Shan Foster and Alex Gordon have helped put together a basketball renaissance at Vanderbilt in recent years.
They are in no hurry for it to end.
In the twilight of their careers, the Commodore seniors hope to finish in a memorable way as the NCAA Tournament begins this week.
“It’s a great sense of urgency,” Foster said. “Lose one and you’re done. That definitely makes you a lot more focused and makes you take every possession like it's your last, because it very well could be.”
Gordon began to sense the seriousness of the hour last week when Vanderbilt was knocked out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament by Arkansas.
“I’m a senior, so that was my last time playing in the SEC Tournament,” he said. “We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
Foster and Gordon have been down this road before. Last year, after a similar early flameout in the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt won two NCAA Tournament games and rolled into the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years.
Some in the national media point to the No. 4 seed Commodores as ripe for an upset Friday against No. 13 seed Siena in the first round of the Midwest Regional.
Gordon isn’t buying it.
“We’ll be ready,” he said. “Our coach will get us ready. He’s going to come up with a good game plan, and we’re just going to go out and get ready to go again.
“We’re a good team. We won 26 games. We’re going to have that fight in us when we get to the NCAA Tournament.”
As he has done throughout the season, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings this week praised Foster and Gordon for their contributions to the program, most notably with their leadership.
“What they’ve meant to this program can’t even be measured,” Stallings said. “I really believe they're as responsible for the change in the mentality within the program as anybody.”
NOT CONVINCED: Washington Post columnist John Feinstein is among the national media skeptical of Vanderbilt’s No. 4 seed this week.
“Vanderbilt is a No. 4 seed only if it gets to play on its home court,” Feinstein wrote this week.
The Commodores were 19-0 at home this week, 3-1 on neutral floors and 4-6 on the road. In addition, the teams VU lost to on the road were a combined 128-64 entering NCAA Tournament play.
HISTORY OF SUCCESS: As a No. 14 seed, Siena has a track record of success in the NCAA Tournament. In 1989, the Saints upset No. 3 seed Stanford in a first-round game in Greensboro, N.C.
In Siena’s most recent NCAA appearances in 1999 and 2002, it was knocked out in the first round.
Siena earned its way into this year’s NCAA Tournament by beating Rider 74-53 in the championship game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament last week.
The 22-10 Saints have three players averaging 15 points or more this season and have just one senior on their roster.
FEELING BLESSED: Vanderbilt upperclassmen this week reflected on the significance of the school’s third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years this season.
“Jermaine Beal has never known a season without an NCAA Tournament,” said one senior of VU’s sophomore point guard.
The Commodores are making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances this season for the first time since 1988-89.