Saturday, March 22, 2008

Commodore Banter (3/22)

Not one of the easier mornings to run this blog as Commodore Nation mourns.

In case you don't know, we lost.  

Our friends over at Vanderbilt Sports Line are crushed but also optimistic about the future.

It's a moot point, but Clemson was upset too.  

The Tampa region has had a flare for the unexpected.

Mike Minor showed up big yesterday and finished with a David Price line of 9 IP, 0 ER, 12 SO to give the 'Dores a 2-1 victory over Alabama.

The Women's tennis team continued its winning ways with the victory over Auburn. 

In case you missed our...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Why Vandy Lost to Siena...

While most of us here at Sports VU said we would be shocked if Siena beat Vandy, I think all of us were shocked on how bad Vanderbilt played on Friday night. In keeping with the Tampa tradition Friday, Siena joined Western Kentucky and San Diego upsetting the higher seed. With that said, Siena won the game because they did exactly what they needed, force turnovers, and make shots. As well as Siena played, Vanderbilt certainly helped. Here are my reasons that Vandy lost this one:

1) No Defense- the Commodores have struggled to contain teams with good guards who can create off the dribble and today was no different. Fisher killed Vandy making 6-6 of his three point attempts, and Hansbrouck drove by whomever was guarding him all night ending the game with 30 points. I give props to Jamie Graham though. He played his heart out tonight and was our best perimeter defender tonight and the last few games.

2) Shan didn't show up and there was no third scorer - through most of this season, the Commodores have gone as far as Shan Foster was willing to take them and today Shan just didn't show up for some reason. He struggled all night and a lot of that has to be credited to Siena's defense. I know Shan was not satisfied by his performance, but he needs to remember that without him this team may not even be in the NCAA tourney. Also, as all of Commodore nation has known of late, Ogilvy and Foster can't do it all themselves. Vandy needs another guy to step up on the offensive end especially when Shan is struggling and tonight no one did.

3) Ogilvy wasn't utilized enough- With a huge size advantage with A.J. down low, Stallings and the guys needed to find ways to get A.J. the ball, and they didn't do it enough. A.J. is also to blame slightly as he did not play strong down low and looked to get fouled more than score. Sure A.J. had 18 but I think he could have had 30 if he would have played stronger and got some better looks. One must remember that he is just a freshman after all, and hopefully he will learn from this.

4) Vandy didn't shoot well- on a team with no real slashing presence, the Commodores must shoot the ball well to win games since their defense leaves something to be desired. Friday night the Commodores lacked the shooting touch shooting just 19% from three point range on 21 attempts and shooting 40% overall compared to Siena's 54% overall. If I could request one thing for next season, it would be for Vandy to recruit a guy who can create his own shot. We have shooters, we have a big, we need a guy who can carry us by getting to the basket when the bigs and shooters aren't on.

While this loss is very disappointing for all of Commodore nation, I would just like to salute the seniors for bringing this program to where it is today. They are the ones responsible for the success of the program and will be missed. As for the younger guys, it is time to step up. At times it looked like they were scared to take shots this year and with the loss of Shan, someone will have to step up and give A.J. some support.

With all this negativity, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the above mentioned younger guys. Everyone assumes that A.J. Ogilvy will come back next year instead of declare for the draft and will probably be even better after experiencing a year of college basketball. The Commodores will bring in two outstanding recruits next year in Steve Tchiengang and Lance Goulbourne who should be able to step in and help right away, and the Commodores are still recruiting Brad Tinsley a point guard from Oregon, who has offers from schools such as Arizona and Kentucky, and Jeff Taylor a shooting guard/small forward, who has offers from Arizona and Texas. Here is some video of Tinsley:

Also, the Dores will have Festus Ezeli, an athletic center who red-shirted this year and had offers from UCLA and Ohio State last year, and Charles Hinkle, another red-shirt freshmen who is a deadly shooter. Hopefully, the coaching staff will be able to get Tinsley and Taylor to add to this great young core and provide a great young team for the future for us all to watch.

Thanks to the seniors once again, and I look forward to the bright future of Commodore basketball with a team next year that may not have a go-to-guy like Foster, but may be better overall and deeper.

Feel free to leave your comments about my article or the game below. I would like to hear what everyone else thought of the game.

Live-blogging from Tampa: Vandy-Siena

Good evening everyone,

It's been a wild day here in Tampa, to say the least. The Commodores look to become the first favorite to win at the St. Pete Times Forum. The atmosphere tonight doesn't compare to the afternoon session as the seats are half-full (at best). Anyways, we're moments away from tip-off so let's get going. Make sure to hit that refresh button and feel free to leave comments/questions at the bottom.

18:55: Siena jumps out to an early 5-0 lead, but there's no need to panic.

18:18: We're right in front of the Siena cheering section, which is going to be rough.

17:50: Vandy lucked out early as A.J. Ogilvy very easily could have been called for his second foul. Instead, it was charged to Alex Gordon.

17:30: Ross Neltner came to play early. He threw down a nasty dunk off a nice feed from Ogilvy and then intercepted a pass on the other end.

15:16: It's 10-6 Siena early. Way too early to be worried, however, Siena appears to be the aggressor early on. On another note, the Vandy crowd has been dead thus far.

14:00: In response to Allison's comment, Vandy did not seem too excited before the game and still has not picked up its intensity. Siena is the hungrier, more passionate team, while the Commodores look somewhat timid and hesitant. Keep in mind that this is relatively common in first-round games. The hope (for Vandy fans, at least) is that the Commodores' superior talent ultimately proves to be too much for the scrappy Saints.

10:15: Don't look now but it's 26-13 Siena and Vandy coach Kevin Stallings just called a timeout. Jermaine Beal slammed the ball in frustration and the Commodores' body language is awful. It will be interesting to see how they respond coming out of this huddle.

