Could this be the year?

The Vanderbilt Commodores dropped a disappointing 78-73 overtime decision at Alabama on Saturday. Vandy not only lost the game but also lost a chance to achieve something no other team in team history had done: 26 regular season victories. However, with that loss the team must move on. Now the Commodores can focus on another goal, which is to win the SEC Tournament championship.

Vanderbilt certainly is long overdue a good run in the SEC Tournament. The Commodores are the only SEC team that hasn't made an appearance in the tourney championship game since the renewal of the event in 1979. In fact every other SEC team, including Arkansas and South Carolina who joined the conference in 1991, has been to at least two championship games. What better time than the present for Vandy to storm through the tourney? A 4-0 sweep would put the Commodores at 29-6 heading into the Big Dance. They would have a legitimate argument for a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA.

Let's have a little fun and look into the VandyMania crystal ball to see what might happen in Atlanta later this week.

Picture this; we all know the Commodores live and die on their shooting and they have struggled on the road all season but have been giant killers at home. Let's say the Commodores overcome a struggling, Auburn team on Thursday. Vandy wins, in unimpressive style, 70-68. The Commodores hit just 29 percent of their 3-pointers, all but one of them in the second half, but their inside game against the smaller Tigers propels them to victory. The first step has been taken to a championship; now it's time for a rematch with the Razorbacks of Arkansas.

The Vanderbilt team benefits from the game with Auburn. Their shooters get a good feel for the Georgia Dome after a game with the Tigers. Another shoot around on Friday morning also helps the Commodore cause. Friday afternoon against the Razorbacks Vandy's excellent shooting comes alive. The Commodores, who made 50 percent of their 3-pointers in a close loss in Fayetteville, make 11 threes in 20 attempts while the Razorbacks, playing the first time in the dome in over a year, struggle from arc making just 4 of 18 shots. Vanderbilt prevails with an 81-71 victory and advances to the semifinals against Tennessee, who beat LSU 97-72 in their tourney opener.

Vanderbilt and Tennessee playing for a berth in SEC title game turns the state of Tennessee upside down. Governor Bredeson makes the trip to Atlanta to see the contest. Before the game, Bruce Pearl, wearing his bright orange blazer, riles up the large contingent of Vandy fans in the Dome. Could this be the game that propels Vanderbilt to its first SEC Tournament Championship game since 1951? The Commodores know it won't be easy and that senior leadership is the key.

Tennessee roars out to 45-39 halftime lead. It's the battle of the SEC POY candidates Chris Lofton and Shan Foster. Vanderbilt rallies and pulls to within 1 at 81-80 with 37 seconds remaining. After a Vanderbilt defensive stop the Commodores get one last chance to win with just 6 seconds remaining. Alex Gordon quickly brings the ball up the court and passes to Foster on the left baseline. Foster launches a 3-pointer that hits just short and darts off the rim into the hands of an awaiting A.J. Ogilvy who calmly banks in the winning score. Pandemonium breaks out as Commodore fans rush the court in Atlanta. Pearl and the Vols quickly leave with no comment; they are 1-2 vs. Vandy in 2008. Georgia Dome officials refuse to pay the $100,000 fine imposed by the SEC.

The Commodores advance to their first SEC Title game since 1951. The opponent? It's Kentucky again. The Wildcats have steadily improved in 2008 and have revenge on their minds after the thrashing Vanderbilt gave them in Nashville. The cats, who haven't missed a beat without their star Patrick Patterson, give Vanderbilt a much tougher fight than when they visited Memorial Gym a few weeks ago. Kentucky leads by 4 at the half but the Vandy defense stiffens and their 3-pointers start to hit their mark. The Commodores prevail 78-68 and bring the SEC Tournament Championship trophy back to Nashville. Now it's on the big dance with a sparkling seed.

So there you have it. Vanderbilt will win the SEC Tournament Championship to end years of frustration in the event. Can this really happen? Yes it can; a combination of a good team effort, solid coaching and a little luck could see Vandy get four wins in four days.

The following are the matchups for the SEC Tournament that runs Thursday through Sunday at the Georgia Dome:

FIRST ROUND, Thursday

Game 1--(East 5) South Carolina vs. (West 4) LSU, noon CDT

Game 2--(West 6) Auburn vs. (East 3) Vanderbilt, 2:15 CDT

Game 3--(West 5) Alabama vs. (East 4) Florida, 6:30 CDT

Game 4--(East 6) Georgia vs. (West 3) Ole Miss, 8:45 CDT


SECOND ROUND, Friday

Game 5--Game 1 Winner vs. (East 1) Tennessee, noon CDT

Game 6--Game 2 Winner vs. (West 2) Arkansas, 2:15 CDT

Game 7--Game 3 Winner vs. (West 1) Mississippi State, 6:30 CDT

Game 8--Game 4 Winner vs. (East 2) Kentucky, 8:45 CDT


SEMIFINALS, Saturday

Game 9--Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, noon CDT

Game 10--Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 2:15 CDT


CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, SundayGame 11--Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner, noon CDT

(All games televised regionally by Raycom Sports except for finals on CBS).


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