana-Minnesota game is worth watching if you haven't already. Simply Unbelievable.

Not too many good links about the Dores today. Check back later.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Q & A with Jamont Gordon

After beating Alabama 69-67 in a game that was postponed for an hour after a severe storm ripped holes in the Georgia Dome, Mississippi State junior and Nashville native Jamont Gordon answered a few questions from The Sports VU.

Q: Where were you when you first heard all the commotion?
A: I was at half-court getting to play defense and I heard the rumbling. I stopped paying to attention to defense. I was looking up to see what was going on.

Q: What’d you see?
A: I saw something flying at the top. I thought a vent or something had broken.

Q: Did you get in touch with your mom during the delay?
A: Yeah, I called my mom to see if she was alright.

Q: Are you glad they let you guys finish the game?
A: Yeah. I wasn’t too worried. I didn’t think it was that bad. I’m glad they let us finish.

Q: Would you have said that if you lost?
A: Probably not (laughter). I’m glad we got the victory.

Q: Since you’re from Nashville, do you have any relationships with the Vandy players?
A: I know all of them. I go out there in the summer and play with those guys every day and we know each other very well. Some of them I’ve even been out at parties with.

Q: You’re one of my favorite players in college basketball because there’s really nobody else to compare you to. Have you tried modeling your game after anybody?
A: I think I have a unique game. I’ve never modeled my game after anybody, but I do take things from different people’s games, bigger guards that play in the NBA.

Q: Kobe or Lebron?
A: Kobe.

Q: Good choice. Music you listen to before games?
A: I listen to a lot of Young Buck because he’s from Nashville.

Q: What’s it like having Jarvis (Varnado) at the back of the defense?
A: He’s a great shot blocker. I’ve never seen anybody like him.

Q: What’s it like going at him practice? It can’t be fun.
A: Nah, I kill him. He can’t see me. (Jarvis, who was in the locker next to Jamont, clearly disagreed).

Digger Phelps has lost it

On a day when Vandy didn't give us much to be excited about, this was a great find.

As most of my friends can tell you, I am not a fan of Digger Phelps. When your greatest contribution to college basketball analysis is the matching tie/highlighter combo, that's not saying much. Digger really outdid himself today though, as evidenced by this video.

I especially love the part where John Saunders questions him, and he just goes "absolutely". Priceless.

The only thing that would have made this highlight better is if Tennessee would have actually know how much we hate Tennessee.

Thanks to Awful Announcing for the link...

Georgia Dome mayhem!

Here's something you don't see everyday: A basketball game being postponed due to inclement weather, but that's exactly what's happening in Atlanta as a severe storm ripped a hole in the roof and two panels off the side of the Georgia Dome. I've never seen anything like this.

Mississippi State and Alabama were in the middle of overtime when the building began shaking. At first, fans and reporters alike assumed it was the rowdy Kentucky fans stomping their feet. But, soon we realized that this was no cheer.

Georgia Dome Officials said “high-force” winds whipped across the roof just 30 seconds after they received a tornado warning.

Fans were understandably frightened and began heading for the exits before an announcement over the loudspeaker told them they were safe. Pieces of roofing and other debris floated down onto the court and a washer actually landed on the press table in the row in front of me and came within inches of a reporter's head.

The game was postponed for approximately one hour. Mississippi State held on for a 69-67 victory as Mykal Riley's 3-pointer at the buzzer went in and out.

One and done: Arkansas 81 Vandy 75

For Vandy, it was another early exit in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Commodores are now 0-4 over the past two seasons against Arkansas. Make sure to check out my post-game column on

A few other thoughts...

1) It's not that Vandy lost, but how it lost that's so frustrating. I got a chance to talk to Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner in the locker room following the game and here's what they had to say:

"I don’t know if its matchup problems or we just never get up to play them or I don’t know what is, but we didn’t have any excuse today to not come ready to play. We just weren’t ready and it showed.” -- Neltner

“We just didn’t play with enough urgency today. We’ll be ready for the NCAA Tournament I think. Hopefully this tournament and that loss can put a little hunger into us and make us want it more.” -- Gordon
As disconcerting as these comments are to hear, at least they provide an explanation as to why the Commodores were out-hustled so badly. They lost the rebounding battle 45-24 and were outscored 50-20 in the paint. Just let those numbers sink in...

2) While some of you may be panicking over today's performance, this loss actually doesn't change my opinion of Vandy. It only reaffirmed what I already knew -- that the Commodores struggle mightily against athletic teams that have the ability to break them down off the dribble and attack the offensive glass.

As Stallings pointed out in the post-game press conference, the NCAA Tourney is all about match ups. If Vandy gets a good draw like it did a year ago when it played George Washington and Washington State, it has a very good chance of advancing to Sweet 16 and possibly beyond. At the same time, no one would be shocked to see the Commodores get upset in the first round either.

3) In terms of seeding, I tried to ask Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings about it, and he got somewhat annoyed.

"I'm not going to get into that speculative, we deserve this or we deserve that. The committee will decide what we deserve. I'm not I'm sorry, I just don't care to answer that kind of question because I don't think it makes any difference."
I also asked Neltner, and he said he was expecting a 5-7 seed, which I think is about right. I see the Commodores as a 6 seed given how poorly they have played away from Memorial.

Let me know what you guys think. Does today's game make you worried about the Commodores' chances in the Big Dance?

Live blogging Vandy-Arkansas

What's up everyone,

After a crazy drive down to Atlanta this morning , I'm finally in my seat court side at the Georgia Dome where Vanderbilt is taking on Arkansas. I'll be posting comments throughout the contest so make sure to hit that refresh button...

If the Commodores win today, they'll take on Tennessee Saturday at 12 CT. The Vols barely squeaked by Dave Odom and South Carolina, 89-87.

For some quality college basketball blogging, check out Vegas Watch.

17:16: Who says Shan Foster is just a 3-point shooter? He's attacked the rim twice already, hitting three of four foul shots.

16:27: Steven Hill, unquestionably the ugliest player in the SEC, just picked up his second foul, which is good news for the Commodores.

15:38: A couple of thoughts on the Georgia Dome atmosphere:
-Both Vanderbilt and Arkansas fans seemed to have traveled well. The Razorbacks and their creepy "Pig Sooey" chants are louder, but definitely more annoying.
-Even though the Wildcats aren't playing until later, there's still a lot of Kentucky Blue in the stands.

14:59: Just five minutes into the game and Arkansas has already been called for six fouls...

14:22: The charge foul just called on Ross Neltner is exactly the one refs need to stop calling. Nelly was clearly disgusted, mouthing "No way" to the officials.

12:28: Who in the world is Stefan Welsh? He's already scored 11 points, one shy of his season high.

11:53: Jamie Graham has already made his way into the game. Against an Arkansas team with quick guards who like to penetrate, Graham's perimeter defense could be important in this one. He's picking up Stefan Welsh full court and he seems to be bothered.

