Saturday, February 7, 2009

Naval Intelligence: Men's hoops puts together a winning streak

Who would have thought that we could have written a headline like this barely a week ago? Certainly not me. I was getting a bit depressed about the whole state of Vanderbilt basketball.

Looks like the 'Dores decided to turn things around.

ALABAMA 74, VANDERBILT 79

On Thursday, Vanderbilt hosted the Alabama Crimson Tide and ESPN2 in a nationally-televised bout that featured multiple lead changes and a come-from-behind victory for the good guys.

Vanderbilt was able to pull it out, 79-74, but it was not one of the Commodores' better performances.

"It wasn't a thing of beauty," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. "We desperately needed a win."

Stallings' desperation comes from the Black and Gold's current SEC record: a paltry 2-5 record that advanced to 3-5.

And while it is probable that Stallings will not be letting up on his players with the Commodores sitting at .375 in conference play, there was a sense of relief in the coach after the win.

"I was proud of how our guys battled," Stallings said. "It was like last Saturday at Auburn, when we couldn't make free throws."

Twin, twenty-point performances by Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy combined to account for literally half of the Commodores' points (give or take a point), but the rest of the team struggled to make a difference offensively.

OLE MISS 61, VANDERBILT 71

Today, the Commodores won their third straight, beating a hot Ole Miss team on the strength of four men in Black and Gold scoring in double-digits.

It was a much more balanced performance by the Commodores. A.J. Ogilvy led the team with 17 points, while Jeff Taylor (14), Brad Tinsley (12), and Lance Goulbourne (11) added double figures as well.

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings liked what he saw.

"Our guys came out with a sense of urgency," Stallings said. "We played better. Maybe we're starting to find our consistency."

With their third win in a row, the Commodores have now advanced to 4-5 in the SEC.

The Black and Gold next face archrival Tennessee in Knoxville, with a chance to go .500 in conference play.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dores break 4-game losing streak, beat Auburn

It was starting to get ugly.

The Commodores -- admittedly a very young team! -- have just seemed unable to get their heads screwed on straight of late.

First, a loss in Starkville. Then a loss to the Arnge Jacket at Memorial. A blowout loss to the Gators in Memorial. And a loss to the Gamecocks in Columbia.

Going into this afternoon's game against the Auburn Tigers, Vanderbilt hadn't won a men's basketball game in 17 days.

There wasn't much hope for change when going down to the Plains today, either. But somehow, the Commodores managed to pull away with a very close win.

Things were cooking at first, with the Black and Gold lighting it up with a 16-5 run on the Tigers. At the half, the Commodores led the Tigers by 4, with the difference coming from their points-off-the-bench. Vanderbilt's second-string contributed 10, while Auburn's backups added 5.

The Plainsmen came out of the break charging, basically keeping the score tied for almost 3 minutes. The Commodores again surged ahead, but outpaced the Tigers by less than 6 points.

With 7:34 left in the game, Auburn's Tay Waller put the Tigers ahead again with a clutch three-pointer.

The Commodores kept battling, though, and Brad Tinsley's go-ahead free throws gave the Men from West End a lead they'd never surrender.

Jermaine Beal led the Commodores with 21 points; A.J. Ogilvy and Jeff Taylor each added 14. Vanderbilt went 10-17 from three-point range, scoring 30 points from behind the arc.

With the win, the Black and Gold move to 13-8 and a still-disappointing 2-5 in SEC play. Their next game will be on February 5, back in the not-so-friendly-this-year confines of Memorial Gym against the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Women's hoops breaks the Pat Summit curse, demolishes Lady Vawls

A child who grows up in East Tennessee could be forgiven if he believes that everyone in the world cheers for the Volunteers from the University [sic] of Tennessee.

Unlike the childhood experiences of a young Alabamians, Mississippians, Georgians, etc., there has been only one, dominant Division I state school in the State of Tennessee.

And there's the rub: unlike the storied rivalries of Alabama and Auburn, Ole Miss and State, Georgia and Tech, Tennessee's nemesis stopped being a nemesis some 60 years ago, at least in every sport but basketball.