8:40: Stallings is really harping on his team to defend, but nothing seems to be working. 30-15 Siena.

7:13: The fans are trying to get the Commodores back into the game, and it seems to be working. They got a stop on the defensive end and then Alex Gordon just buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 11.

6:09: JAMIE GRAHAM! On his first play of the game, the freshman strips the ball from Ronald Moore and takes it in for a lay-up. It is refreshing to watch Graham play defense and perhaps it's the play that gets Vandy going...

4:30: Graham just forced another turnover and is trying to get the rest of his teammates fired up.

3:47: Dear Jamie Graham,

I understand you came to Vanderbilt to play football and want to honor your commitment to coach Bobby Johnson and the rest of the guys. But, I think it would be in your best interest (as well as ours) to consider playing basketball year-round for the Commodores. You're already our best defender and with a little more practice, the sky's the limit. I'm aware you're a pretty good cornerback and kick returner, but I'm also aware basketball's your true love. Just think about it.


2:00: The Vandy crowd is on its feet as the Dores cut the lead to nine. Can the Dores finish the half strong?

0:40: Just saw your post. I'll be going as fast as I can. It's 43-34 Siena.

0:00: Tay Fisher (13 points) hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to give the Saints a 46-34 halftime lead. The Cinderella continues to have success here at the St. Pete Times Forum.

HALFTIME: Siena 46 Vandy 34

Looks like Seth Davis and the rest of those Vandy haters may have been on to something. The Commodores have not been able to defend for much of this season and the first half was no different. There is absolutely no reason any team, let alone Siena, should be able to score 46 points in 20 minutes.

Ultimately, it comes down to attitude and effort, and the Saints wanted it more. Graham gave the Commodores a lift, but he can't bring them back by himself. I've yet to see anyone (ideally a senior) take charge on the floor and be vocal. Siena came out punching and Vandy seems to be content taking it.

A few halftime stats worth noting:

Siena: 16-for-27 (59 percent) from the field, including 7-for-13 from 3-point range
Vandy: 14-for-27 from the field, including 2-for-7 from 3-point range
Senior guard Tay Fisher: 13 points (4-for-4 from downtown)
Vandy swingman Shan Foster: 11 points (5-for-9), 4 rebounds

We've already witnessed two upsets here today, and the only way we won't see a third is if the Commodores commit to the defensive end. The reason I'm concerned is that I just don't think Vandy has the personnel to be able to defend at a high level. They're able to mask that deficiency at home because of the crowd, but on road and neutral sites where they have to create their own energy, it's proven to be difficult.

With that said, I'm not ready to rule out these Commodores just yet. As always, the first four minutes are crucial. On another note, I appreciate the comments. Here's to a good second half everyone...

18:10: Siena 48 Vandy 36. Vandy is getting the ball inside to Ogilvy, which is smart, but it can't afford to trade baskets.

16:30: Siena 48 Vandy 38 after an Ogilvy dunk. (Thanks for the post, Justin. The car was great. I appreciate buddy! Are you around during the day tomorrow?)

15:50: Vandy trails by 10. I think it's time for Shan Foster to go off, Mississippi State style.

14:05: Keegan Bell just buried a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to nine.

13:19: Bell followed that up with a pretty turnaround jumper and it's 50-43. Let's get it.

12:35: Hasbrouck just converted an "and-one" and the lead is back up to 10.

12:28: Kevin Stallings just got called for a technical foul for mouthing off to the refs. From across the court it seemed as though he was asking for it by using the expression "that's bullshit." Siena made both free throws. At this stage in the game, that's inexcusable. Stallings should know better, even if the call was awful.

11:58: It's 58-45 Siena.

11:16: 58-47. Still plenty of time, but Vandy's got to get going soon. Back to the technical: Allison, I don't think Stallings got it on purpose, but from my angle, it seemed as though he was asking for it. Stallings is clearly frustrated, but has to exhibit more restraint than that. Those two two points could be huge.

10:10: 63-49 Siena. Vandy needs to get going in a hurry...Panic looks to be setting in as the Siena crowd gets louder.

8:50: A..J. Ogilvy has 16 points to keep the Commodores in it. They're down 12 after Ogilvy's basket.

7:40: 65-51. Not looking good, my friends.

7:15: Dear Seniors,

This is it. Possibly the last seven minutes of your careers. Don't leave with regrets. Leave everything you have on the floor and if it's not good enough, so be it. At least you know you gave it your best shot. Win or lose, it's been a great four years.


6:45: At least Ogilvy came to play. 67-53 Siena.

6:00: Jamie Graham put-back makes it 67-55 (It's all about effort!)

4:45: Vandy down 14...Somewhere Seth Davis is laughing.

3:58: 69-55. Barring some sort of miracle, it's all over. I'm speechless.

3:46: Gordon 3-pointer makes it 69-58.

3:00: 69-60. Down nine, three to go. N.C. State 2004 anyone?

2:47: 71-60 Siena.

2:30: 73-60.

2:10: The facial expressions say it all. The Commodores can't believe it...Siena 75-60.

1:39: Well, the third double-digit seed has won here at the St. Pete Times Forum. Sophomore guard Ronald Moore is soaking it all in. As tough as this loss is for Vandy fans to take, you have to appreciate the underdog.

1:00: Stallings pulled his three main seniors: Alex Gordon, Shan Foster and Ross Neltner. Foster has his head in his towel. Not how they wanted to end their careers obviously, but they shouldn't let this loss determine how they're defined.

FINAL: Siena 82 Vandy 63
Thanks for reading everyone. I'll be back with some closing thoughts following the press conference. The Day of the Cinderella continues...

Tampa: San Diego stuns UConn

Call Tampa the new home of Cinderella.