9:50: Vanderbilt just went to a zone, which might not be a bad idea considering how many wide-open dunks Arkansas has gotten.

9:19: One of the most frustrating sights in basketball: when a defensive player fouls a guy shooting, but not hard enough to prevent him from missing. Ross Neltner loves doing this.

7:30: And the streak continues...Foster just hit Vanderbilt's first three of the game.

5:30: We've got a Bruce Pearl sighting folks. He's sitting three seats away from me, clearly getting a closer look at tomorrow's opponent. The Vols needed a Chris Lofton 3-pointer in the final seconds to edge South Carolina earlier in the day.

3:50: Facebook NCAA Tournament pools are under scrutiny.

1:27: Stat of the half: Vandy is 16-for-19 from the foul line.

0:35: That's another great tip-in for A.J. Ogilvy and the Commodore fans are on their feet. The Aussie came to play. He's got 15 for the half.

HALFTIME: Arkansas 40 Vanderbilt 36
A few stats that stand out:
-Vanderbilt was 9-for-20 from the field, while Arkansas was 17-for-35. That's 15 more shot attempts.
-Vandy was 16-for-19 from the foul line, compared to just 3-for-7 for Arkansas.
-Arkansas outrebounded Vandy 20-13.
-Arkansas is swinning despite a combined 4 points from guards Patrick Beverley and Sonny Weems.
-Foster was held in check, scoring a modest six points on 1-for-5 shooting. Arkansas has him contained well.

Just thought it'd be worth noting that Foster needs just 10 points to reach 2,000 for his career. If he gets there today, I bet the Commodores win.

17:56: Ross Neltner just did it again. He fouled Gary Ervin on a drive to the hoop and Ervin still made the shot. Please stop doing that, Ross. It's not cool.

16:00: Foster's mid-range game has really improved. He just hit a pretty floater in the lane.

15:40: That's four fouls on Ross Neltner, which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing. With Nelly out, I wonder if Vandy will turn to Darshawn McClellan, who surprisingly hasn't seen any action thus far. His style of play could be perfect for this type of game...And what do you know? As I'm typing this, McClellan checks in.

15:20: Foster hits a contested jumper and the game is tied at 48, much to the delight of the Vanderbilt cheering section. You can already tell this game is going down to the wire.

13:31: Kevin Stallings really wanted an intentional foul called on Jermaine Beal's drive, but he restrained himself from harping on the refs. He seems to be on his best behavior today. It's not always the case, as Pat Forde writes.

10:33: D.O.L.L.A! Jermaine Beal just took it the length of the court and finished with his left hand on Steven Hill, drawing the foul in the process. Talk about a strong take. Vandy down two...

10:05: Vandy is already in the bonus once again, which is great news since it's having trouble scoring from the floor.

9:20: Gordon for 3 and it's all even at 58.

8:20: Dear Vanderbilt,
I understand that Arkansas is bigger and more athletic, but there is absolutely no excuse for the way you guys are rebounding. The Razorbacks have a 35-16 rebounding advantage. Think about that for a second. They have more offensive rebounds (19) than you have rebounds. You guys also have just three offensive rebounds. It comes down to attitude and effort so if for the last eight minutes of this game, you could please leave it all out there, I'd greatly appreciate.


6:15: Something you don't see everyday: The ball is stuck on the top of the backboard, and the crowd is absolutely loving it. Sonny Weems tried to pry the ball loose to no avail so they had to bring out a ladder.

4:33: Ogilvy kicked to Foster, who missed a wide-open three that he makes 80 percent of the time. Vandy trails by five...

3:29: Some may question Alex Gordon's shot selection, but you can't knock his intensity. The senior point guard just buried a huge 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut the lead to two. On another note, today's attendance at the Georgia Dome was just announced at 18,020.

1:50: Shan Foster has held Sonny Weems to 2 points all day and just forced a five-second call.

1:04: Vandy is down 71-65 with 1:04 to play. It's not looking good for the Commodores...

0:50: Alex Gordon is letting it fly right now. He just buried another deep, contested 3-pointer to keep Vandy in it. The Dores are down 73-68.

0:25: Foster just hit a three to cut the lead to six, but Vandy needed more from him in this one. Give credit to Arkansas for taking him out of the game.

0:17: One crazy Arkansas fan in the stands has been driving me crazy all game. Every time Arkansas goes the foul line, he yells things like "Cookies! Tollhouse, baby! It's 1 a.m. and it's time for cookie!" as well as "Jolly Ranchers! Skittles! Candy, baby!" I'm not exactly sure what he means by this. I'm going to try to look this one up, and get back to you...

FINAL: Arkansas 81 Vandy 75
I'm off to the post-game press conference, but I'll have more from the ATL for you guys later. Now I've got to decide whether I'm going to stick around here for the weekend or head back up to Nashville...

Commodore Banter (3/14) lists Shan Foster as the No. 1 shooting guard in America, ahead of players like Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, and Chris Douglas-Roberts.  

Vanderbilt may be one of the few SEC schools that doesn't get Martin Luther King Day off, but did you know that the first black varsity athlete in the SEC was a Commodore?

Shan Foster is a star on and off the court and finds himself on his teammates' iPods, writes Ray Glier.  

Billy Donovan didn't have very nice things to say about his team, writes Mark Schlabach.

Ross Neltner will try to avoid being the Chris Webber who fatefully called a time-out when his team didn't have one, explains Jerry Tipton.   

Vanderbilt has  all the ingredients to make a run in the NCAA tournament, writes Jim Mashek.

A look back at Day 1 of the SEC Tourney

Three things we learned from the first round of the SEC Tournament.

1. With their losses, Florida and Ole Miss can kiss the NCAA Tournament good bye.

2. South Carolina's Dave Odom (retiring) and Georgia's Dennis Felton (on the hot seat) lived to coach another day.

3. If George Drake hadn't missed a wide-open dunk in the closing minutes, Vanderbilt would have set the SEC Tournament record for field-goal percentage in a game.

Game 1: South Carolina 77 LSU 73

Game 2: Vanderbilt 93 Auburn 82

Game 3: Alabama 80, Florida 69

Game 4: Georgia 97 Ole Miss 95 (OT)

Top 3 Quotes of the Day

1) "I'm not necessarily really excited about these guys being sophomores to be honest." -- Florida coach Billy Donovan on his freshmen. Ouch.

"I already jumped him in the locker room and said I can't believe that you couldn't make all your shots. All you had to do was make one more dunk and you would have been 13 for 13 (laughter). He got a good laugh out of it, actually." -- Kevin Stallings on ribbing A.J. Ogilvy for his 12-for-13 performance. His lone miss came on a dunk attempt that was blocked by 6'4'' Frank Tolbert.

