Not so this year. After an solid non-conference season, and an impressive start to the SEC season, Vanderbilt suffered close losses in seven games down the stretch. The big question was how would the Selection Committee view that mixed tournament resume: Would the strength of schedule, RPI, and quality wins bring Vanderbilt an at-large tournament bid or would the losses over the last month mean the end to Vanderbilt's streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances?
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme, who predicted all 32 at-large teams correctly, had been predicting consistently that the Dores would be in the tournament, but in the last two weeks had down-graded them to a "Last Four In".
Despite Creme's continued belief that Vanderbilt would be part of the tournament field, Vanderbilt fans spent an anxious week waiting to learn the team's fate. The suspense was prolonged through the Selection Show as Vanderbilt's name didn't appear until the last region was unveiled.
Fans weren't the only ones who were anxious. "I'm not going to lie; I was a little on the edge of my seat, especially with us being in that last bracket," said senior guard Jasmine Lister after team's Selection Show gathering.
But in the end, the bracket appeared on the screen with "Vanderbilt" on the #8 line, and the locker room reportedly erupted into jubilation. "As I said to our players, this is Season 3, and that's what we wanted," said Coach Melanie Balcomb. "We wanted an opportunity for Season 3."
The new season begins this Saturday when the Dores meet the Arizona State Sun Devils in Toledo, OH. This will be the second time that Vanderbilt has played ASU in the NCAA tournament. In the 2002 tournament, the Sun Devils visited Memorial Gym as the #9 seed and advanced to play #1-seed Vanderbilt in the second round. The two teams played again in the regular season in 2005, when Vanderbilt lost to the Sun Devils in Tempe.
The Vanderbilt-Arizona State game will be one of the four games to open the tournament on Saturday morning. Game time is 10 a.m. CT, and the game will be telecast on ESPN2.
Jasmine Lister, Melanie Balcomb and Christina Foggie
Photo copyright 2014 by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com