Yew Tee dominated the Commodores in football, and since this is the SEC, everyone perceived that dominance to be total when it comes to athletics.

But the Vawls have their own demons.

Prior to the advent of the current Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, the Arnge had struggled in that sport. Besides football -- and the occasional baseball or swimming victories -- the SEC school in Knoxville was a one-trick pony.

Until Pat Summit.

One of -- if not the most -- winningest coaches in college basketball, Summit has built one of the top two programs in women's sports on the banks of the Tennessee River in the shadow of the Great Smokey Mountains.

So much has Summit's and Tennessee's success overshadowed the women's basketball world that the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame was constructed in Knoxville, largely as a result of that city being the home of the Lady Vawls.

For the Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry, which has so often been so lop-sided in football, the women's basketball contest has developed into a chance to really develop and stoke a true, hate-filled, in-state rivalry.

At least, that's the way that Vanderbilt has always seen it. Lately, though, that rivalry has been somewhat lacking.

Until today, no Commodore women's basketball team had defeated the hated Lady Vawls since Jim Foster's Commodores did it on February 2, 2002 in Nashville.

Since that win at Memorial Gym, the Black and Gold had lost 16 straight games to Pat Summit's powerhouse.

And that's why you'll have to excuse the emotion as the 24th-ranked Commodore women beat the seventh-ranked Yew Tee Lady Vawls, 74-58.

Powered by a 22-6 run and 53% accuracy in the second half, the Black and Gold took control of the game with eight minutes remaining, and they never really looked back.

There may have been some method behind the victory, as well.

"In preparing for this game, I did it differently than we've ever prepared for Tennessee before," said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. "I decided we would have some fun. We put Tennessee uniforms and headbands on the guys, played Rocky Top, and made the crowd noise so deafening that they couldn't hear each other on the court."

"I think it definitely worked," Balcomb added.

She wasn't the only one who thought so, either.

"Vanderbilt was the better team from tip off to the end," said Tennessee head coach Pat Summit.

Now that's a quote worth framing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Naval Intelligence: Women's hoops face Tide on best start since '01

Tonight, the no. 24 Vanderbilt women's basketball team (11-4) takes on the unranked Alabama Crimson Tide (12-3) at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. The game will nto be televised.

To date, the Commodores have played rather underwhelmingly, particularly in light of the fact that they were picked by the SEC coaches to win the conference regular season. They should have a good chance to take the first step in that quest tonight, as they face an Alabama team that's having its best start since 2000-01.

There's some fuzzy math behind the good start, however, when one takes a look at the three teams who have beaten the Lady Tide: Samford, Louisville, and MTSU.

Men's hoops get started in Lexington this Saturday, but for now, here's what's making news in Commodore Country:

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Jessica Mooney and the rest of the Commodores will take on a streaking Alabama Crimson Tide team that is off to its best start since 2001.Photo by Vanderbilt Athletics.
Christopher Walsh previews the game for the partisans down in Tuscaloosa (and he says Tide fans are all smiles).

Tim Gayle also has a preview (and fortunately, he also has a bit more critical analysis than Mr. Walsh).

The Baton Rouge, La. Advocate previews the SEC (they've got a great conference-wide summary for those of us who've been too consumed with post-season football (!) to pay attention to women's hoops).

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Maurice Patton puts out his Jamie Graham piece in an echo of a piece you read yesterday from a certain daily alternative newspaper (when will the City Paper decide to emerge as the next Banner?).

Mike Rose pics VU no. 5 in the SEC in his weekly power poll (putting us behind Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Yew Tee).

The Red Solo Cup Guy picks us for no. 6 in the conference in his poll (and he sees Yew Tee, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, and Kentucky ahead of us).

Gamecock Man ranks the SEC and gives the Dores the no. 7 spot (behind Yew Tee, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and LSU -- really?).

John Gasaway ranks the nations Top 25 freshmen college basketball players and guess who's at no. 21? (If you guessed Jeff Taylor, you'd be right).

Chip Cirillio has a great piece on Jan van Breda Kolff, the former VU standout player (SEC Player of the Year 1974) and coach (1994-99) who's now running camps out of a sports facility in Cool Springs.