3) "
But like I said earlier, I love LSU, I love playing with my team and my teammates, and as you can see I'm having fun out there. I love LSU." -- Freshman Anthony Randolph, who's a potential top-five in the NBA Draft on his plans for next year. He says he loves LSU, but the question is how much?

Day 2 Schedule

Game 5: South Carolina vs. Tennessee (12 CT)

Game 6: Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas (2:15 CT)

Game 7: Alabama vs. Miss. State (6:30 CT)

Game 8: Georgia vs. Kentucky (8:45 CT)

I'm heading to Atlanta in a few minutes, but I should have a bunch of good stuff for you guys this afternoon and throughout the tournament. Keep reading...

Time for "Billy the Kid" to grow up

For the Florida Gators, there will be no chance for a three-peat after losing to Alabama 80-69 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday. They've now lost four straight and eight of their last 11.

The game itself was not nearly as compelling as the post-game comments from Florida coach Billy Donovan, who absolutely laid into his young team. A couple that stood out:
You know, it's hard for me to be excited going forward because I don't see things getting fixed, you know?
I'm not necessarily really that excited about these guys being sophomores to be honest...I don't think people change a whole lot, and I don't think you've seen the basketball team change at all this year. So it's hard for me to get overly thrilled or excited.
While I understand Donovan's frustration, to publicly humiliate a group of young men the way he did is just uncalled for. If you want to rip your players, do it in private, not at a post-game press conference.

I used to be a big fan of Donovan, but it seems as though he's been spoiled. He's forgotten how he lucky he was to have had a once-in-a-lifetime group of players. Even worse, he's forgotten how to coach.

Donovan expected this team to play with the same fire and passion as Joakim Noah and the rest of them Gator Boys, which just wasn't fair. He needed to bring that out of them. Instead, he gave up on them. The fact that Florida did not improve over the course of the season says more about Donovan as a coach than it does about his players.

And I still can't believe those comments. "Billy the Kid," it's time you grow up.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Q&A with Curt Casali

Vandy baseball is finally hitting the stride everyone has expected. Wednesday's 11-4 win over Western Carolina was the Dores' fourth straight, and the lineup seems to be gelling well in the continued absence of Pedro Alvarez. Though Ryan Flaherty and Dom de la Osa are struggling a bit by their standards, guys like Andrew Giobbi, David Macias and Alex Feinberg are really stepping up, as is freshman catcher/DH Curt Casali.

After hitting his first career homer Wednesday, Casali sat down for a few questions with The Sports VU.

SPORTS VU: What happened on that home run pitch?

Curt Casali: The pitch was a hit and run, so I was gonna swing at it either way. It happened to be a fastball, inner half, and I was able to get a good swing on it.

SV: Did you get the ball?

CC: I think I did. That’ll be in my locker, going back to my parents soon.

SV: Pedro (Alvarez) has been out; how have you guys been able to pick it up?

CC: That’s the opportunity we have. When one player falls, the other guy’s gonna step up big. We’ve had a lot of guys step up in the middle of that lineup, like (Andrew) Giobbi and Shea (Robin), coming through in clutch situations. Pedro’s a big loss, but we’re able to handle it because we’re such a deep team, full of seniors and other guys that can really play.

SV: This being your first year, what’s been the biggest adjustment facing college pitching for the first time?

CC: The first game, it was getting past the nerves. I think I’m past that right now; I’m becoming a better defensive catcher. Coming from Connecticut, the pitching is not that stellar. I’m now learning to catch guys who can throw it mid-90s. The opposing pitching is also very good. I’ve just got to learn to be patient, learn to take strikes and take good pitches, get the pitch that I want to hit.

SV: Who’s your favorite pitcher to catch?

CC: I’d have to go with Nick Christiani. I think he’s the one guy that most people don’t like to catch, but me and him, we’ve got a good bond going on. Hopefully, on Saturdays I can catch him, we’ll see.

SV: Who’s got the nastiest stuff?

CC: Nastiest? Probably Nick. Nick’s got the ball that moves the most. Taylor Hill’s ball moves a lot, Jake (Brett Jacobson) has a really good slider, Mikie Minor too.

SV: What have you learned being behind Shea?

CC: Shea’s been such a huge help to me; he’s been with me every step of the way, literally. Every time I come in the dugout from an inning, he’s always there to say, “good job.” If I did something that I shouldn’t have, he’ll give me advice or something. Blake Allen, he’s been a great catching coach to me. He’s a little hard, but all the instruction they’ve given me has really taken me a long way.

SV: What defensive adjustments are you looking to make?

CC: I’m really looking to get my feet wider behind the plate, just so I can move laterally better. Blocking is always a big issue, you can never be too good at that. I’ve been working at that too, but there’s only so much you can do.

SV: What MLB catcher do you take after the most?

CC: Coach Allen, he has some film from a bunch of major leaguers; I wouldn’t say I compare myself to any of them because I’m just a college catcher. If I had to be somebody in the major leagues, I’d probably want to be like Joe Mauer. He’s one of my favorite players to watch play; hitting-wise, defensively, he’s got everything.

SV: Do you have any superstitions?

CC: Sadly, I don’t. I’m not a big believer in superstitions. When the bench is doing the “two-twos,” the middle finger across the hat, I’ll participate in that, but I don’t really have any superstitions. We’ve got a bunch of routines on the team; I’ll usually get to the field about an hour before we have to be here, get dressed, take a couple swings, get my legs stretched out.

SV: What kind of music pumps you up when you get to the plate?

CC: Oh man, I’ve got Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” playing up there, but everybody says that’s a little cliché and isn’t original enough, so I might have to change it. I was gonna go with Tom Petty and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” It’s a variety for me; I’m not a big rap guy, any classic rock with good guitars will get me going.

Casali and the rest of the Hawkins Nine will open conference play at home this Friday against No. 6 South Carolina. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. as sophomore sensation Mikie Minor (2-1, 1.66) takes the mound for the Commodores. Check out The Sports VU for full recaps and player quotes after each game this weekend, and don't forget to sit in the new right-field bleachers!

Vandy coaches deserve credit

Obviously we're all thinking about the SEC tournament today, but this week's Sports Business Journal has a really interesting article about the Vanderbilt athletic department (or lack thereof).

Besides the novelty of a Vanderbilt exclusive being on the front page of one of sports business' most respected publications, the article brings up a great topic of discussion for Vandy fans. To the outside observer, there would seem to be a correlation between the success of a number of our athletic programs and the restructuring of the department in 2003, but is there really any reason to believe this should be attributed to anything other than pure coincidence?

Has recent success been a result of the esteemed direction of David Williams (not exactly the portrait of inspiration...) under Student Life, or the hard work of coaches that has just so happened to coincide with the restructuring? I tend to think that its the latter, and the success of our baseball and basketball programs (for example) is more reflective of the hard work of Tim Corbin and Kevin Stallings than the department's business model. Give Williams credit for investing to keep coaches in place, but does anyone really think we'd be having this kind of success without them?