As if No. 12 Western Kentucky's thrilling victory over fifth-seeded Drake wasn't enough, No. 13 San Diego just stunned fourth-seeded Connecticut 70-69 when De'Jon Jackson hit a pull-up jumper from the right wing with 1.2 seconds remaining.

Jerome Dyson hit two free throws to give UConn the lead, but after San Diego called a timeout to set up the play, Jackson came off a double screen, drove right and buried the game-winner. The Huskies were shocked to see the ball go through and stood motionless for a few seconds before calling a timeout. Jeff Adrien's ensuing inbounds pass was intercepted and the Torreros piled onto the court to celebrate the biggest win in school history.

Looks like the 11-hour drive was more than worth it. I've already witnessed the two best games of the tournament and now the Commodores are 30 minutes away from tip-off.

Live-blogging from Tampa: Drake-Western Kentucky

Gas: $126
1 cup of coffee, 1 Gatorade, 1 bottled water, 1 Yoohoo, 1 Vault: $9.48
1 #7 value meal from Arby's: $6.37
Driving 11 hours (691 miles) overnight to attend the NCAA Tournament in Tampa and witness one of the best opening round games of all-time: Priceless

Good afternoon everyone,

I'm here courtside at the St. Pete Times Forum feeling great after an 11-hour car ride (I drove 8.5 of those hours, by the way). Although the weather in Tampa is absolutely gorgeous, I'll be indoors for the rest of the day, bringing you all the latest news and notes, and I couldn't be more excited. This is heaven for basketball junkies like myself. Make sure to hit that refresh button and feel free to leave comments/questions below.

What's on tap in Tampa:

Game 1: No. 5 Drake vs. Western Kentucky (11:30 CT)
Game 2: No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 San Diego (2:00 CT)
Game 3: No. 4 Vandy vs. No. 13 Siena (6:20 CT)
Game 4: No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 Villanova (8:50 CT)

Game 1: No. 5 Drake (28-4) vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky (27-6)

The atmosphere is electric, with both fan bases screaming on nearly every possession. Like the teams themselves, the cheering sections may not be the biggest, but I'd struggle to find many that are as spirited. The game is being played at a frantic pace and the fans are living and dying with every possession. College basketball at its best.

Since I'm right in front of the Western Kentucky cheering section, I'm privileged to some hilarious commentary. Two fans are all over the referees ("What's that, ref? You've got a Drake undershirt on?" and "Did you get a memo from the NCAA to keep the Cinderella story that is Drake alive?" are a couple of my early favorites). Something tells me it's only to get worse as the day goes on...

Best player you've never heard of: WKU's Courtney Lee. Everything about his game is smooth. He's got a good mid-range game as he's already hit a couple of tough floaters early and clearly has range as he just buried a ridiculously deep 3-pointer like he was Shan Foster or something. Lee's got great length and seems very attentive on top of the 3-2 zone .

Western Kentucky is playing very inspired basketball, leading Drake 47-38 at the half. The Hilltoppers are shooting an absurd 61 percent (20-for-33) from the field, including 7 of 16 from 3-point range. Drake, meanwhile, is 10-for-27, including 5-for-17 from downtown.

The only positive? Drake is 13-for-16 from the foul line, while Western Kentucky hasn't attempted a foul shot. "If the refs didn't want Drake to win, we'd be up 30," say the fans behind me. Of course.

Reason #3,128 why I love sitting on press row: Guess who is standing a few feet away from me at the moment? None other than UConn coach Jim Calhoun. A Celtics fan in the crowd just got Calhoun's attention and said, "Thank you for Ray Allen." Calhoun nodded and smiled. Great stuff.

My favorite moment of the day: Tyrone Brazleton just converted a four-point play right in front of me. Courtney Lee was the first to greet Brazleton, who couldn't help but let out a big grin. These guys are clearly enjoying the moment. Western Kentucky is now up 16 with 11:53 to play.

The arena is now near capacity as fans pour in for the UConn-San Diego game up next. With eight minutes to go, Drake trails by 15, which means the inevitably 12-5 upset is close to happening once again.

"Let's go Drake! Let's go Drake! Let's go Drake!" The Bulldog fans are fired up after their team cut the lead to 11. Does the Bulldogs have a fun in them?

Worst (no)-call of the afternoon: Brazelton went up for a lay-up and a Drake player grabbed the rim, causing the shot the roll out, which clearly should have been a goaltending violation. The great fans behind me let the refs know they missed one.

Lee just hit a sweet pull-up jumper from the foul line. Even though he hasn't put up the best numbers today, it's easy to see why NBA scouts are so high on him.

We've got a great one here as Drake has cut the lead to one with 1:12 to go. Western Kentucky is visibly shaken, but let's see if they can keep their composure and hang out for a victory.

Wow! Jonathan Cox just buried a deep 3-pointer to tie the game at 83. It doesn't get any better than this, folks. 24.6 seconds left, Western Kentucky has the ball.

And now we're headed to our first overtime of the tourney. 88-88. You have to give the advantage to Drake here, who's overcome a 16-point deficit in the second half, but you just never know.

Boneheaded play of the game: Boris Siakam just fouled Drake's Josh Young even though the game was tied. Young hit one of two free throws to put the Bulldogs up one. On the other end, Siakam calmly knocked down two free throws. 98-97 Western Kentucky with 21.3 seconds remaining. We'll say he's forgiven.

Drake just won't give up. After multiple efforts, Cox came down with the ball and was fouled with 5.7 seconds to go. He knocked down both. 99-98 Drake.

INCREDIBLE! Ty Rogers just hit a game-winning 3-pointer from the 26 feet out with three guys in his face. Brazelton took the ball up court before flipping it to Rogers, who let it off just before the red light went on. He turned the Western Kentucky crowd behind me and began beating his chest repeatedly as teammates swarmed him. Truly one of the best scenes I have ever witnessed.

