The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

March Madness Mailbag: Commodores on the dance floor

Vanderbilt earned its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014 on Selection Sunday.
Coach+Shea+Ralph+talks+to+the+team+during+a+timeout%2C+as+captured+on+March+3%2C+2024.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FSavannah+Walske%29
Savannah Walske
Coach Shea Ralph talks to the team during a timeout, as captured on March 3, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Savannah Walske)

On Sunday, the Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball team heard their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time in 10 seasons. The Commodores were drawn with a “First Four” matchup against the Columbia Lions. If the Commodores win, they will be a No. 12 seed and face off against the No. 5 Baylor Bears on Friday. No matter the result, the Commodores have a lot to be proud of this season. The Hustler sports editorial board broke down what the Commodores have done so well to get to the spot they are now in. Shea Ralph is familiar with dancing in March. Is her squad ready for the task?

1. Should Vanderbilt have been seeded higher?

Absolutely. 

Sure, the Commodores did not win any upset games and lost to all the SEC powerhouses in South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama.

Vanderbilt may have had a first round exit in the SEC Tournament to the Florida Gators. 

Regardless, Vanderbilt won 22 games and went 9-7 in SEC play. The Commodores also started the season 16-1, a feat that should not be overlooked.

The Texas A&M Aggies, who went 6-10 in conference play, earned the 11th seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies may be ranked higher in the NET than the Commodores, but the Black and Gold has a more formidable resume. 

The Commodores earned their chance at March Madness. While the Commodores’ ranking may have been deemed disrespectful, they are focused on being the best they can be.

“We are excited to be here,” Ralph told The Hustler. “The goal of our program as we move forward is to compete for championships.”

 – Andrew Wilf, Sports Editor

2. How far can the Commodores go? 

It’s March. Anyone can go as far (or not as far) as they wish. On the women’s side of the NCAA Tournament, we’ve seen 13 seeds make it to the Sweet 16, an 11 seed make it to the Elite Eight and a 9 seed make it to the Final Four. A Cinderella run is possible for any side, and a Vanderbilt team with momentum and a veteran presence certainly has a shot at a streak. To start, Vanderbilt faces Columbia — a more than winnable game for the Commodores as the teams are neighbors in the NET rankings, with Vanderbilt at No. 56 and Columbia at No. 57. In addition, the teams are playing at a neutral site in Blacksburg, Va. However, the games that follow will be a bigger challenge with Baylor and (if the higher seed wins) Virginia Tech coming in at No. 18 and 19 in the NET, respectively. For reference, Vanderbilt’s highest NET win of the season was against Texas A&M at No. 41. This means that the games that follow Vanderbilt’s matchup with Columbia will all be an uphill battle, but like I said, it’s March Madness and anything can happen. Ralph & Co. just have to believe.

– Sam Curtis, Deputy Sports Editor

3. What are the keys to Vanderbilt achieving postseason success? 

March is about the stars. If the Commodores are to make it to the Round of 64 and beyond, the biggest reason why will be the performances of Iyana Moore. Coming off of a major injury last season, Moore has continued to get better as the season has worn on, and now has averaged 19.6 points and 4.4 rebounds across Vanderbilt’s last five games. This season, Vanderbilt is 6-2 when Moore scores 20+ points. Her “Robin” has rotated all season between Cambridge, Washington and Pierre, but the one constant has been the star guard spearheading the offense at an efficient clip. The Commodores will continue to be scrappy on defense and play hard for their coach — this much appears to be a guarantee so long as Ralph is leading the program. What can push Vanderbilt to exceed expectations in the coming weeks is the level that their star can play at.

 – Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor

4. What does a tournament appearance in just three seasons say about the program and head coach Shea Ralph? 

Shea Ralph, when hired, was the ideal person to bring a winning mentality back to the program, which had not seen a winning season since the 2013-2014 season. Most people highlight her time in Connecticut as an assistant, but she also spent some time at the University of Pittsburgh. From her time at Pittsburgh, where she aided in turning a team with years of a losing record into a national contender, Ralph knows how to revitalize a championship mentality. The season Vanderbilt has had is a culmination of that championship mentality and the ability for players to desire to play in the system, knowing that success is never promised but will come with hard work. Ralph has successfully brought some of the nation’s most highly touted recruits on campus, such as Khamil Pierre, Sacha Washington and commit Mikayla Blakes. She has also developed and seen the promise in players here before she stepped on campus, such as Jordyn Cambridge and Moore. This season shows that the future for Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball is very bright with Ralph at the helm and that she is establishing a winning mentality on West End. 