Ask A 'Dore: Parker Hanks and Josie Earnest

Sure, they may be some of the best athletes in the country, but Vanderbilt athletes DO have a life off the field. The Sports VU grilled baseball player Parker Hanks and women's bowler Josie Earnest on topics tougher than you will ever find on an organic chemistry test. Here's what they had to say.

Senior outfielder Parker Hanks

March Madness is... a dream come true for many underdogs.
Favorite vacation spot? Hawaii
Celebrity you’d most like to take on a date? Carrie Underwood
Favorite place to eat on campus (other than McGugin)? The Commons
Xbox 360 or PS3? XBOX 360
Last book you read? The Art of War by Sun Tzu
St. Patrick’s Day is... a great day to flaunt your red hair.
TV show I can’t live without: Entourage

Sophomore bowler Josie Earnest

March Madness is... One of my favorite times of year. I LOVE basketball.
Favorite vacation spot? Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Celebrity you’d most like to take on a date? Ryan Theriot or Chris Paul
Favorite place to eat on campus (other than McGugin)? The Pub!
Xbox 360 or PS3? Call me crazy, but I've never played either.
Last book you read? Howards End for English class.
St. Patrick’s Day is... My sister's Birthday!
TV show I can’t live without: Anything ESPN and I'm addicted to Real World/Road Rules Challenge

Live blogging Vandy-Auburn

2:22: We're minutes away from tipoff, where Vandy takes on Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament. This is what college is all about: skipping class to sit in front of the TV and do some live-blogging. Greg and I will be providing commentary throughout the game so don't forget to hit that refresh button.

2:27: Listening to the pre-game introductions reminded how much I hate television announcers. Today we're privileged enough to get the team of Tom Hammond and Larry Conley. I'm close to putting the TV on mute and listening to Joe Fisher, one of the best radio guys in the business.

2:34: Tough to tell whether there's more empty space in the stands or in the paint...non-existent interior defense from Auburn early leads to 8 quick points for Ogilvy and his boyish new haircut. 14-4 Vandy

2:36: One of the prettiest sights in college basketball: A Shan Foster swish.

2:49: With Darshawn McClellan entering the game, I am reminded of how much he looks like that token black guy from 40 year old virgin. I like that everyone knows him when they see him, yet no one knows his name, kind of like Darshawn McClellan!

2:51: Jamie Graham has just entered the game, which leads me to ask: Why doesn't he play more? The two-sport athlete is the team's best on-the-ball defender and I've heard that he just kills players in practice.

3:05: Vandy won't lose many games shooting 76%, especially when they're working the inside-outside game as well as they are today. Shan is buttery, Ogilvy is efficient, and this is shaping up to be the game we hoped it would be.

3:06: As Vandy opens the lead out to 11, the more intriguing story line is why Charles Barkley is holding a random white infant...

Dear Keegan,

Can you please explain the rationale behind the sleeve on your right leg? Is it because you are cold? Or injured? Maybe you just want to be different? This is something that has bothered me for quite some time, and I’d really appreciate an answer. By the way, I’m a big fan.

Hugs and kisses,

3:14: HALFTIME: Vanderbilt 47, Auburn 36

Obviously a solid half for the Commodores. Here are a few stats that stand out:
-Vandy is shooting a mind-boggling 76 percent (19-25) from the field.
-Ogilvy has 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting.
-Foster has 19 points, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range (if you're Auburn, how do you not face guard him every possession?)
-Vandy has 14 assists to just six turnovers.

3:22: Potential good news for Vandy with UConn trailing WVU under 8 to play. A first round exit for them would really help Vandy jump up to the 4 line with a couple wins.

3:26: The first four minutes of the second half are huge. If the Commodores can push their lead to 15-20, they'll be able to rest their starters, which is important if they plan to play into the weekend.

3:28: I love A.J. Ogilvy, but he just got pinned by 6'4'' Frank Tolbert going up for a dunk. That's just not cool.

3:30: I find it hard to believe that that was the tie Jeff Lebo chose to wear today. Good thing the 7 people watching the game with me probably make up the majority of the current viewing audience.

3:34: Even Foster thinks its comical that the Tigers still haven't realized that they can't leave him open. Vandy's up nine with a little over 16:00 to play...

3:37: A.J. Ogilvy just got called for an offensive foul, which reminds me of my biggest pet peeve with basketball referees: they call way too many charges. I know it's fun to reward players for sacrificing their bodies and I know refs love making the signal for the call, but come on -- just because a defender goes to the ground doesn't mean the offensive player was out of control. It's gotten ridiculous.

3:42: Not that I'm complaining, but where has George Drake been today? He hasn't played yet. Is it bad that it took me this long to notice?

3:45: In a preseason interview, Ogilvy told reporters he had range out the 3-point line and we chuckled. Well, he just buried a 20-footer. Looks like he was right...

3:52: I'm really high on freshman Andre Walker. He's solid in all phases of the game and has the potential to be a great four-year player for the Commodores. I think once he becomes a little more confident and assertive, fans will realize just how skilled he is. Walker has great size for a small forward. He has a good feel for the game, a respectable jumper and is strong around the rim. He's also a good defender and will only get better. And just in case you're wondering, we aren't dating...

4:02: I know the game isn't over, but Stallings should think about sitting the starters down. This is a 4-day tournament, and theres less than a week between the final on Sunday and that first weekend of games that actually matter.

4:03: Ladies and gentlemen, freshman Joe Duffy has just broken the Vanderbilt single season record for stand-up claps, previously held by former walk-on Aubrey Hammond. Duffy's the college version of Mark Madsen.

4:09: In finally noticing the logo at center court, I cannot believe the league office could not come up with anything better for that location. I guess it's somewhat refreshing that there's no advertising, but seriously, that's the best you could do? A basketball? Really?

4:13: Alex Gordon has got to be one of the toughest pound-for-pound players in the league.

4:17: Finally we get the starters out of the game. Let's just take a minute to appreciate Ogilvy's performance today; 12 of 13 for 27 points to go along with his five rebounds. Unbelievably solid, and the kind of production Vandy needs to take a little attention away from Shan.

4:20: And you wonder why everyone cringes when George Drake enters the game...

4:21: Quite a day for Joe Duffy! Exchanged the stand up claps for some tough points in the paint! Hooray for you token white walk-on!

4:22: Final score: Vanderbilt 93, Auburn 82.

4:24: In his post-game interview, Stallings displays his knack for stating the obvious in responding to a question about Foster and Ogilvy by saying "they are our two best players". Who knew?! No wonder we like him so much as a coach!