I'm off to the press conference, but certainly an unforgettable start to the weekend.

After listening to the press conference and talking with some players in the locker room, here are a few of the highlights from Western Kentucky's 101-99 overtime victory over Drake:

Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn summed it up best

“You’ve got to love the NCAA Tournament, don’t ya? I think what you just saw out there is why this is the greatest game on earth,” he said. “I think what you saw is what makes this event special. A bunch of young people out there just completely pouring their hearts out and fighting to the very end, and we were fortunate that we got the ball last.”

Thoughts on the final play and how it was supposed to unfold

“We tried to get the ball in (Brazelton's) hands and he tried to get the ball to the basket,” Rodgers said. “It kind of worked out good for me because I did have the ball out of bounds and I could see the play kind of right in front of me so once Tyrone tried to drive, he drew two defenders and I was calling for the ball and he hit me. He made a great pass. People don’t understand that with five seconds, most players panic and don’t try to make the extra pass.”

“We had five seconds and we knew five seconds was enough time to get the ball to the basket so coach figured that we should get the ball to the rim," Brazelton said. “During the time out, Ty Rodgers came up to me and told me like, ‘Yeah, don’t be afraid to kick it to me,’ so I just saw him open and the defense collapsing and I just kicked it to him.”

Thoughts on the final shot

“I didn’t even look it at until it went through the rim,” Brazelton said. “When I flipped it back, I was like, ‘yeah, he’s a great shooter; it’s about to go in,’ and I hoped and hoped and closed my eyes and it went in.”

On playing in a game for the ages

“With my parents, I’ve watched the ‘One Shining Moment’ song play every year at the end of the tournament,” Rodgers said. “It’s every kid’s dream. I’m just lucky. I couldn’t ask for a better moment.”

“I grew up watching it so I can’t even describe how it feels,” Brazelton said. “You can only dream about it. You never think it’s going to come true. I guess today it came true.”

It certainly did.

Commodore Banter (3/21)

What's on Tap: Check our Live Blog throughout the day from Tampa as we report from all four games.

The road to San Antonio begins today for the 'Dores. The Sports VU's own Will Gibbons offers his keys to the game for both teams.

Missed some of last night's action? Read here for a recap of the day's events.

Vanderbilt assistant basketball coach King Rice explains that its tougher to coach than to play, writes Kevin Stevins.

The lack of respect the 'Dores have received from the press is not unbeknownst to the players, as Brett Hait writes. Great quote from Shan Foster: "We've won 26 games. We're not a 4 seed by a miracle."

A.J. Ogilvy is what Vandy's been missing, writes USA Today's Andy Gardiner. Ogilvy said he isn't thinking about the NBA just yet.

Check here for the probable starters in the weekend series between Alabama and Vanderbilt.

This is a nice piece on the Saints who are poised and confident heading into today's contest, but also respectful of Vanderbilt's team.

Maurice Patton can think of two teams the 'Dores have played that are remotely similar to the Saints.

Belmont represented Nashville well, coming oh-so-close to pulling off the greatest first-round upset in tourney history.

In case you missed our...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vandy-Siena: Keys to the Game

If you scroll down this page, you’ll see the youtube videos of first round upsets in recent years. Siena wants to become the next big thing on youtube Friday night when they face Vanderbilt. The Commodores enter tournament play losers of three of their last five games, so they will have to step it up to avoid the upset in Tampa. Here are a few keys to victory.


Handle the press: Siena is a running and pressing team, and they want to force turnovers. The Commodores have been shaky at times against full court pressure, although they have improved over the course of the season. Take a look at the box-scores against pressing teams earlier in the year, and you’ll find the Commodores turned the ball over 20 times against UMass and 22 times in the loss at Tennessee. Both Auburn and Arkansas tried pressing Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, and the Dores handled it fairly well. Siena is hoping Vanderbilt handles pressure defense more like they did in January than they have recently.

Establish A.J. Ogilvy: I’ll use a football analogy to explain this. If a football team has a passing oriented offense, then it is helpful to establish the run. Just ask Brett Favre how much Ryan Grant meant to him this past season or Peyton Manning how much Joseph Addai means to him. Similarly, getting Ogilvy involved early can give shooters Shan Foster, Alex Gordon, and Jermaine Beal (Beal has hit enough open threes for me to put him in that sequence) space to shoot. This should be obvious to Vanderbilt since nobody on Siena’s roster is taller than 6-9, and nobody who receives quality playing time is above 6-7. So asserting your 6-10 future pro is a clear objective.

Defend the perimeter: Siena is going to hoist up a lot of three pointers. Vanderbilt can be vulnerable at times to guards who penetrate and kick the ball out to a wing. If they want to win the mental battle with Siena and keep the Saints from sensing an upset, defending the three is a must.


Make Neltner, Gordon, and Beal beat you: This is easier said than done. When Ogilvy and Foster have struggled though, it’s been because of feisty, aggressive defense. They will probably cover Foster with a combination of guards Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles, who if they are smart will watch game film of Arkansas stopper Sonny Weems, who held Foster in check last Friday.

Rebound: This is one of the few games in which Vanderbilt has a distinct size advantage down low and should out-rebound their opponent. So while their goal is to bully Siena in the post, the Saints hope they can snare at least enough rebounds to prevent Vanderbilt from getting too many second chance points.

Hope the threes are falling: This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. If Vanderbilt is able to take advantage of its size inside, Siena will have to be lights out from the perimeter. And if they make a few early and build confidence, watch out for the Saints.