FOOTBALL

Eric Avidon has the details on BC firing their head coach only 8 days after losing to the mighty Vanderbilt Commodores in the Music City Bowl (you know, it'll be nice when people can lose to us and not go headhunting -- sigh).

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes talks about Jagodzinkski's firing as well at MV.

Dimon is also celebrating Georgia's loss of Stafford and Moreno, citing our 2006 win in Athens as proof that transitional UGA offenses are vulnerable to Commodore attack (I wonder if that was the situation in 1994, too?).

David Mayo celebrates the bowl win with a nice shout-out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Naval Intelligence: Men's hoops dominates UMass, women fall to Iowa State

As everyone in Commodore Country continues to bask in the gleam of the Music City Bowl trophy, it's hard to recall that basketball season is well underway, with SEC play set to commence tomorrow night for the women and this Saturday for the men.

At the same time, it's easy to understand why the Black and Gold Faithful are letting this one linger a little bit -- after all, it's not every day that you get to see something that hasn't happened in fifty-three years.

With that said, it's time to change gears, and after a bowl-related siesta, S&S is back to bring you the 2009 edition of Memorial Magic.

So here's what's making news in Commodore Country:

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Vanderbilt defeated UMass in Amherst, 78-48.AP Photo.
The Tennessean has the AP report on the men's win, since apparently all their focus was on the hometown team's bowl game (not that I'm complaining).

Marty Dobrow calls the display "offensive" in a great Boston Globe headline pun (get it? display truly offensive?).

Rich Thompson has the other UMass take on the game for the Boston Herald (ah yes -- remember the days when Nashville also had two dailies? I miss the Banner every time I pick up the Tennessean).

Kerri Flemming offers another examination of UMass' poor offensive production against the Dores.

David Boclair talks about Jamie Graham's transition from football to basketball (with a funny quote from K-Stalls about "patient hats").

John Pennington has compiled each SEC team's RPI rankings, and there's no SEC team in the Top 20 (dear ol' VU is an abyssmal 76, putting us at no. 5 in the conference and only one point behind Kentucky).

Stanimal is not pleased that no one is paying attention to our 11-3 Commodores (he also points out that our defense is no. 4 in the nation in opponents' field-goal percentage (wow!).

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

The no. 20 Vanderbilt Commodores lost to Iowa State in Ames, 51-55.AP Photo.
Iowa State celebrates its win over the then-no. 20 women by watching game tape from last year (hard to believe our women started out as a Top 10 team).

The women fell to no. 24 in the AP Poll (don't the low-20s seem like their permanent position in the poll? c'mon, ladies: I know you're better than that).

Bobby La Gesse recaps the Dores' loss in Iowa. Twice (I'm confused why this game needed to articles, really).

FOOTBALL

David Boclair liked what he saw from Larry Smith in the redshirt freshman's first collegiate start (in the biggest game for VU in 50 years -- yeah, I'm impressed, too).

David Moorman sees the SEC's silver lining to bowl season despite 'Bama's embarassing loss (surprise, surprise: he was suprised by VU's win).

Ed Grief's very first in-person bowl game was VU's win over Boston College in the Music City Bowl (he's the sports editor of the Crossville, Tenn. newspaper).

David Rutz calls Upson and Hahnfeldt unlikely heroes in his story on the special teams' leaders in the Hustler.

David Fox says our bowl win wasn't a thing of beauty, and it's hard to argue with him about that (but I'll take an ugly win over a beautiful loss any day).

Mary Beth Gunn also got to go to her first bowl game with the Commodores' trip to LP Field (she works for the Shelbyville, Tenn. newspaper).

WKRN chronicles downtown merchants' bellyaching that quickly turned to glee when victorious Vanderbilt fans made up for the lack of attendees with uber-celebration after the win (play the video: the fist-pumping guy is hilarious).

Don Yates has five thoughts about VU's 2009 football season (already!).

David Shochat grades the Commodores' bowl win with a somewhat-mediocre 3.21 (B+) average (the big drag? offensive line and coaching -- mainly offensive coordinator Ted Cain -- hard to argue that, isn't it).