4:26: A few stats worth noting:
-Vandy shot 67.3 percent (33-49) from the field, nearly a SEC Tournament record
-Vandy assisted on 27 of its 33 field goals
-Foster: 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting (business as usual)
-Ogilvy: 27 points on 12-for-13 shooting (talk about efficiency)
-Beal: 7 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds
-Walker: 3 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists in 21 minutes (very positive sign)

4:28: The only SEC team Vanderbilt hasn't beaten over the past two seasons? Arkansas. The Commodores look to change that tomorrow afternoon. Today's performance was certainly encouraging.

4:37: That's all we've got for today, but thanks for reading. I'll be heading down to the ATL in the morning so make sure to check back often for all the latest coverage.

Commodore Banter (3/13)

Nick Evans explains the strengths and weaknesses of this Vanderbilt squad heading into tournament play. Hard to imagine that the team shot a ludicrous 40% from downtown this year.

How good is the Women's tennis team? Taka Bertrand, who rotates between playing three and four on the team, earned SEC player of the week honors for her stellar play in an upset win over Georgia Tech.

Sporting News recognized a certain Dore in its All-American teams.

Don't have a TV? Good news: Joost with the backing of CBS will be broadcasting the NCAA tournament online for free.

Windy Hall wrote a little quiz to separate the true SEC fans from the pretenders.

Alex Gordon plays for more than himself and his school, writes Antonio Gonzalez.

The SEC tournament begins today for the Dores, and they will be trying to right the ship, as Maurice Patton writes.

Here we go

Days like today are why March is my favorite month of the year. I'm skipping all three classes to prepare for and then watch the Commodores take on Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Tipoff is 2:15 CT.

In the spirit of the tournament, I thought I'd share this video. I get chills every time I watch it...

W2W4: Survival Day+1

The drama continues for the squads on that unforgiving Bubble. All of these games involve teams clinging to tournament hopes. Wins are crucial. Losses are devastating. The Madness continues.

Big East Tournament
Villanova (20-11, 9-9 Big East) vs. No. 9 Georgetown (25-4, 15-3 Big East)
11 a.m. CT

Villanova pounded Syracuse 82-63 yesterday to keep its tournament hopes alive. If the Wildcats find a way to beat Georgetown, they've got a strong case to make the tournament. Villanova came achingly close to beating the Hoyas earlier this season, but a suspect foul call with 0.1 seconds left gave Georgetown two free throws and the win, so the Wildcats are quite capable of taking Georgetown down.

Atlantic 10 Tournament
Dayton (21-9, 8-8 A-10) vs. No. 10 Xavier (26-5, 14-2 A-10)
11 a.m. CT
Pretty much the same story as Villanova for the Dayton Flyers. After barely beating Saint Louis yesterday, they can most likely punch their ticket to the Big Dance by beating the bad boys of the conference, the Musketeers. However, Xavier smothered Dayton in their last meeting back on Jan. 24, 69-43.

Pacific 10 Tournament
Arizona State (19-11, 9-9 Pac-10) vs. Southern California (20-10, 11-7 Pac-10)
2 p.m. CT

The Sun Devils have made a remarkable turnaround from last season to put themselves in contention to make the NCAAs. USC has sharp-shooting freshman O.J. Mayo, but ASU has one of their own in James Harden, and the teams split their season series. ASU has a lousy RPI but nine wins in the Pac-10 aren't bad.

Oregon (18-12, 9-9 Pac-10) vs. No. 21 Washington State (23-7, 11-7 Pac-10)
8 p.m. CT

Washington State has beaten the Ducks twice this season, but that was in the regular season. The Ducks won the Pac-10 tourney last season and have won three games in a row coming into today, the kind of momentum you need heading into the postseason. A suspect RPI (52) makes this game a must-win for Oregon.

Arizona (19-13, 8-10 Pac-10) vs. No. 11 Stanford (24-6, 13-5 Pac-10)
10:30 p.m. CT

The Wildcats took care of business against Oregon State to set up another showdown with the Cardinal, who've beaten Arizona twice in close games this season. Given Stanford's recent sluggish play, don't be surprised to see Arizona pull the upset and solidify its tournament hopes.

Check out Eric Silver's previews and predictions for the SEC tournament below. Happy watching.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Baseball: Vandy 11, Western Carolina 4

On a day made for baseball, the Commodores defeated Western Carolina 11-4 today behind home runs from David Macias, Curt Casali and Jonathan White.

While much of the campus has been consumed with Shan Foster and company, the Hawkins Nine (10-3) have quietly gone about their business. They open Southeastern Conference play Friday night at home against South Carolina.

Make sure to check out my post-game column about the emergence of Vanderbilt's role players like Andrew Giobbi on

Preview: Auburn vs. Vanderbilt

This time a year ago, things looked at least somewhat promising for the Auburn basketball program. Finishing 7-9 in the SEC (the West division co-champs were 8-8) and returning all five starters, maybe things were looking up. Fast forward, and the Tigers have the appearance of a team who wants the season to be over. They’ve lost their last four conference games and five of the last six. Just 4-12 in the SEC, the message boards are beginning to question coach Jeff Lebo. Since Auburn is, quite frankly, a football school, Lebo seems safe, but it does show the tenuous state of Auburn basketball. How does all that play out tomorrow against Vanderbilt? Here’s a look at the keys for each team.


Get off to a good start: Arkansas jumped on Auburn early last Saturday, building a 22-point lead and cruising to a double-digit victory. If their heads aren’t in it early, a few Shan Foster threes could build a similar deficit for Auburn.

Rebound: Leading rebounder Kavourtney Barber broke his hand early in the season. Barber probably would have presented a match-up problem for Vanderbilt, as well as several other teams in the SEC had he been able to play. He was also leading the nation in field goal percentage at the time of his injury at 72 percent.

The rest of the team has struggled filling in his shoes, and Arkansas outrebounded them 39-25 on Saturday. They average just 32.7 rebounds a game, last in the SEC. And while Vanderbilt is not a great rebounding team, giving A.J. Ogilvy extra opportunities to score could cost Auburn.

Shoot better: This seems obvious enough. The Tigers have shot just 39.4 percent from the field in their current losing streak. Still, Vanderbilt has allowed teams who were previously struggling with their shooting to find their stroke…


Defend better: …which leads to this point. Previously struggling Patrick Beverly found his stroke against Vanderbilt three games ago. Alabama shot 50 percent in the first half of Saturday’s 78-73 loss and was lights out in overtime. There were several defensive lapses against Mississippi State, which led to Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnardo getting easy dunks. Shoring up the defense is key. Frank Tolbert also scored 32 points in Vanderbilt's previous 78-71 victory over Auburn in February, so he is someone to watch out for.

Guard play: Jermaine Beal is 4-23 in his last three games. Alex Gordon is 5-26 in the same three games. Nine of 49 from your two starting guards, even if you have Shan Foster, won’t cut it in March. Simple as that. Beal and Gordon spent more time than usual on the bench in the second half on Saturday, and the reasons were pretty clear as to why.

