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Jeff Green Traveled

Ten years ago, our hearts were broken.

NCAA Regional - East Rutherford: Georgetown v Vanderbilt
He walked.
Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images

March 23, 2007 carries one of the most heartbreaking moments in Vanderbilt sports history. On that fateful day, Vanderbilt basketball was robbed out of what would have been the second Elite Eight team ever. I remember very well where I was during that game (sheds tear). I remember sitting in the Buffalo Wild Wings on Bluebonnet Rd in Baton Rouge with AoG writer (and long time friend) Andrew VU’04. We and other VU alumni watched on as our dreams were shattered by the worst non-call in VU basketball history.

The 2006-07 squad was phenomenal, and arguably the best we’ve ever had. Seriously, look at this roster I shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia:

2006-07 Roster

Name Position Year GP Min Ppg Rpg Apg
Name Position Year GP Min Ppg Rpg Apg
Jermaine Beal G Freshman 34 16.8 3.8 1.8 1.8
David Rodriguez G Sophomore 2 2 0.5 0 0.5
Alex Gordon G Junior 34 24 7.8 2.4 3.3
Derrick Byars G-F Senior 34 31.4 17 4.9 3.4
Alan Metcalfe F Junior 21 7.5 2.6 1.9 0.1
Aubrey Hammond G Junior 13 4.2 0.8 0.5 0.2
Dan Cage G Senior 34 28.9 11.2 3.3 2.2
JeJuan Brown F Freshman 34 13.3 3.1 2.5 0.6
Shan Foster G-F Junior 34 32.4 15.6 4.6 2.3
George Drake G Freshman 33 10.3 2.7 1.4 0.6
Ross Neltner F Junior 34 25 9.2 5.7 2.2
Ted Skuchas C Senior 34 15.5 4 2.6 0.4
The best team in at least modern VUBB history

That roster is going to bring back a lot of great memories for most us, especially considering the average age of AoG’s readers. That squad was stacked. Even our Freshmen were making contributions to the team of veterans. We finished the regular season with a 20-10 (10-6) record, sweeping Kentucky, and with strong wins over ranked Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and LSU.

Despite a disappointing first round loss to Arkansas in the SEC tournament, Vanderbilt started the tournament as a 6-seed. Vanderbilt easily knocked off the 11-seed George Washington Colonials by 33 points, giving hope that we could overcome the 3-seed Washington State Cougars and get through the opening weekend. I remember being optimistic despite being down eight points at the half, but maybe my memory is tricking me. Shan Foster and Derrick Byars were having none of an opening weekend loss, however, and led us with a combined 47 points to a a victory in 2OT. An absolute nail biter; the sort of game where you know any single thing could have caused disaster. We seemed to have the team of destiny (TM) vibe going. Surely we could overcome 2-seed Georgetown!

Then it happened. Up only one point and seconds to go, Georgetown F Jeff Green literally walked his way to victory for the Hoyas. Green was well covered, and most certainly lifted his pivot foot on the way to his shot. Don’t believe me? Let’s review. Trigger warning: watch on mute, it’s the Hoyas’ radio broadcast over the CBS video.

I was going to freeze frame the pivot foot leaving the floor and doing a Super Troopers style ENHANCE.... ENHANCE... ENHANCE to it. Then I once again saw the tap dance and just didn’t even know what foot to choose. Ah well.

Close calls are common, and many fans will wail about them; but, they are generally not talked about outside of message boards. This one however was bad enough to come up in post game interviews (where VU players and coaches hinted they thought it was a walk), and even in non-sports papers. The bad call led to a VU loss, as well as losing the chance to play the 1-seeded UNC. A UNC who would lose by 12 to Georgetown, which just hurt even more.

Since that game, Vanderbilt’s performance has seemed almost cursed. The next three appearances involved higher seeds but somehow still getting paired up against teams that match up against us well. Losing as a 4 seed to Siena (2008), Murray State (2010) and as a 5 seed to Richmond (2011). We’d mercifully beat #12 Harvard in 2012, but then lose in the second round to #4 Wisconsin. Most recently, we’ve lost to Wichita State in that abhorrent “First Four” nonsense last year. In other words, since the Jeff Green non-call, we’ve only performed at expectations once. This in turn has made us an obvious HOT TAKE target for “upset” picks by the pundits.

You know what happened in the opening round this year. The events of the game were the impetus behind this piece from exalted leader CDA. In the article, he states, “In another 12 hours [MFD’s] gaffe will largely be forgotten, save for the bitter remainder of Vandy fans that hold onto grief so hard their voices still haven’t recovered from screaming about Jeff Green’s travel.”

I have to respectfully disagree with my esteemed colleague in one regard here. You can say that one mistake (from a player, ref, or coach) led to the loss, and say that the blame of the loss does not rest entirely on that person. In the game against Northwestern, MFD’s performance was fantastic. He kept us in a game that we at times had no business being in. Had the rest of the team played like that, we’d have not been in the position for one mistake to lead to a loss. Unfortunately, we were. In the same way, the ref missing Jeff Green’s tapdance directly led to the loss, but most certainly he was not the only one to blame for the loss.

A team makes a number of mistakes over the course of a game. The difference in a mistake made at the end of the game versus at the start is simply that mistakes at the end are very difficult to recover from. So a bad travel call or a bad foul or a boneheaded shot with even five minutes left doesn’t have the impact of a mistake made with seconds left. The onus of the loss still belongs on the whole team; if the team executed better throughout, they’d not be in a position that a single late mistake would cost them. Nonetheless, they were in such a position and such a mistake did lead to the loss.

I have no ill will towards the ref of 2007 nor MFD. I do not put the entirety of the respective losses at their feet. I do, however, look forward to what CDA called “Matthew Fisher-Davis Revenge Tour of 2017-18”.

Regardless, on 3/23/2007, Jeff Green traveled. Never forget.


Jeff Green Traveled

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