Maurice Patton also has a GPA for the Black and Gold effort: 3.25 (B+) average.

Mike Kranzler puts the 2008 season into perspective with analysis on these Dores' lasting legacy (sort of like our coverage here on S&S).

David Shochat has a recap of D.J. Moore's career at VU since DJ is headed to the NFL.

John Pennington explains why the SEC won its New Year's Eve bowl games and it comes down to one thing: coaching (great props to BoJo).

Maurice Patton analyzes Vanderbilt's 2009 recruiting class and argues that Rivals' no. 67-ranking doesn't necessarily tell us how much this team will impact the Commodores on-the-field product (after all, I'm sure Auburn's recruiting class -- the one's we beat this year -- were a lot better than ours).

More on recruiting from Doug James at VSL.

Maurice also tells us about BoJo's effort to make a winning season into a winning culture (let's hope he succeeds!).

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes already has his 2009 predictions up, making us here at S&S feel winded since we haven't posted our 2008 predictions yet.

After his despair toward the end of the season, PhilipVU94 jubilantly posts after the big win.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fifty-three years in the making: Vanderbilt beats Boston College in the Music City Bowl

For the first time since 1955, and for only the second time in the 118 years of intercollegiate varsity football at Vanderbilt University, the Vanderbilt Commodores are bowl champions after beating the Boston College Eagles 16-14 in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl in Nashville.

And the game could not have been more emblematic of this roller-coaster season to remember.

Larry Smith made his first collegiate start in Vanderbilt's bowl game against Boston College. Photo by Vanderbilt Athletics.
The Commodores started with a strong showing, with redshirt-freshman Larry Smith getting his first collegiate start and moving what had become a moribund Vanderbilt offense down the field with relative ease.

The offense's early-game success was marred, however, by an inability to score touchdowns -- which turned out to be foreshadowing of how the rest of the game would develop.

The defense came out strong as well, holding Boston College scoreless until a touchdown late in the second quarter.

As 54,250 iced-but-loud fans (52,250 of which were wearing Black-and-Gold) looked on and shivered, the Commodore offense slowly seemed to seek parity with the outdoor temperature. Despite their red-hot start, the Men from West End hit a brick wall in the second quarter.

Boston College's seventh-ranked defense swarmed around Vanderbilt as they attempted to get a running game started, and three-and-outs plagued the home team.

At halftime, there was a distinct mood of unease amongst the Commodore faithful as a gnawing sense of inevitable collapse loomed throughout LP Field.

They'd seen this game before. They knew how this story ended. Vanderbilt would fight the good fight, valiantly strive and put on a good show, but victory would remain just out of reach. The devastating feeling of utter failure would return for the twenty-seventh consecutive season.

The Commodores, with all their alumni and fans, would be losers, once again.

* * *

It wasn't until a surreal special teams play, orchestrated by bowl MVP Brett Upson, that Vanderbilt scored a touchdown to take the lead, 13-7.

The play developed on a punt by Upson, who used one of his signature rugby-style kicks to send the ball sailing toward the north endzone of LP Field.

There, it grazed the thigh of a Boston College player, who apparently didn't notice that he had come into contact with it. A host of alert Commodores did see the contact, and ultimately freshman Sean Davidson fell on the football in the endzone to score Vanderbilt's only touchdown of the game.

The defense continued to fight, but they were starting to tire. Having already lost All-SEC defensive back D.J. Moore, the Commodores struggled to stop the Eagles as the visitors tried to answer Vanderbilt's score.

At midfield, Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis finally connected with receiver Colin Larmond, Jr., and the freshman burned Vanderbilt's Myron Lewis for a BC touchdown toward the end of the third quarter.

As it happened, a great groan went up at LP Field. Somewhere, Dan McGugin rolled over in his grave. Dr. William Dudley did, too. And every Vanderbilt man and woman in attendance knew that the Commodore Curse had struck again.

Everyone, that is, except the Commodores themselves. Just as they did against Ole Miss, against Auburn, and all season long, they looked at the scoreboard and went back to work.