Attitude: In his radio interviews after Saturday’s loss to Alabama, Coach Kevin Stallings spoke of players pouting on the bench about playing time and having their own agendas. This isn’t a good tone heading into the postseason, but Stallings also said he was ready to turn things around in practice, which makes Thursday particularly interesting. For the past two seasons, Vanderbilt has had remarkable chemistry, and it would be a shame to see it unravel at the climax of the season. But anyone who knows this team and Stallings knows that it’s fully capable of regrouping.

Bottom line: A lot of what happens Thursday depends on whether Auburn shows up. Do they want to keep playing or do they want to pack it up for the year? If their listless performance against Arkansas is any indication, the Commodores should be fine. Eric already put a score up, and I’ll just say I have no reason to disagree with it.

Kevin Stallings should try stand up

In preparation for its first-round matchup with Auburn, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings spoke to the media today in Atlanta. The press conference was pretty standard and you can read the transcript here but one thing that made me laugh out loud was Stallings' take on A.J. Ogilvy's recent foul trouble.

Exhibit A:

The concern has been are the decisions he makes when he has fouls. I mean, some of his fourth fouls have just been ‑‑ they have defied any ability to logic that I have. I've searched my brain for a space in there that can justify how that happened, and they've been beyond me a little bit.

Exhibit B:

He got a third foul in a recent game where the guy tried to spin and go on him, and he was just there, and the guy just ran into his chest, and I mean, it was bad. Bad, bad.
But the fourth foul against Alabama was a moving screen that God and everybody saw, and the fourth foul in our last Auburn game was an attempt to take a charge where he fell this way. So yeah, we've had some bad decisions.

Exhibit C (my personal favorite):

He's a bright kid except for when he gets three fouls. I'm just kidding. He's an awesome guy.

We know Stallings can coach, but perhaps he should try stand up. He's hilarious...

Get Ready...

Tomorrow, it begins. Twelve teams, one goal: the coveted SEC Championship. For teams such as Vandy, Tennessee, and Mississippi State, this is a chance to pad their stats and seedings for tourney time. And for pretty much everyone else... it's win or go home.

Four back-to-back-to-back-to-back (whew!) play-in games are being held tomorrow, starting at Noon CT at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Here's what I think is going down...

GAME 1: LSU (SEC West 4 seed) vs. South Carolina (SEC East 5 seed)

You know what? LSU's firing of coach John Brady mid-season may not have been politically or personally correct, but the Tiger's have been on a (relative) tear as of late. South Carolina's quick guards can run some teams ragged, but LSU won't let that happen.

Tigers 68
Gamecocks 63

GAME TWO: Vanderbilt (SEC East 3 seed) vs. Auburn (SEC West 6 seed)

So, Vanderbilt is the 17th ranked team in the country and a lock to go dancing. And Auburn is, well... I don't know what they are, but they aren't going to beat Vandy.

Commodores 80
Tigers 61

GAME THREE: Florida (SEC East 4 seed) vs. Alabama (SEC West 5 seed)

Florida has probably slipped off of that all-important "bubble", so they'll have to beat the Tide to at least have a shot of going dancing. But it isn't going to be easy- 'Bama proved they can grind out and win big games, as evidenced by their OT victory vs. our Commodores. Anyways, maybe Al Horford will skip Hawks practice and come to the game to provide some motivation and love. I guess it's better than having some 6-11 crazy dude with a ridiculous ponytail and major gap between his teeth showing up in the locker room and scaring all of the freshman.

Florida 61
Alabama 58

GAME FOUR: Ole Miss (SEC West 3 seed) vs. Georgia (SEC East 6 seed)

This game is scheduled to tip off at 9:45, but I wouldn't stay up if you have to get up early on Friday, like me (screw you 8 o'clock English!!!). Ole Miss and superfrosh Chris Warren just beat Georgia on the road, and on top of that, the Rebels are a team on a mission: to not embarrass themselves by missing out on March Madness after that stellar start to the season. Warren, Eniel Polynice, and David Huertas will be too much up top, Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams will be too much down low, and the Rebels will roll in a grind it out game despite Georgia's home team advantage.

Rebels 75
Bulldogs 62

Football spring practice underway

In the South, it's never too early to talk football, and with spring practice now officially underway, I figured it'd be a good time to go over a few of the top storylines.

1) Who is the starting quarterback?

The most visible and important battle this spring will be between Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson. In today's Tennessean, Maurice Patton reports that Nickson "suffered a hip injury two weeks into the '07 campaign and a shoulder injury the next week," confirming what many of us had suspected.

Adams is a fierce competitor and strong leader, but I still think the Commodores' best chance of winning comes with a healthy and effective Nickson behind center. Whether he can regain that form, however, remains to be seen.

While a starter won't be named for quite some time, one thing's for certain: Vanderbilt is going to have a bunch of question marks on offense and quarterback can't afford to be one of them.

2) How will the Dores hold up in the trenches?

Vanderbilt must replace all five starters from the offensive line. While the task certainly seems daunting, coach Bobby Johnson is optimistic. Still, it's not as if there is another Chris Williams waiting in the wings to protect the quarterback's blindside.

Hopefully the first-team unit, which consists of tackles Thomas Welch and Eric Hensley, guards Ryan Custer and Drew Gardner and center Bradley Vierling, can use this spring to gel.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Commodores must replace defensive tackles Theo Horrocks and Gabe Hall and defensive end Curtis Gatewood, which is no easy task.

3) What is the team's biggest strength?

It's got to be the secondary, where the Commodores bring virtually everyone back. I expect D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis to take another leap this fall and become two of the SEC's elite cornerbacks. At safety, future-NFLer Reshard Langford returns for his final season, and Ryan Hamilton should be much more comfortable in year two as a starter. Nickelback Darlron Spead will be limited this spring as he recovers from a shoulder injury, but should be ready to go in the fall.

The Commodores also have depth in the secondary with players such as Joel Caldwell, Josh Allen, Brent Trice and my favorite basketball player Jamie Graham.

What's on tap: The Black & Gold Scrimmage is 10 a.m. March 29 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

While football talk will pick up in April, I can't help but ask: What are your expectations for the 2008 Commodores?

Commodore Banter (3/12)

Spring practice has started for the football team and Coach Johnson has seen plenty to like, notes

The search for a quarterback continues with Macenzie Adams and Chris Nickson battling for the August 28 start against Miami of Ohio, writes Maurice Patton.

Georgia Sports Blog thinks the Dores could go a long way in Atlanta this week.

Bill Traughber writes that there is evidence that Vanderbilt may have had been the first college to field a basketball team.

Women's tennis has soared to No. 9 in the country after a close win over then-No. 2 Georgia Tech. Are they the most underrated and under-appreciated team on campus?

The SEC tournament should be in Tennessee, as Doug Segrest writes.

Shan Foster received a text message from last year's SEC player of the year Derrick Byars for keeping the award in the Commodore family.