Bottom Line

Of all the teams Vanderbilt has played this year, Siena seems to most resemble UMass. They were a mentally tough, running team who took a 14-point lead on Vanderbilt in the first half in Memorial Gymnasium before Vanderbilt exploded for 61 points in the second half for a 97-88 win. Foster scored 32 points in that game, while Ogilvy contributed 25 points and 10 rebounds. Vanderbilt needed a third scorer to beat UMass, which ended up being Beal with 19 points. So if Friday night’s game is the track meet Siena wants it to be, he, Gordon, or Neltner will have to step up their offense.

The difference maker could be Ogilvy. These two teams are similar, except for the fact that one has a future NBA-er at the center spot. This is why contrary to what several members of the national media picked, I have the Commodores moving on to play on Sunday in my bracket.

March Madness: Day One

Class? Are you serious? I'll be here all day with Greg and Aram to provide commentary on the first of four great days.

11:20: Here's what's on tap for today.

11:25: Awful Announcing has posted the announcing schedule for round one. Tim Brando and Mike Gminski will be calling Vandy-Siena tomorrow night.

11:30: Georgia has gone from disgraced to embraced, writes The New York Times' Pete Thamel. After reading this story, I have even more respect for Bulldog coach Dennis Felton.

11:40: A lot of times teams take on characteristics of their star player. Nowhere is this more true than Kansas. Everything about the Jayhawks is smooth as silk just like star wing Brandon Rush.

12:00: Wanna know when you're watching a Big 10 game? When Michigan State is up 19-15 over Temple with seven minutes to go in the first half.

12:10: Kansas looks even better than advertised, leading Portland State 49-26 at the break, while Georgia is up nine on third-seeded Xavier. So much for Gary Parrish's 10-star lock of the century...

12:20: With both Temple and Xavier losing by double-digits in the first round, it's not a good day for the A-10.

12:30: Remember the name: Sundiata Gaines. He's becoming more of a legend in Athens with each passing day.

12:47: Not much to discuss with two of the three games (Kansas and Michigan State) more or less decided. Georgia leads by 10 with 13:43 to go. The last 3 seed to beat a No. 14? Northwestern State over Iowa in 2006.

12:54: Here comes Xavier. They're down four with 11:44 to play. This has the potential to be a great one...

1:06: And you wonder why we love March? Xavier is now up 52-49 with 7:18 to go. I have class in five minutes, but something tells me I won't be going...

1:19: Whether it's Vandy or Clemson or Villanova (I'm not including Siena) advancing to the Sweet 16, they'll have a mighty difficult time beating Kansas, who has everything you want in a basketball team.

1:25: Here's a look at what's coming up next:

No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Kentucky (1:30 CT)
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Baylor (1:50 CT)
No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Kent State (1:55 CT)
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts (2:00 CT)

1:33: Don't you love how CBS cuts out of the Georgia-Xavier game to show the start of Kentucky-Marquette? I know the games are free online and we're near Lexington, but can't they wait two minutes? Besides, this is Commodore country.

1:37: The slipper didn't fit for Georgia (sorry for doubting you, Gary). Or Portland State. Or Temple...

Xavier 83 Georgia 71
Michigan State 72 Temple 61
Kansas 85 Portland State 61

1:50: Time for a lunch break so I'll be back in in a bit...

2:40: I'm feeling recharged after some delicious Chinese. Unfortunately, there aren't many close games to watch. The only good one is Kentucky-Marquette (The Wildcats trail by 4 at the half). Purdue is up 16 on Baylor, Pittsburgh is up 21 on Oral Roberts and UNLV is up 31-10 (and no, that's not a misprint) at halftime. I love March Madness.

3:05: I cant remember a time when 3 out of 4 games being played featured 20 point spreads...this is really a disappointing afternoon session, but the great thing about this tournament is we have 4 more games coming up...

3:38: Want to know what game you'll be watching later? Check out the CBS coverage maps courtesy of Awful Announcing...

3:40: Hope Belmont gives Duke a fight, could be a long night otherwise because we're not going anywhere...

3:55: All the talk about Kentucky getting in is pretty meaningless now. They just suffered their first first-round loss in 20 years. Hats off to Joe Crawford though, he left it all on the floor. Too bad for Oral Bobby; I really thought that game with Pitt would have been more competitive. Pitt really looks great now that it has Levance Fields healthy again...

4:00: It's been a pretty depressing first day, but hey, it still beats class. And all it takes is one buzzer-beater to change everything. There have been no upsets through seven games.

Marquette 74 Kentucky 66
Purdue 90 Baylor 79
UNLV 71 Kent State 58
Pittsburgh 82 Oral Roberts 63

4:30: The lone game right now is Stanford-Cornell and it's not on TV, but I'm not complaining. I need a break. I'm actually heading down to Tampa tonight (12-hour drive through the night) so this will be my last post until tomorrow when I'll be blogging all day from the St. Pete Times' Forum. Hopefully there will be some better games on tonight...

Q & A with Christina Wirth

Before the fourth-seeded Commodores take on Montana Saturday, junior forward Christina Wirth talked with The Sports VU about a number of topics, including the motivation from last year's loss and her favorite part about March Madness.

Q: You guys were obviously expecting to be in the tournament, but what was it like to wait until the final region to hear your name called?

A: I thought it was actually kind of fun. In previous years, our team was called relatively early in the selection show so the suspense never had a chance to build. This year we had to wait until the last regional so there was plenty of time to speculate about possible matchups and things like that.

Q: What seed were you guys anticipating and how pleased are you with how things turned out?

A: I think that we were expecting about a 4 or a 5 seed, so getting a 4 seed was great. Personally, I'm really happy with our seeding. I think that we are in a good position. Also, Albuquerque is the closest first and second round site to Arizona (where I'm from) so geographically, it's nice for me.

Q: It's been a while since you guys have a played a game. What have you done to stay focused?

