Vanderbilt players held their breath Sunday afternoon as the pairings host rattled off this season’s NCAA Tournament teams.
After their performance in the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt Coach Bryce Drew thought their overall worksheet was enough to get into the 68-team field.
As we have seen in the past, however, the selection committee doesn’t always produce a bracket that is edible to all parties.
If the players got more than a little uncertain as the first three brackets were announced. Vanderbilt’s name was nowhere to be seen. The phone had not rung.
Ah, but justice came quick as the Commodores heard their name called to play No. 8 seed Northwestern as a No. 9 seed in the West Regional.
Northwestern players were seen going crazy when they heard their name called. They had reason to let it go. It will mark the Wildcats first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in school history.
This isn’t a tournament for Mensa competitors. This wasn’t a debate tournament.
No, it was an opportunity to show how this Vanderbilt team has improved under Bryce Drew.
Drew is a perfect choice to relay just how much this tournament will mean to his players for the rest of their lives. He brings credentials by nailing a game-winning buzzer beater to eliminate Ole Miss and put Valparaiso in Final Four Tournament history books. Book it the shot will be shown a number of times during Vanderbilt’s opening game.
This knew they needed to win games in the SEC Tournament. When they beat Florida for the third time this season, they were more confident they would make the field.
Sure, they ran out of gas against a pressing, athletic team in Arkansas. Vanderbilt played nine players as opposed to the Hogs, a team that flooded the floor with waves of players, all of them with quick feet and faster hands.
The Commodores got hot at the right time. They responded to Drew’s philosophy that you get more with sugar than you do with salt. He is not a screaming, foot-stomping coach. He is a teacher, a coach that builds his players up, not down.
Usually the most difficult games to predict are the 8-9 seeded teams playing each other.
They will fly to Salt Lake City to play the first game in the West bracket Thursday.
They should be loose and confident they are good enough to win their first two games and if that happens, they will ooze with confidence, even though there are so many variables in this sport. Twist an ankle, get the flu, break up with a girlfriend.
It’s played on a national stage and captures even the sports fans that are not basketball junkies at this time of year.
March Madness is appropriately named. It more than lives up to its reputation.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.