Roger Olivieri runs through his SEC baseball notebook and reminds readers that even in Pedro Alvarez's absence, there is still plenty of talent around with Minor and de la Osa leading the way.

Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl isn't shy about where he thinks his team stands. If not for North Carolina, Pearl thinks Tennessee could be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, writes Mike Griffith.

W2W4: Survival Day

Here are three big games for Bubble teams today that will determine who will still have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament and who will be crying home to their respective mothers.

1) Syracuse (19-12, 9-9 Big East) vs. Villanova (19-11, 9-9 Big East)
TV: ESPN (11 a.m. CT)

Neither team can lose this game and still expect to get in the Dance. Syracuse (RPI of 45) and Villanova (RPI of 56) are two desperate squads that are going to be fun to watch playing each other with their tournament lives at stake. A win here wouldn't be enough on its own to get either team in the Big Dance though. But it would keep them breathing.

2) Dayton (20-9, 8-8 A-10) vs. Saint Louis (16-14, 7-9 A-10)
(11 a.m. CT)

Dayton got off to an amazing start but stumbled in conference play before winning its last three and giving itself a shot to still get in the tournament. has Dayton as "looking bad" in that regard, but the Flyers' RPI is 33 and they have several solid wins, including a road win over Louisville and a trouncing of Pittsburgh. If they beat Saint Louis, something they've done twice this season, the Flyers get a shot at No. 10 Xavier to really help their chances. If they lose to the Billikens, which is a really weird nickname, then yikes.

3) Arizona (18-13, 8-10 Pac-10) vs. Oregon State (6-24, 0-18 Pac-10)
10:30 p.m. CT

I know, I know, how could this be even considered as a good game? Oregon State is the freak-child of the Pac-10, this year's best conference. How could Arizona lose to this bunch of misfits? The scary thing for Arizona is that there is almost nothing to gain from beating a team with an RPI of 264 except going to the next round. The Beavers have nothing to lose, so I'm intrigued by the possibilities. If all goes to plan for the Wildcats, they play No. 11 Stanford next. A win over the Cardinal and Arizona's tournament streak, currently at 23 years, lives.

Trouble in the Sun: ASU Baseball Controversy

If you're bored in lecture and have 10-15 minutes to spare, take some time to read this well-written and balanced article by ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill and Amy K. Nelson.

If you're in a rush, here's the short version: Arizona State has hired an independent firm to conduct an invesitgation to determine whether controversial baseball coach Pat Murphy has broken NCAA rules. The person who turned in him? Former player, coach and good friend Mikel Moreno, who came forward with "allegations of academic fraud, recruiting violations and other improprieties" after Murphy fired him from the coaching staff (the two differ on the reasons behind the termination).

I'm not sure who to believe -- Moreno, the "bitter 32-year-old valet with fading dreams, an ex-employee bent on taking down a man who's been near the top of his profession for almost two decades" or Murphy, the "creep(y)" coach who ran his program "like a cult" and made fun of players' mothers. My hunch is that the answer lies somewhere in the middle -- Murphy probably did commit a few minor infractions that never would have been discovered had Moreno not had an axe to grind.

The simple fact that a college program is under scrutiny for bending the rules is far from newsworthy. But, I thought this article was too intriguing to overlook. Feel free to leave your take on the situation...

And one more thing: Something tells me this would never happen with Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin and the Hawkins Nine.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Seeding Vandy

Unlike many other teams around the country, Vanderbilt will not be sweating Selection Sunday. Just getting into the final 64 is not a question for this year’s Commodores; however where they will be seeded still remains very much up in the air.

Depending on the outcome of this week's SEC tournament I could see Vandy getting anywhere from a 3 to a 7 seed. Currently ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a 6, while CBS’s Gary Parrish and SI’s Steward Mandel both have us as a 5. It would be pointless to try and predict seeds without looking at comparable teams so here are the other mid-level seeds (bad 4’s- good 6’s):

Vandy (25-6, 10-6 SEC)
SOS : 34 RPI: 10, 5-4 vs. top 50, 11-5 vs. top 100, 1 loss outside top 100 (@ Alabama)

Marquette (21-8, 11-7 Big East)
SOS 36 RPI: 24, 3-8 vs. top 50, 7-8 vs. top 100,

UCONN (24-7, 13-5 Big East)
SOS: 26 RPI: 14 7-4 vs. top 50, 8-7 vs. top 100

Washington St. (23-7, 11-7 Pac-10)
SOS : 45 RPI: 20, 4-6 vs. top 50, 10-7 vs. top 100,

Southern Cal (20-10, 11-7 Pac-10)
SOS: 14 RPI: 31, 4-7 vs. top 50, 11-9 vs. top 100, 1 loss outside top 200 (Mercer without Daniel Hackett)

Indiana (25-6, 14-4 Big 10)
SOS: 58 RPI: 16 6-5 vs. top 50, 10-5 vs. top 100, 1 loss outside top 100 (@ Penn St.)

Michigan St. (24-7, 12-6 Big 10)
SOS: 50, RPI: 15 5-5 vs. top 50, 8-5 vs. top 100 2 losses outside top 100 (@ Iowa, @ Penn St.)

Butler (27-3, 16-2 Big 10)
SOS: 136 RPI: 18 1-1 vs. top 50, 9-3 vs. top 100

Drake (26-4, 15-3 MVC) Missouri Valley Champions
SOS: 68 RPI: 12 4-1 vs. top 50, 8-2 vs. top 100 2 losses outside top 100 (Bradley, @ Missouri St.)

Ok, so what does this all mean? I think Butler and UCONN are the best of this bunch. UCONN has proven it can win on the road, (W @ Indiana) and went 13-5 against a decent Big East schedule, played ND, Providence and Seton Hall twice. Butler played a lot of decent, but not great teams in the non-conf and basically beat them all and did it for the most part on neutral floors or on the road.

I also think MSU, Marquette and Vandy are the three least qualified teams on this list. Marquette beats nobody they’re not supposed to (except @ Wisc), and everybody they’re supposed to, including wins at home against ND and Pitt. MSU and Vandy are a little different, they beat everybody at home and nobody, for the Spartans literally nobody, on the road.

Because of this I think the Commodores have as much to gain as anybody this weekend. A first (or even second) round loss could demonstrate to the committee that they are just a different team away from Memorial. However a trip to the finals could bump them up from where they currently stand (likely a 6) to a protected seed and winning the tournament could push them all the way up to the 3 line.

Congrats, Shan

The Southeastern Conference released its men's basketball coaches awards today and Vanderbilt's Shan Foster was honored as the league's Most Valuable Player, which shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has seen him play this season.

