Some of you may have already done this. I know that we at VSL are trying to do so. But for me, I needed a few days extra to really put the basketball season behind me. Like many of you, I feel a little unfulfilled, with the team that many had thought for so long would propel the program to greatness falling short of that ultimate hope. Yet I do look at the program and where it is, what it has done in the past four years, and I appreciate the level it has reached. While we fell short in the NCAA Tournament, we are at a position where it won't be as hard to get back to our chance, and we have these seniors to thank for that.
Let me start by saying the obvious: Vanderbilt will probably regress over the next couple of seasons. Despite the fact that there are 5 Rivals150 players remaining on the roster and 3 ESPNU 100 players, the loss of likely six players (barring a long shot that Jenkins comes back) coupled with our youth will result in a rebuilding year or two. With coaches a couple of years into their program's development (Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee) and new proven coaches coming in (South Carolina), Vanderbilt will likely fall back from its firmly established perch as the third-best program in the SEC. The fact of the matter is, at a school like Vanderbilt, it happens. Few academic elite schools can create a winner year-in and year-out without experiencing blips. Outside of Duke, Vanderbilt is at least, presently, one of the more consistent, having reached the tournament 5 of the past 6 years. That being said, success has rightfully become an expectation amongst the Commodore faithful, and while the youth in our program should be cut a little bit of slack, it will be up to them to maintain the consistent success that the program has enjoyed over the past 6 years.
With that said, Vanderbilt fans can rightfully look at the glass as half-empty or half-full. The half-empty side looks at the struggles our freshmen and sophomores had this year, looks at the recruiting stars of this incoming class, and sees a massive drop-off from the program's current precipice. From this view, the inability of the seniors to get to the second weekend of the tournament is especially painful. Many will question whether Kevin Stallings will ever get another group capable of reaching the Elite Eight, or dare I say the Final Four, ever again. I certainly cannot guarantee it, nor can CKS himself. It is a distinct possibility that the program regresses to a midling-SEC squad hopeful to be on the bubble by early March. Ignoring it would make no sense.
The half-full side says that while we are not able to immediately enjoy the fruits of the seniors labor, we will see them in the future, much like we did with the senior classes of old. These seniors did a whole heck of a lot that hasn't been done at Vanderbilt in a long time, if ever. They made 3 straight tournament appearances. They consistently placed in the top 5 of the SEC all three seasons. They won an enormous statement game against a hated rival to capture an SEC Tournament Championship, something that hadn't been done since 1951. They ran with the absolute best in non-conference play. They still have a great deal of talent, with their backcourt of the future completely intact and some talented wings coming into the program (I contend that Kevin Bright will surprise a whole lot of people). Finally, Stallings is not quitting on the recruiting trail. This year's group, as documented by numerous analysts, is not really deep. It has a lot of star power at the top end of the rankings, but lacks great pop further down the list. Stallings shot high and missed. Poythress choosing Kentucky hurt. But Stallings is already attacking recruiting for 2013 and 2014, and this time people won't be able to use his lack of NBA players as a weapon against him (yes, at least one of the big three will be playing in The Show).
Much like their play from game to game, even from 5-minute stretch to 5-minute stretch, these seniors gave us a lot of joy and a lot of disappointment. Regardless of that, they left every bit of what they had out on the floor, and they represented Vanderbilt with the utmost class. They deserve praise for those efforts, and thanks for everything they've done for the program. No matter where the program goes, I will always be thankful, at the very least, for that one awesome day where they captured that SEC Tournament title.