The Vanderbilt Vendidad

Kentucky Basketball

Our scoring leader this evening, Nick Winbush, averaged a sky-high 4.1 points per game last season. Naturally, the lockdown Wildcat defense held him to a paltry 26. Kenny Hayes, the stud of Ohio Junior College three seasons ago, tried his best to thrust the dagger into the heart of Kentucky, but John Wall reminded the world that is impossible since the Wildcats have no heart.

— A friend of mine at the University of Miami (OH) on last night’s matchup at Rupp

17 November 2009 Kentucky Basketball

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Vanderbilt Stuns Gators With Non-mortifying Margin of Defeat; Caring About Football Getting Difficult

Originally published Bleacher Report.

If you watched Saturday’s gridiron matchup, you heard the crickets in Benny Hill Griffin Stadium as the nation’s top team ended the first half, only defeating Vanderbilt, or in AnybodyElseInTheSEC-speak, “the rocket-scientists’ intramural squad,” by a score of 13-0.

And if you watched Saturday’s matchup, you saw one of the nation’s better defenses (seriously) give up 27 points to one of the nation’s best offenses, while one of the nation’s best defenses held The Worst Offense In The History Of Football (Except For Last Week When They Weren’t That Bad [But Maybe That Was A Fluke]) to a single field goal.

And it pissed the Gator Nation off.

They were out for blood; they didn’t get so much as a single eyeball. By the way—I think that was the first game that Warren Norman has worn a face shield. If I’m not wrong, kudos on the wit, Warren.

It was another moral victory, bringing Vanderbilt’s moral-winning streak to three. Chris Low opened the last entry of his power rankings with “Give the Commodores (2-8, 0-6) some credit.” See? They’re getting credit!

And if the team gets a win against Tennessee in two weeks, this abysmal year will suddenly become one of my three favorite Vandy football seasons of all time. Because I hate the Vols so very much.

Speaking of hating so very much, how about them Wildcats?

If Vanderbilt gets a win against Kentucky, I’ll be pleased, so long as it isn’t an offense-dominant game, which may undermine efforts to “market away” offensive coordinator Ted Cain. (Note: I prefer not to ask for people to be “fired.”)

But I’m having trouble getting fired up to play football against Kentucky with the Vols on deck and basketball season beginning tonight.

First, the Vols: I was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, the thick of Vol Country (see Google Trends for proof), as a Vanderbilt fan. That’s like growing up a Vol fan in a place where UT football is insignificant, disrespected, and laughable. Somewhere like Gainesville.

Imagine the hatred I have for the Big Orange. It’s unhealthy. I could describe it in thousands of colorful ways, but I’m trying to make a bigger point.

My bigger point is that—and I cannot stress the magnitude of this statement enough—I’m beginning to hate Kentucky basketball more than I hate Tennessee football.

Maybe UT football isn’t getting to me because their season has been so pathetic. (So maybe Jonathan Crompton had a big game against Memphis. Check the score of the Vandy-Western Carolina game, chumps.) But to that I say: Kentucky basketball has been pathetic-to-average for the last four years.

And not only average, but arguably worse than Vanderbilt basketball. Vanderbilt won six of the last eight meetings with the Wildcats.

And yet, suddenly, a big recruiting year and the firing of a coach and they’re expected to be an unstoppable force. As if “Billy Gillespie” and “Gardner-Webb” and “2007-08” never happened. While their status as “most obnoxious” may be arguable (barely), their status as “most delusional” is further cemented daily.

And that’s whom the Dores (football) play this weekend. Kentucky fans are already counting it a “win,” which is fine with me. SEC football is full of popular-opinion upsets. Have I seen enough from Vandy to think we’ll get the win? Not really. After exceeding expectations (but losing) losing weeks in a row, it would be reasonable to expect a loss—but silly to assume one.

And if Vanderbilt does happen to find that elusive W on Saturday, they’ll hear plenty moans of, “wait for basketball season” from the UK fans. If this happens, Commodore fans should follow their basketball team’s lead, and smile quietly. Commodore fans are waiting. They’re waiting patiently; they’re waiting quietly. And they think it will be worth the wait.

Because Vanderbilt fans, the loyal, hopeful, tragic bunch that they are, now temper their disappointment in a football season that seemingly will not end with hope in a basketball season yet to begin.

