Though the Vanderbilt men's basketball team has already turned in 3 games on the season, posting a 2-1 mark thus far, I didn't want to write much about them until I had a chance to see them for myself.
I got that chance this past Monday night, when the Commodores hosted a team that I hate even more than Yew Tee: Middle Tennessee State.
(Why do I hate MTSU so much? Well, let's just recall that your author's very first Vanderbilt football game took place on Thursday, August 30, 2001. Enough said).
Vanderbilt won the game, 65-57, moving back to a winning record on the brand-new season. But in the win, I believe several key characteristics of the 2008-09 version of Memorial Magic showed through.
The Commodores seem much taller this year, but with that height comes a lot of youth. Vanderbilt seemed to come out in a very business-like attitude, with not very much emotion against a Division I team from just down the road (sounds like a lot of Vanderbilt sports from the past week, doesn't it?).
As the game progressed, MTSU showed a lot of scrap. Their players were very impressive, and it was easy for me to see how they were able to hang with the likes of Tennessee (to whom they lost 66-76 in Murfreesboro just last week).
I was impressed with A.J. Ogilvy as well. I remembered him being a bit more "gangly" last year, and he has matured both physically and mentally as the eldest leader of this quite young Commodore squad. Many times on the court, he was encouraging the younger players, particularly when they seemed hesitant with the ball.
That, too, was a different look out of a Vanderbilt basketball team: hesitancy.
For a team with one of college basketball's longest 3-point streaks, you'd never believe how terrified our freshmen seemed of shooting the ball from the outside. There were several possessions, particularly in the second half, when the ball would be passed back and forth between our freshmen, each one granted a wide-open look at the basket (and usually with only 8 or 10 left on the shot clock).
The ooh's and aah's coming from the Memorial crowd (which was 12,502 -- quite good for a weeknight, non-conference game) weren't so much from the impressive play on Ingram Court, but more from a sense of unsated potential as players whom we know can shoot seemed terror-stricken at the very thought of doing so.
MTSU is a good team, and they were definitely "up" for the game (as the Middle School tends to do against its in-state, elder brethren). The Black and Gold seemed just as flat as the football team was on Dudley Field two days before (maybe it's Thanksgiving Break that's got everyone in the doldrums?).
The good news is that Vanderbilt did win a game it should have won, and it did so with a margin similar to an SEC East foe. The other good news is that our freshmen really are talented. Part of the reason that everyone at Memorial Gym on Monday kept waiting, with bated breath, for the freshmen to break out is because their potential is so obvious. These are very, very talented players, and I am extremely excited for the future.
The bad news, on the other hand, is that this is going to be a somewhat awkward season as we wait for these seventeen- and eighteen-year old college freshmen to grow into themselves and with each other.
We're not, by any measure, going to win the SEC East this year. And there will be a couple of ugly conference games, as well. It boils down to this: we'll have to bear with these young men as they mature this year, but we'll be well-rewarded over the next couple of years for doing so.