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WTF Vandy? Miserable Losses, Round 1: (3) Siena, 2008 vs. (6) UNLV, 2019

A blowout loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, or a blowout loss to a bad team in a lost season? You pick.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

(3) Siena 83, Vanderbilt 62, March 21, 2008

The 2007-08 basketball season was magical, until it wasn’t.

Vanderbilt started the season 16-0 before taking its first loss in double overtime at Rupp Arena, though that started a stretch of four losses in five games. But that was followed by a seven-game winning streak capped by a win over Tennessee at Memorial Gym when they were ranked #1 in the country (in fact, this was their first game ever as the nation’s top-ranked team.) That stretch also included the famous “Neltner’s Winning” game, a raucous 93-52 win over Kentucky at Memorial Gym during which Ross Neltner outscored the Wildcats in the first half.

Even after going 2-3 to finish the season, Vanderbilt had a record of 26-7. Now, a few words about that team. Early that season, I went to Memorial to watch Vanderbilt get taken to double overtime by South Alabama — granted, South Alabama would win the Sun Belt and go to the NCAA Tournament as a 10-seed that year. Still, in spite of the good record, KenPom seemed to have Vanderbilt ranked in the 50s or even 60s all season. On the season, Vanderbilt outscored its opponents by an average of 5.4 ppg — for comparison, the other three 4-seeds in that year’s tournament won by an average of 8.8 (UConn). 10.0 (Washington State), and 8.7 (Pitt) points per game.

Okay. Armed with that knowledge, it was still obnoxious to see CBS analyst Seth Davis openly call for 13-seed Siena, whom Vanderbilt drew in a first-round matchup in Tampa, to pull the upset. And then the game started, and it was almost as though Davis had spoken it into existence. Siena scored the game’s first five points and never looked back. The Saints led 13-6 five minutes in, 28-13 eleven minutes in, and 46-34 at the half. Siena led by double digits for most of the second half, and when Vanderbilt briefly got it to within nine with three minutes left, the Saints promptly went on a 12-0 run to remove any doubt.

Not that there ever was much. Somehow, a 4-vs.-13 game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament had turned into a rout by the underdog. Vanderbilt would follow this up in its next two appearances with first-round losses to another 13-seed and a 12-seed, but those were close. This one was not. This was what seemed like one of the best Vanderbilt teams in recent history ending its season with a thud.

(6) UNLV 34, Vanderbilt 10, October 10, 2019

This football game turned the person on this site known as the leader of the Sunshine Pumpers and pump ungunker into a raging mess. My optimism was so broken that I did not re-watch the game and devoted my entire “Lessons in Vanderbilt Football” article about the game to talking about the team quitting, which is an argument that I had doggedly fought against when others brought it up. I even said in a comment on Tom’s The Statistical for the game, “It’s worse as a standalone result than Temple. It is orders of magnitude worse than Temple as a marker of the program. Comparing it to Wake [in 2010] is really not sensible because that Wake game was with an interim (he was, no matter what the technicalities were) coach known to be gone.”

Look, you can talk about losing in the NCAA tournament to a 13-seed, but the 2019 Commodore football team got embarrassed at home to a team that fired their head coach at the end of the season for going 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Mountain West Conference. The most WTF part may be what happened the next week. Vanderbilt would go from losing 34-10 to a bad UNLV team to beating the 5-1 (2-0) Missouri Tigers 21-14. Surely the change was getting back a bunch of newly-healthy starters, right?

No, Vanderbilt got way better by going to their previously 3rd string walk-on QB Mo Hasan. Of course, Hasan would get hurt near the end of the game and be lost for the season because the universe hates Vanderbilt athletics and its fans. How much more “WTF?” can you get than that? We suck, so the team decides to set aside the two QBs who had battled to be the starter for a player previously out of the picture. UNLV did not hold any one else they played to fewer than 20 points, but the Vanderbilt Commodores could only score 10 (TEN!) at home.

It was not just the offense though. Vanderbilt, with the exact same defensive players, would give up only 14 points to a Missourah offense that had not been held under 31 points and were averaging 38.8 points per game in their first 6 games. Why the f--- did the Commodores give up 34 to UNLV?! The Runnin’ Rebels only scored more than 27 4 times in 2019. They put up 56 on FCS Southern Utah, 34 that day against Vanderbilt, and finished the season with 38- and 33-point performances against San Jose State and Nevada.

The 2019 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were BAD. They ranked 92nd in Total Offense, 88th in Passing Offense, 58th in Rushing Offense, 97th in Scoring Offense, 105th in Total Defense, 104th in Passing Defense, 92nd in Rushing Defense, and 108th in Scoring Defense. Again, the rest of their schedule was 6 MWC teams, Arkansas State, FCS Southern Utah, and Northwestern. To round out the “the f---?” questions, how the f--- did Vanderbilt manage to make UNLV look better than anyone other FBS team they played when THAT is their schedule?!

Vanderbilt managed to perform about 50 net points worse than they should have. A 24-point loss should have been a win of the same margin. What can be more miserably WTF than that?


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