A: We have been practicing very hard. Our team is extremely competitive so when we compete at practice, we really go at it. I think in a lot of ways, practice is harder than games, so I am confident that the intensity of our practices has prepared us for our upcoming games.

Q: How much does losing in the second round last year motivate you all now?

A: It motivates us a lot. Obviously this is a different team than last year, but there are still quite a few players who were on that team and who remember how it felt to lose so early last year. We have talked about that, and that has helped to motivate us to get better and work on our weaknesses during the break between SECs and NCAAs so that we go into the tournament hungry. At the same time, we are not focused on last year. We are excited about this team and the opportunities that we have ahead of us.

Q: I sense that you are guys are very good defensively and unselfish on offense. What do you see as your team's strengths and what will it take for you guys do make a deep tourney run?

A: Like you said, we are a very good defensive team, and that has been our bread and butter this year. In order for us to make a deep tourney run, we need to dictate on the defensive end of the floor, rebound well and take care of the ball.

Q: I'm sure you guys are close with the men's team. Who would you say is the funniest player on their team?

A: Alan Metcalfe is very outgoing and goofy so I would probably say him.

Q: What is your favorite part about March Madness?

A: March Madness is a lot of fun. Anything can happen so that by itself makes these games so much fun to play in. I love all of the upsets, and I love the way that it forces you to bring your A game every single night.

Q: What's the best class you've taken at Vandy?

A: HOD 2510 – Health Services to Diverse Populations.

Q: If you could play pick-up with any four people in the world, who would you take?

A: Jen Risper, Steve Nash, Michael Jordan, Lebron James.

Q: Favorite song?

A: Audience of One (Big Daddy Weave).

Q: Favorite place to eat in Nashville?

A: P.F. Chang's.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: I have lots of favorites. Disney movies, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Meet the Robinson's, Remember the Titans, Prince of Egypt – to name a few.

Q: Favorite sports team (other than Vandy)?

A: Phoenix Suns.

Commodore Banter (3/20)

One mock draft puts Shan Foster in the lottery. Another lists him in the middle of the second round. After what happened to Byars last year, I don't think there's any doubt Foster finds himself in the second round.

Forget the rhetoric, odds are in Vandy's favor to advance to the second round, writes Brett Hait.

The Commodores' offense keeps chugging away, clubbing Lipscomb 12-4 on Wednesday.

Kevin Stallings continues to draw praise from the press.

Georgia's highly improbable run in the SEC tournament may have saved Dennis Felton's job, writes Stewart Mandel.

ESPN's Pat Forde offers his best and worst case scenarios for all 64 teams. Here's take on Vandy is pretty funny.

Mike MacAdam writes that playing teams like Memphis, Syracuse, and Stanford has given Siena confidence. How does a 101-58 blowout loss to Memphis inspire a team?

It's been quite a while since Vanderbilt has returned to the tourney in back to back years, as Maurice Patton writes.

Joe Biddle explains that Vanderbilt must rebound better to reach the Sweet 16.

Unlike most experts, Gary Parrish likes the Dores, even if it's not sexy.

In case you missed our...

March Madness: Thursday Schedule

Hopefully you've called in sick from work or e-mailed your professor an excuse because the best day of the year has arrived. Here's a look at what's on tap:

No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Georgia (11:20 CT)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Portland State (11:25 CT)
No. 12 Temple vs. No. 5 Michigan State (11:30 CT)

No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Kentucky (1:30 CT)
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Baylor (1:50 CT)
No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Kent State (1:55 CT)
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts (2:00 CT)

No. 3 Stanford vs. No. 14 Cornell (4:00 CT)

No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Kansas State (6:10 CT)
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Belmont (6:10 CT)
No. 4 Washington State vs. No. 13 Winthrop (6:20 CT)
No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Texas A & M (6:25 CT)

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Cal State Fullerton (8:40 CT)
No. 7 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Arizona (8:40 CT)
No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No 12 George Mason (8:50 CT)
No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 16 Miss. Valley State (8:55 CT)

I'll be live-blogging throughout the day so make sure to check back often.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Q & A with Jonathan White

After going 2-for-4 with two RBI in Vanderbilt’s 12-4 victory over Lipscomb Wednesday night, redshirt junior Jonathan White took some time to talk with The Sports VU about a number of topics, including his at-bat music and the growth of the Commodore program.

Q: How do you guys get up for a cold, dreary, midweek game like this?
A: As soon as you strap it on, it’s just like playing Alabama, just like playing Tennessee. We just come out here every day and never underestimate our opponent.

Q: Thoughts on how today’s game went?
A: We played pretty sloppy and made a lot of mistakes out there, but fortunately we got the win and that’s all that matters. We’ll just work to get better tomorrow.

Q: How have you seen the program grow over the course of your four years here?
A: It’s just grown exponentially since I’ve been here. Coming we didn’t have many people in the stands, maybe like 12 people, and now I look up and we’ve got diehards cheering us on every game.

Q: You were drafted by the Brewers in the 24th round of last year’s MLB Draft. Was it a tough decision to come back?
A: It wasn’t really that tough. I knew I wanted to come back and be with my guys at least one more year. It wasn’t any life-changing (amount of money) and I wasn’t focused on trying to sign. I was focused on trying to help us win a championship.

Q: Your at-bat music is Rocco’s hot song, “Umma Do Me.” What’s the rationale behind that?
A: In the beginning of the season, I just wanted to come out here and get some respect. Hopefully teams wouldn’t see me just as a non-factor, but I want to change it up now to something more team oriented because I don’t really like the connotations (that come with the song).

Q: What are you thinking about changing it to?
A: I love hip-hop so I thought about coming out to “Public Service Announcement” by Jay-Z. I’m still just thinking. I have a test coming up so I can’t put too much thought into it.

