Vanderbilt finishes the regular season 21-9, 9-7 in the conference, with the 11th loss in 12 season finales under Kevin Stallings. The inability to close out the half all year is mirrored in sinister fashion by our inability to finish the year strong time and again. (Come home, Shan Foster, all is forgiven. What? Eligibility? Damn.)
It's hard not to shake a creeping sense that this year's team has radically underachieved. Everyone came into the year wondering if we could replace Beal and Ogilvy, but sure that Jeffery Taylor would make it happen. Instead, we got the pleasant surprise of a potential SEC player of the year in John Jenkins and possibly the most improved player in college basketball in Festus Ezeli. But Taylor never consistently lived up to the preseason hype, and the team played most of the year without their top "glue guy" in Andre Walker - and while twenty-one wins are nothing to sneeze at, the number of leads blown, collapses down the stretch, and inexplicable halftime deficits suggest that this is a team that has never yet played up to its full potential.
So now what? If you believe the Tennessean, the vultures are circling the Big Three, telling them they're ready for the NBA. I don't see them all going - not after Festus Ezeli is on record in Sports Illustrated saying that he has to have his degree first - but we have to acknowledge the possibility that while none of the notional nine-man rotation HAS to leave, we could find ourselves without one or more of Jenkins, Taylor, Ezeli and Walker before practice starts up next October. Next year also brings us two new guards and a couple of big bodies off the redshirt. We are not necessarily in a full-blown "the future is now" situation the way we were in, say, 2008. But unless this team digs down deep and finds it in themselves to maximize their potential in March, we're going to spend yet another offseason wondering how the wheels came off at the end again. Hell, we may actually be better off with a Thursday date in the SEC tournament, just for the sake of having an easy opponent that we might be able to use to work up some momentum and get back in the swing of things. Whatever the circumstances, something's got to give, because the way we're playing right now isn't going to get us very far.
On the bright side, we can count on one thing: at least we'll be spared that accursed 4 seed in the Big Dance this time around.