10 November 2009 Vanderbilt Football Vanderbilt Basketball Florida Football Kentucky Football Kentucky Basketball

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Some VU Basketball ‘09-‘10 Story Lines

Note: This article was originally published at Bleacher Report.

Basketball season is on its way, and as I’ve said before, I’m thrilled that Vanderbilt isn’t considered Top 25 material in the preseason, because I much prefer “surprising”, to “meeting expectations”, or, perhaps, “disappointing.”

For Vanderbilt fans, high hopes are a catch-22: As expectations rise, so too does a deep-seeded cynicism. I, for one, have gotten uncomfortable hyping individual players on my blog, which, for the record, serves no purpose butthat of hyping players.

But that taste, the sickly sweetness of high expectations, may just be the nasty molasses that is Vanderbilt football. I had high hopes for that team this year, and my heart has been dashed, again and again, against the cold linoleum floor of the SEC basement.

But Commodore basketball is not necessarily plagued by the same demons. To consider Vanderbilt basketball history, my hopes have never been higher than they were Matt Frieje’s senior year, and he most certainly did not disappoint, nor did anticipated seniors Derrick Byars and Shan Foster. But I digress.

If you’re looking for reasons to get interested in Vanderbilt basketball, let me give you a few story lines to follow.

1. A.J. Ogilvy: He’s good. Is he good?

Ogilvy is a preseason first-team all-SEC player, according to the coaches’ poll. As a freshman, the Man Down Under made quite a racket in the preseason, before calming down a bit against SEC foes. Ogilvy nonetheless finished strong, averaging 17 points and seven rebounds a game, and gaining a smidgeon of NCAA tournament experience.

In his sophomore season, despite averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game, Ogilvy proved to have a weakness[es]. To the untrained eye, Ogilvy was wildly inconsistent, blowing up against LSU (10 rebounds, 33 points), Alabama (12 rebounds, 20 points), and South Carolina (five rebounds, 28 points) while getting completely shut down against Tennessee (seven points), Florida (four points), and, um, South Carolina (three points).

A popular theory, formulated by people who followed his facebook status updates, was that Ogilvy was getting anti-pumped for games by ruminating about past girlfriends and feeling generally sad. As it turns out, he simply listens to terrible music. His inconsistency was rather due to Vanderbilt’s two-dimensional offense, which lacked the perimeter threat to give Ogilvy room to work.

Ogilvy was double-teamed in the aforementioned games against the Vols, Gators, and Gamecocks, and left with only one defender in his big games. With the whole offense improved, and the addition of John Jenkins, he could have plenty of room this year. Will he be a beast of consistency?

2. John Jenkins: Can he live up to the hype?

Vanderbilt’s freshman class is arguably the most hotly anticipated class in Vanderbilt history, and it only has one person. As a high school senior, John Jenkins led the nation in scoring with 42.3 points a game, never scoring below 30. If he’s half as good as we all think he is, he’ll turn heads, win games, and be a real threat to Kevin Stallings’ formidable powers of retention.

3. Jeffery Taylor: Can he live up to the oxymoronic “‘underrated’ hype”?

I have made much of Jeffery Taylor’s remarkable athleticism. His weakness, though, is in his intensity. Taylor may provide the five most memorable moments of a game, but he stays very quiet between those moments. His highlight reels are unbelievable, his statistics rarely top “quite good.”

Be this an issue of attitude or conditioning, he can certainly be more productive. Vanderbilt fans and NBA scouts alike drool over Taylor’s potential.

4. Jermaine “Dolla” Beal: Senior leadership?

Jermaine Beal is beloved especially amongst old-school Vandy fans for his steady hand. He’ll show occasional flash and intensity, but more importantly, he never falls apart and ruins a game. The guy is a pitch-perfect role player, the very pinnacle of a backcourt anchor.

It’s his senior year now, and Beal must want the spotlight, but this team needs a Russell Lakey, not a Mario Moore. Can Beal step up and play the rock-steady basketball that’s become his hallmark?

5. Who’s going to get loud?

Brad Tinsley, Andre Walker, and Lance Goulbourne each have the ability to explode and dominate a game. Tinsley may be an even steadier hand than Beal, and he quietly led last year’s team in 3-point efficiency, despite a tendency to bail on open shots.