Bryant Hahnfeldt's third-quarter field goal put Vanderbilt ahead, 16-14. Photo by Vanderbilt Athletics.
It would take a face-mask penalty and a phantom roughing-the-passer penalty (perpetrated against Mackenzi Adams, no less, in his only play of the game), to do it, but Vanderbilt went 45 yards to field goal range.

Then Bryant Hahnfeldt calmly and confidently walked onto the field to kick the winning field goal. And it went straight down the middle, giving Vanderbilt a 16-14 lead.

* * *

Boston College had the ball once more, with less than two minutes in the game. Everyone in the stadium was holding their breath. On their second play of the series, BC quarterback Davis went to throw another pass to Colin Larmond -- the same play with which the Eagles had scored their last touchdown. The same play during which Larmond burned Myron Lewis for the 20-yard score.

But Myron Lewis wasn't going to be burned a second time.

In an instant of time barely perceptible to human senses, Lewis stepped in front of Larmond, intercepted Davis' pass, took just enough time to keep both feet on the ground and in-bounds, and then fell out of bounds.

In that moment, no longer than a heartbeat, the entire stadium was silent.

Looking back in one's mind's eye, it is easy to hold that moment, like a still photograph, and examine it. There was the offense, unsure whether the defense would hold and terrified that the outcome of the game would fall to them -- and that they would fall short of victory.

There were the special teams players, proud of their achievements, but powerless to do anything with so little time remaining.

There was Bobby Johnson, huddled for warmth inside a black, insulated coat emblazoned with the Star-V logo that he had brought back to the Commodore sidelines from the deep dreams of Vanderbilt glories-past -- the man upon whom the weight of the world had rested since coming to the helm of a ship that was not only decrepit, but half-sinking when he arrived.

There were the fans and the alumni. For an entire generation, nothing like this had ever happened in their lifetime: no Vanderbilt team had been to a bowl game since 1982 (a fact which they all know by heart). For their forefathers and -mothers, none had known a post-season victory in their generation's memory, save those few who were alive and able to understand the Commodores' triumph over Auburn in 1955.

And there was Myron Lewis. Holding the ball after staying in-bounds just long enough to register possession, tip-toeing his way into everlasting fame and Vanderbilt legend.

The silence lasted for the smallest of moments.

And then cacophony.

Chaos.

Eruption.

Mind-searing jubilation.

It may be possible in the hindsight of history, perhaps five to ten years down the road, to understand the implications of what took place along the icy banks of the Cumberland River that night.

But in that moment, for 118,000 living Vanderbilt alumni -- almost half of whom made the pilgrimage back to Nashville to see what for many was something they had almost given up hope would occur in their lifetime -- there was absolution. There was release.

As Larry Smith took the Commodores back onto the field and into victory formation, the Vanderbilt family around the world embraced one another in their hearts and exorcised fifty years of hell.

* * *

Coach Bobby Johnson and the 2008 football team captains triumphantly hoist the Music City Bowl trophy after defeating Boston College, Dec. 30, 2008. Photo by Vanderbilt Athletics.
The future remains bright for the Vanderbilt football program. Bobby Johnson is firmly ensconced as the commander of the Commodores' ship, and the Black and Gold lose only a handful of starters from this historic team.

And certainly the gleam off the black-onyx Music City Bowl trophy and the dazzle of the post-game victory fireworks will help this season shine in the hearts of Vanderbilt faithful everywhere.

Around Commodore Country, there is little doubt: the Return began December 31, 2008. It was fifty-three years in the making, but the Vanderbilt Commodores are champions once again.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The day of reckoning

Today, the Vanderbilt Commodores will play in their first bowl game since 1982. They take on a Boston College team that has won its last eight bowl games. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, has not won in the post-season since 1955. That's exactly -- to the day -- fifty-three years.

This has been a season of firsts for the Black and Gold. Perhaps today will see not a first, but a second: if Vanderbilt wins, their all-time bowl record will move from 1-1-1 to 2-1-1.

And 0.625 is a lot better than 0.500 any day.