 – Grace Hall, Assistant Sports Specialist 

5. What will Vanderbilt need to improve to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament?  

It has been an impressive season for the Commodores, earning 22 total victories and a winning record in conference play. However, the job isn’t finished. Ralph & Co. didn’t want to just make it to the NCAA Tournament; they wanted to win games late in March. As with any team before the postseason, Vanderbilt must evaluate what needs improvement before they start the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores ended the regular season with a three-game win streak, but also struggled in early February, losing five straight to formidable SEC opponents. If you look at those five games, Vanderbilt was clearly outsized and suffered some shooting woes. In order for the Commodores to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, they need to get the ball to their shooters and facilitate their offense through Washington and Pierre. Pierre and Washington can draw defenders in and then pass the ball to players on the perimeter. Vanderbilt must shoot well from beyond the arc to knock off top-tier opponents. Similarly, Vanderbilt must rebound well in order to make a deep postseason push. The Commodores rank ninth in the SEC in combined team rebounds. Washington and Pierre need to be strong in the paint and help Vanderbilt’s talented guards push the offense in transition. 

 – Henry Oelhafen, Sports Copy Editor

6. How do the Commodores match up with Columbia? 

Vanderbilt opens the NCAA Tournament with a trip to the First Four and a matchup against Ivy League regular season champion Columbia (23-6). Appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, the Columbia Lions are led by Ivy League Player of the Year Abbey Hsu, a 5’11 guard averaging 20.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Columbia is vastly reliant on its backcourt: eight of the 10 players averaging double-digit minutes are guards, and every one of them is below 6’0. The Commodores struggled in SEC play when contending with larger teams, so a matchup against a smaller opponent is the best possible scenario for Ralph & Co. Expect a reversion to Ralph’s signature trap defense that proved so lethal in the nonconference, but don’t count the Lions out of the game. Vanderbilt nearly lost to Fairfield when the Stags went on a heater from deep and Columbia has the personnel to do just that. 

 – Jayce Pollard, Assistant Sports Specialist

7. Does Vanderbilt’s depth off the bench give them an edge in the tournament and will Ralph & Co. use it? 

The beauty of Vanderbilt’s rotation is that there is a great balance of skill sets and scoring can come from pretty much anywhere. Although the bench isn’t necessarily the deepest in the nation, as Ralph usually opts for a core six to seven rotation with Ryanne Allen and Jada Brown as low-minute additions, it still gives the Commodores a wide net of options to gain advantages. Especially in the postseason where every game is win or go home, having more than one way to win and more than one or two players to rely on gives Vanderbilt an immense boost. In one contest the Commodores can be spearheaded by an offensive charge from Moore, and then in the next it can be a dominant two-way paint performance from Pierre and Washington. The Commodores can also spread the floor with tall, lengthy shooters like Aga Makurat and Justine Pissott while establishing a pressing intense defense led by Cambridge and Jordyn Oliver. Overall, Ralph has a lot of trust in her players and I believe she’ll have no issue with utilizing the variety of strengths the roster brings to the table. 

 – David Hernandez, Lead Sports Analyst

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About the Contributors
Andrew Wilf
Andrew Wilf, Former Sports Editor
Andrew Wilf (’24) is Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He is from Livingston, N.J., and is majoring in history and minoring in business. He joined the sports staff his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Assistant Sports Editor and Deputy Sports Editor. Beyond writing for The Hustler, he is also the host of Anchor Analysis, Commodore Clash and Live From West End. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching the NFL and playing golf. He can be reached at [email protected].
Sam Curtis
Sam Curtis, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Sam Curtis (’24) is from Wallingford, Conn., majoring in human and organizational development and French and minoring in data science in Peabody College. He was previously Assistant Sports Editor and Sports Copy Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, he cheers on the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers and Leeds United. Outside of sports, he enjoys traveling and learning about history and philosophy. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Anish Mago
Anish Mago, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
Grace Hall
Grace Hall, Deputy Sports Editor
Grace Hall (‘26) is from Belfast, Maine, and is majoring in public policy studies in the College of Arts and Science. Grace is also the vice-president of the Vanderbilt Club Field Hockey Team. When not writing for The Hustler you can find her watching the Boston Red Sox or Celtics, reading or at a concert. You can reach her at [email protected].
Henry Oelhafen
Henry Oelhafen, Deputy Sports Editor
Henry Oelhafen (‘26) is a student in Peabody College majoring in human and organizational development and minoring in business. Henry grew up as a Vanderbilt sports fan and loves to talk about both professional and amateur golf. In addition to writing, he loves to play golf with friends, hike and try new restaurants. He can be reached at [email protected].
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Non-revenue Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]
David Hernandez
David Hernandez, Lead Sports Analyst
David Hernandez (‘26) is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences double majoring in political science and law, history and society with a minor in communication studies. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing basketball, catching up on his favorite shows and mourning the tragedy that is New York sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
Savannah Walske
Savannah Walske, Staff Photographer
Savannah Walske (‘26) is from San Francisco and is double majoring in psychology and Spanish in the College of Arts and Science. When not shooting for The Hustler, you can find her playing guitar, photographing pretty Californian landscapes and obsessing over her dog. You can contact her at [email protected].
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