Team preview: Vanderbilt
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
That line just above this one, "Lost in NIT first round," sums up Vanderbilt's 2005-06 season in five words, but it would take a book to properly recount what transpired from the beginning of fall practice to that early ouster in postseason play.
If you think "team chemistry" is an overused, overblown cliché taken from the Coaching 101 manual, consider the case of the Commodores, a popular pick of several preseason publications -- including this one -- to finish second in the SEC's Eastern Division and advance to the NCAA Tournament. That Vanderbilt didn't come close to matching those expectations can't, in fairness, be laid at the feet of one person. But if someone did write a book about the tragic tale of Commodore hoops, 2005-06, Mario Moore's smiling face would be on the cover.
At his best, Moore, the mercurial point guard, could take over games with quickness, streak shooting and pure energy. At his worst, well, "Lost in NIT first round" says a mouthful.
No one knew it at the time, but Vandy's NCAA Tournament hopes were doomed long before the first shot of the season was taken when Moore, a senior, was suspended for the first three games for a violation of team rules. Moore later revealed he had failed a drug test -- cocaine had been detected in his system -- but denied he had used drugs and theorized that someone might have spiked his drink.
Moore returned after serving his penance, but it was clear he wasn't the same player.
Sophomore Alex Gordon had taken over Moore's job, and though he eventually regained his starting assignment for a short time, his game, so disruptive for opponents in the past, was now disruptive for his teammates. A scoring point by trade, Moore never could wrap his arms around the fact that he wasn't needed to score anymore, that his new job was as a setup man.
In early February, Vanderbilt announced Moore would be sitting out an indefinite period for medical reasons. You wouldn't believe the rumors flying around that hinted at those reasons. He eventually returned for the Commodores' last six games but was essentially done, and so was Vanderbilt.
After the season, Moore spoke to two Nashville newspapers about his tumultuous season and, to his credit, accepted some responsibility for Vanderbilt's disappointing finish.
"It [his poor play] had a lot to do with it," Moore told The City Paper. "I had a lot of expectations coming into this season, and I didn't meet one of them. I had them for myself, and that's more hurtful than what people had expected from me."
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings won't delve into specifics about last season, other than to stay that inconsistent point guard play was a major factor in the Commodores' disappointing season. You think? Moore's departure will no doubt become a classic case of addition by subtraction, as the remaining Commodores, freed of the traveling sideshow that had become their point guard's senior season, are able to get down to business.