I handed out some awards yesterday and of the 10 players I included on my first and second teams, nine were named to the coaches' first team, which brings me to my real point: Why on earth are there nine players on the first team to begin with? This isn't T-ball where you need to worry about everyone's feelings. Put the best five on the first team, the next best five on the second team, and get over it. If you want to include more players, add a third team. Anyways, here's a look at the awards (I don't have any complaints with the picks)...

Richard Hendrix (Alabama)
Sonny Weems (Arkansas)
Ramel Bradley (Kentucky)
Jamont Gordon (Miss. State)
Charles Rhodes (Miss. State)
Devan Downey (South Carolina)
Chris Lofton (Tennessee)
Tyler Smith (Tennessee)
Shan Foster (Vanderbilt)

Nick Calathes (Florida)
Sundiata Gaines (Georgia)
Joe Crawford (Kentucky)
Patrick Patterson (Kentucky)
Marcus Thornton (LSU)
Dwayne Curtis (Ole Miss)
JaJuan Smith (Tennessee)
A.J. Ogilvy (Vanderbilt)

Nick Calathes (Florida)
Jai Lucas (Florida)
Chandler Parsons (Florida)
Jeremy Price (Georgia)
Patrick Patterson (Kentucky)
Anthony Randolph (LSU)
Trevor Gaskins (Ole Miss)
Chris Warren (Ole Miss)
Mike Holmes (South Carolina)
A.J. Ogilvy (Vanderbilt)

SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarvis Varnado (Miss. State)
SEC SIXTH MAN THE YEAR: J.P. Prince (Tennessee)
SEC CO-COACHES OF THE YEAR: Billy Gillespie (Kentucky) and Bruce Pearl (Tennessee)
SEC CO-FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR: Patterson and Calathes

Waiting in the Wings

Naturally, when a team starts 16-0 for the first time in school history one isn't exactly inclined to look into the future.

And while there will be no Shan Foster, Alex Gordon, Ross Neltner, or Alan Metcalfe suiting up for the Commodores next year, there are a few worthy recruits who could provide an immediate impact. To begin with, Steve Tchiengang (see right, and sorry, no pronunciation guide available) chose Vanderbilt over solid programs like Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame. Rivals tabs him as the No. 79 player in the class of 2008. He has a unique skill-set with a 6'8" frame that can bang inside coupled with the ability to knock down the 18-foot jumper.

Next on the list is Lance Goulbourne, a 6'7" forward for the Hun School in New Jersey. Goulbourne received offers from Marquette, Virginia, West Virginia, and Notre Dame. He's got a great stroke past the three point line, but his well-roundness enables him to score in quite a few ways.

Goulbourne is a particularly attractive recruit for the Dores because he will provide scoring from the bench, which has been an achilles heel for the 2007 Dores. The third and final member of the 2008 class is the 6'6" Jordan Smart, who will be walking on. Smart is appropriately named, as he turned down the top three academic institutions in the country--Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Smart is a proven shooter in nailing over 40% of his threes and 90% of his free throws. It remains to be seen whether he has the first step to get an open shot or the footwork to play defense.

Joining Tchiengang, Goulbourne, and Smart are Festus Ezeli and Charles Hinkle, who are both coming off red-shirt seasons. Hinkle is said to possess excellent three point shooting ability, but probably will see limited playing time. Even among the three new recruits for next year, Festus Ezeli is easily the most intriguing.

His gargantuan stature gives Vanderbilt a legitimate shot-blocking presence and a good partner for A.J. Ogilvy on the offensive glass. How Stallings divvies up playing time for a team that already has forwards Andre Walker and Darshawn McClellan will be interesting. It might be the first Vandy team in years to not only reverse the trend of guard laden Vanderbilt teams, but also to be oriented towards the front-court.

Check back later for the Class of 2009...

Vanderbilt = Overrated?

The national media isn't sold on Shan Foster and the Commodores. Lunardi says they're a 6 seed and dropping. Mandel projects Vandy as a 5 seed as does bracketography. Vegas Watch agrees, and takes it even further, calling the Dores "disgustingly overseeded."
But, if you ask Vanderbilt fans about their team's chances in the Big Dance, and you'll get a completely different story. So, who's right? Let's take a look...

The case against Vanderbilt

1) No Memorial = No Good
The Commodores are ridiculously good at home as their 19-0 record indicates. But, when you take away the Memorial Maniacs and put the benches where they belong, Vanderbilt is a pedestrian 6-6. And if you take away their neutral site victories over Utah State and Bradley, the Commodores have just four, unimpressive road wins: 77-70 at Toledo, 91-85 at DePaul (in overtime), 67-59 at Georgia and 66-65 at South Carolina. Ouch.
And some of their losses have been brutal: 80-60 at Tennessee, 86-64 at Florida, 74-58 at Ole Miss and, most recently, 78-73 at Alabama.

2) Soft Schedule
Other than their victory over Tennessee, what win do the Commodores have to brag about? Sure, they beat UMass and Wake Forest and South Alabama (in overtime), but those were home games they were supposed to win.

3) SEC = Weak
Let's be realistic. The Commodores finished in third place in the Eastern Division of a mediocre conference. Take a look at my power rankings and you'll see that the SEC is full of awful teams. Even bubble teams like Arkansas, Florida and Ole Miss have plenty of flaws. So to finish 10-6 is fine, but to expect anything better than a 5 or 6 seed is just crazy...

The Case for Vanderbilt

1) Experience Matters
Remember that these guys were a Jeff Green travel away from advancing to the Elite Eight a year ago. Three starters (Shan Foster, Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner) and three bench players return from that squad so don't expect nerves to be a factor on the big stage. You can't say that about a lot of teams.

2) "The Truth"
Senior Shan Foster is flat-out ridiculous. The unquestioned SEC Player of the Year and possible All-American recently dropped 42 on Miss. State in a historic performance, and with his size (6'6") and release (ball above his head), Foster is virtually impossible to guard. If he gets hot, it will be tough for any team to stop him.

3) The Awesome Aussie
Freshman center A.J. Ogilvy gives the Commodores the post presence they've been missing. While not too athletic, he's very skilled, uses his body well and does a great job getting to the foul line. If Vandy doesn't shoot well from outside, it still has a chance to win with Ogilvy.
Note: Disregard this point if Ogilvy plays like a bitch and picks up two stupid fouls in the first 30 seconds.

4) Solid guard play
Good tourney teams usually have strong guards and Vandy has just that. Point guard Jermaine Beal leads the SEC in assist to turnover ratio and Alex Gordon is a solid (albeit streaky) shooter. And I hear that Foster kid is pretty good too.

5) Coaching
Kevin Stallings is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. He's a great motivator and always solid with the X's and O's so you can bet that he will have his team fully prepared to play come next Thursday or Friday.

A compelling case can be made for both sides, which is why I think the Commodores' performance on a neutral site in the SEC Tournament is so critical.

What do you guys think? Is Vandy, with its No. 10 RPI, poised for another Sweet 16 run or destined to be upset by a No. 12 seed?