Q: Being from Tennessee, were you a Vandy fan growing up?
A: Where I’m from (Shelbyville, Tenn.), Vanderbilt isn’t even on the radar. It’s MTSU, it’s UT, it’s little schools around the area. If I told people from my hometown that I went to Vanderbilt, they’d be like, “What’s that?”

Q: What players did you watch growing up?
A: I loved watching Griffey, Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas. And the Braves were my team.

Q: What’s it like playing for Coach Corbin?
A: He’s an intense guy, but once you get to know him, he can be loose and he can play with you. You’ve just got to have thick skin because he loves every one of his players, but if you do something wrong, he’s going to tell you about it. And then he’ll hug you right after and say, “I love you, man.”

Q: Would you say last year’s regional was the highlight of your career so far?
A: Definitely. The atmosphere was just crazy. I still get chills just thinking about all those people cheering us on. I wasn’t starting then, but I would come out in the ninth to run bases. I’d be standing on second base and it was just mind-blowing to see all the fans.

Q: What’s something most people wouldn’t know about you?
A: I’m really kind of a stay-to-myself person, like to chill and relax, pretty laid back, humbled, and I’m kind of weird.

Q: Weird in what way?
A: I’ve taken a wide variety of classes here at Vanderbilt, from Shakespeare to poetry to Managerial Studies. I take stuff that I’m interested, not stuff that people would say are easy classes like a lot of athletes. I want to expand my knowledge I guess.

Q: Would you say you’re the fastest player on the team? Have you been clocked from home to first?
A: Oh yeah. Hopefully it’s a sub-4 (seconds) because that’s what I always aim for. If not, I’ve got to work on that.

Q: How do you think the men’s basketball team is going to do this weekend?
A: I hope we win man. They may not win it all, but I want to see Vanderbilt on the map.

Q: Play basketball growing up?
A: I love basketball. I played football and basketball growing up, but baseball was always my first love.

This is why we love March

I hope everyone is having a productive afternoon, because you should have already cleared your schedule for the next two days. Sure the Final Four is great, but the real charm of this tournament is the first round. Forget for a moment that the selection committee is conspiring against mid-majors everywhere, this Thursday in March is still the best day of the year. As anticipation mounts on Tournament Eve, we here at the Sports VU would like to pay homage to the moments that have helped shape our obsession by remembering our own favorite first round upsets:

#13 UNC-Wilmington over #4 USC: 2002 (Andrew Barge)

The UNCW faithful will never forget the 2,800 miles they trekked to Sacramento to watch their Seahawks pull off this first round upset. After starting fast and extending the lead to as many as 19 during the second half, USC fights back with a furious 31-12 run and gets an unforgettable tying three in the closing seconds. UNCW edging USC 93-89 in OT was incredible, making this the best opening round game I've ever seen. If you don't believe me (or divine intervention, for that matter), watch Stewart Hare's game deciding dunk.

#13 Vermont over #4 Syracuse: 2005 (Eric Silver)

What I remember most about Vermont's shocking 60-57 upset of 4 seed Syracuse is that "Why the hell did he jack that shot up"desperation heave by Catamount guard T.J. Sorrentine in overtime that found a way to drop. It shouldn't be that surprising though, as just about everything seemed to fall right into place that day for Tom Brennan's Catamounts. Perhaps more shocking than a team named the Catamounts winning an NCAA tournament game is the way they did it. Senior Germain Mopa Njila, who had never averaged more than 6.2 points a season, dropped a career-high 20 points as all five starters played FORTY minutes or more.

#14 Northwestern St. over #3 Iowa: 2006 (Jarred Amato)

As soon as Jermaine Wallace's fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner went through the net, I remember screaming and running down the hall in my dorm room as if I were a member of the little Northwestern State team that had just beaten third-seeded Iowa 64-63.Trailing by 17 points with 8 1/2 minutes left, the 14th-seeded Demons came all the way back to complete one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.After Hawkeye Greg Brunner made one of two foul shots with 14.6 seconds left, the Demons raced down court and missed a shot. Wallace corralled the rebound and as he was falling out of bounds, buried the game-winner with 0.5 seconds to go. March Madness at its finest.

#13 Valparaiso over #4 Ole Miss: 1998 (Greg Viverito)

Ole Miss' Ansu Sesay's two missed free throws set the stage for what has know widely become known as simply "the shot". With 2.5 seconds left, Bryce Drew took a mid-air pass and hit this off balance three at the buzzer for Valparaiso's 70-69 win. In doing so, Drew became the standard against which all first round upsets are now measured, and also secured his place in Valparaiso, Indiana history as the second greatest celebrity of all-time behind Orville Redenbacher. Skip to the 2:15 mark to see the shot itself...

#15 Hampton over #2 Iowa State: 2001 (Aram Hanessian)

In what may be the biggest first round upset, Hampton's stunning victory is preserved by an image we’ll never forget; Hampton reserve David Johnson carrying coach Steve Merfield around the court as Merfield pumped his arms and legs. This image of an elated Merfield tends to overshadow how great a game it was. Iowa St. (featuring future NBA starter Jamaal Tinsley and ESPN blogger and part-time basketball player Paul Shirley) failed to score in the last seven minutes of the game as Hampton overcame a nine-point deficit, and sent coach Larry Eustachy's career into a downward spiral of chasing college coeds.

Commodore Banter (3/19)

The Broncos and Eagles have showed interest in Earl Bennett. Bennett could go as early as the first round, writes Bob Brookover.

This Friday, Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett will play a little throw and catch in front of several NFL scouts and coaches at Vanderbilt.

Chris Williams continues to receive hype and is a top 15 pick in quite a few mock drafts: Sports Lounge, NFL Draft Countdown, Football's Future, and NFL Daily.

In the two weeks this blog has existed, two women's tennis players have been named SEC player of the week. Add Amanda Taylor to the list.