Walker and Goulbourne are similarly primed to blow the minds of fans and opponents alike, as each was handicapped last year, Walker by an injury, and Goulbourne by illness. Walker has been praised for his versatility, Goulboune for his athleticism and smile. If any (or, ideally, all) of these players break out this year, Vanderbilt could be one of the deepest teams in the country.

Bonus: Lovable African wildcards Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang are two question marks that may be answered with exclamation points, or, if we’re lucky, interrobangs. Neither of these big men had played basketball at all before six years ago. Think about that for a moment.

6. Media respect.

The media likes us at 30th. The Dores, as usual, must earn their respect the hard way. But this team has the potential to win with a quiet, respectable character that will make Kentucky fans stare blankly into space until someone shakes something shiny in front of them.

In a league where Kevin Stallings is picked behind John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, who demand more attention than drag queens at an NRA rally, there’s a real “can’t wait to see the look on their faces” kind of glee among Vanderbilt fans.

7. Kentucky: How terrible?

Vanderbilt fans are optimistic, but I won’t ignore the possibility that the Dores could completely flop. If that happens, Vanderbilt fans must unite to insult Kentucky and its fans. Because no matter how optimistic Vanderbilt fans are, they do not even come close to the stratospheric blend of arrogance and ignorance that is Wildcat basketball. They are, simply, the worst.

So. there you have it. If this doesn’t get Vanderbilt fans excited about basketball, perhaps playing football against Florida this weekend will.

6 November 2009 Vanderbilt Basketball Kevin Stallings AJ Ogilvy Kentucky Basketball John Calipari Jermaine Beal Jeffery Taylor Festus Ezeli Steve Tchiengang Brad Tinsley Lance Goulbourne Andre Walker

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On Vanderbilt Basketball, Kentucky Basketball, and Preseason Rankings

I am thrilled for two reasons:

  1. Vanderbilt is getting some respect in preseason polls.
  2. Vanderbilt is not getting very much respect in preseason polls.

In case you haven’t heard, Vanderbilt is written, by name, in most preseason polls, though not anywhere too impressive:

  • AP has us at what is technically 30th, with 90 votes.
  • ESPN/USA Today also has us at technically 30th, with 38 votes.
  • Athlon has us at 16th (?!).
  • Lindy’s and Sporting News have us somewhere above 25th.

Let’s compare this preseason’s expectations (AP/ESPN-USA Today) to expectations of years past.

  • 2003 Preseason: -/-; Outcome: NCAA Sweet 16, 6 seed
  • 2006 Preseason: -/-; Outcome: NCAA Sweet 16, 6 seed (I recall us being a very popular first-round upset pick)
  • 2007 Preseason: 43(T)/-; Outcome: 26-8 season, AP #25, NCAA tournament 4 seed (first-round loss to Siena, shhh.)
  • 2009 Preseason: 30/30; Outcome: ?

And in the off-years (‘04,’05, ‘08), we never underperformed, which is to say, we never came in with a ranking above 40 and left massively disappointed.

Now let’s consider the Kentucky Wildcats:

  • 2005 Preseason: 9/10; Outcome: NCAA 2nd round loss, 8 seed (Lost to Vandy twice)
  • 2006 Preseason: 22/22; Outcome: NCAA 2nd round loss, 8 seed (Lost to Vandy twice more)
  • 2007 Preseason: 20/22; Outcome: NCAA 1-and-done, 11 seed (Beat Vandy in 2OT, then lost by 41 points)
  • 2008 Preseason: 31/40(T); Outcome: NIT quarterfinalists (1-1 against ‘Dores)
  • 2009 Preseason: 4/5; Outcome: ?

So over the last 5 years, the ‘Dores have been consistently overlooked, and the ‘Cats become little more than a perennial disappointment. Which is why I am thrilled to see them so highly ranked. I hate them.

Which is why I love Kevin Stallings’ approach to this preseason. Let the Pearls and the Caliparis bluster and trumpet and scramble and flash and dazzle, we’ll quietly prepare to make noise on the court.

Let this be an appetizer. I’ll fully let you know what I expect from the ‘Dores prospects soon.

30 October 2009 Vanderbilt basketball Kentucky basketball

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