Vanderbilt comes into the East Regional semifinal as an underdog in ways that go beyond basketball.
Not only did the Commodores start slowly this season -- including a loss to Georgetown, their opponent tonight -- they are also the only school in the tournament that doesn’t have an athletic department.
Three years ago, Chancellor Gordon Gee dissolved the department in a crusade to reform college athletics. Wanting to draw athletes into the campus mainstream, he folded the teams into the school’s recreation office.
“I remember when we found out, people were calling us and telling us how will you enjoy intramural ball,” guard Dan Cage said.
Star forward Derrick Byars, who had yet to arrive at Vanderbilt, recalls being mystified from afar. “I was just like, ‘Who is in control then?’ ” Byars said.
Coach Kevin Stallings pointed out that no one closed the arena or ticket office. He said the change has been mostly administrative.
“But we’re certainly proud of the fact that our institution values academics and values the student side of the student-athlete’s life,” he said.
In pure basketball terms, Georgetown appears to hold an edge because of an offense that runs through its two big men, 6-foot-9 forward Jeff Green and 7-2 center Roy Hibbert.
“A very, very tall challenge,” Stallings called them.
But the Hoyas said they respect Vanderbilt, which has advanced in the tournament with smaller players.
“Their whole roster has great shooters and strong guys around the perimeter,” Green said. “It is going to be a difficult matchup.”