It's going to take more than Shan Foster and AJ Ogilvy to propel the 'Dores back to the Sweet 16, writes Maurice Patton.

More unkind words on Vandy from respected national sports betting blog Moneyline. Looks like he won't be betting on the Dores over Siena...

Sam Bryner shows some love for Vandy in the big dance.

Did you know that South Carolina is just 1-5 this year against Vanderbilt in football, basketball, and baseball? Ron Aiken notes that this is an odd development based on differences in facilities, tradition, and academics.

Ryan Flaherty's blog sheds some light on his life as a student-athlete.

In case you missed our...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Q & A with Merideth Marsh

As the fourth-seeded Commodores prepare for their first round matchup with No. 13 Montana Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sophomore guard Merideth Marsh sat down with The Sports VU to discuss everything from her favorite part about March Madness to her ideal pick-up team.

Q: What seed were you all anticipating, and how pleased are you with how things turned out?
A: We were hoping for a 4 seed, but I thought for sure we would come out with a 5 seed. We are extremely happy with our seed because we feel that we are in a great position to advance far into the tournament.

Q: You guys were obviously expecting to be in the tournament, but what was it like to wait until the final region to hear your name called?
A: Well I think most of us were anticipating that we were going to be in the Spokane Region because that’s what a lot of people were predicting. We honestly didn’t care where we went or how long it took to find out I guess. We just wanted to know when and who we played.

Q: It's been a while since you guys have a played a game. What have you done to stay focused?
A: The coaching staff took a different approach than last year to our two weeks off. We have been practicing very hard and competing against each other trying to make one another better each practice. We had a few practices where we focused a lot on individual strengths and weaknesses. We also did a lot of repetition of offensive sets just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. We have scrimmaged at the end of every practice thus far which I feel will help keep our focus on playing hard and making each other better so that we will be prepared for whoever we play. We were given a few days off so that we were allowed to catch up on school work and rest.

Q: How much does losing in the second round last year motivate you all now?
A: We all know that last year was a big disappointment to those of who was a part of the team. We also don’t like how we performed in the SEC Tournament so we are happy that we get a chance to redeem ourselves. We know how good we are and we believe that we can truly go far in this tournament. It’s always an inner motivation of each player of a team to do better than the team before them did so that in itself gives us motivation.

Q: What do you see as your team's strengths and what will it take for you guys do make a deep tourney run?
A: Honestly, this year we have completely changed our style of play compared to last year. A huge strength of ours this year has to be our defense. We have completely taken our defense to another level. We now take pride in our defense and our ability to confuse the offense. Another strength that we have continued to excel in is our shooting. We all believe that we are great shooters and coach definitely encourages shooting. A huge strength that a lot of teams don’t have is a strong bench. We have Jessica Mooney and Liz Sherwood coming off the bench contributing huge minutes and points. They bring energy, and we know that when we sub we aren’t losing anything but gaining fresh legs. It’s crucial to have a deep bench because the farther you go in the tourney the more legs you need to perform at your best.

Q: I'm sure you guys are close with the men's team. Who would you say is the funniest player on their team?
A: Alan Metcalfe or Jermaine Beal.

Q: What is your favorite part about March Madness?
A: The fact that anything can happen, and small Cinderella teams can shine. It’s the best month of college basketball and every collegiate athlete lives for this time in their season.

Q: What's the best class you've taken at Vandy?
A: My favorite is EDUC 1020 or PYS 2310

Q: If you could play pick-up with any four people in the world, who would you take?
A: Pete “Pistol” Maravich, Steve Nash, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade.

Q: Favorite song?
A: That is too hard of question. Here are a few of my favorite artists…Josh Kelly, Colbie Caillat, Jeremy Camp, Aaron Shust, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rascal Flatts, Chuck Wicks, Ryan Adams, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Lifehouse, Griffin House, Josh Gracin, Kelly Pickler, Martina McBride, Stephen Speaks, Derek Webb. I love music!

Q: Favorite place to eat in Nashville?
A: San Antonio Taco Company

Q: Favorite movie?
A: Oh now that’s way too hard. I am a movie fanatic! Finding Nemo, Gone Baby Gone, Love & Basketball, Chronicles of Narnia, XMEN, Freedom Writers, Dumb and Dumber, Pretty Woman, Crash, Insomnia, A Beautiful Mind. Pretty much anything…

Q: Favorite sports team (other than Vandy)?
A: University of Kentucky. I grew up a Wildcat fan! I bleed blue besides when Vandy plays UK.

Thanks for your time, Merideth, and best of luck in the tournament, even if you’re a Wildcat fan!

Foster, Gordon leave quite the legacy

When a sweet-shooting swingman from Kenner, La., and fiery point guard from Pensacola, Fla., first met, they never could have imagined that they would eventually make up the core of the most successful senior class in Vanderbilt history.

But, fast forward four years, and that's the reality for Shan Foster and Alex "Red" Gordon.

Even more impressive than their 85 victories, 2,999 combined points and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, however, is the way in which the friends have almost single-handedly changed this program's identity.

"I've told these seniors that they're going to go down as the group that's changed the program the most from the time they got here to the time they left," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, "and I think that's a heck of a legacy."

To read my full story on Foster and Gordon from, click here.

A couple of thoughts that I didn't have room for in the piece:
  • Asked who changed their temperament more -- the players or coach -- following the 2006 season, Foster said it was was a combination of both, to which Stallings responded, "The players changed their temperament more. I’m not that much different." That drew a big laugh from the media in attendance.
  • It was also fascinating to listen to Stallings talk about his relationship with Gordon."I get on Red’s butt hard," Stallings said, "but every day he walks into the gym, he says, 'What up, old man?' He and I must have a real strained relationship." Priceless stuff.