Vanderbilt's loss to Murray State last week in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament immediately became something of a Rorschach test for Commodores' fans who had such high expectations following a disappointing football season.
There's seemingly countless ways to interpret what happened.
For example, maybe the defeat against a 13-seed out of the Ohio Valley Conference was just another game in what was one of the most unlikely opening weekends in tournament history.
After all, a similar thing happened to Georgetown. And Villanova. And Kansas.
If teams like that — all former champions — can be upset, it's only natural to expect the same thing can happen to Vanderbilt, a school that never has gotten past the third round under the tournament's current format.
That doesn't take the sting out of the fact that twice in a row now VU has lost its opening game as a No. 4 seed, but at least in this case it offers a means to justify the loss for those desperate to find one.
Another possibility is to focus on the big picture.
This was, in fact, the third time in four years the Commodores earned a spot in the field of 65. Only once previously have they made so many appearances in such a short time. The other time — way back in 1988, 1989 and 1991 — a Sweet Sixteen appearance was followed by two first-round exits, and that pattern has been repeated this time.
The good news is that this year's team got there with just one senior on the roster, which means there is every reason to expect they will be good enough to go back in 2011 for an unprecedented fourth bid in five years. Provided everybody who's eligible comes back, that is ... which brings us to our next thought.
It's possible to interpret this latest first-round ouster as the end of the A.J. Ogilvy era at Vanderbilt.
Remember when the 6-foot-11 Aussie was a freshman and there was talk that he would be a one-and-done player similar to Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley and Kevin Love?
We all know now that was a silly notion. The fact is, though, that Ogilvy is not getting any better, so maybe he ought to forgo his final year of eligibility, move on to the NBA and see what that league can do with him.
His scoring dropped for the second straight year to 13.4 points per game, which was down two whole points from the previous season and almost four from when he was a freshman. Accordingly, his shooting also dropped for the second straight year to barely better than 50 percent.
Ogilvy's rebounds, after a slight increase from his freshman to sophomore years, dipped to a career low of 6.2 per game. He blocked the exact same number of shots as in 2008-09 (one fewer than the previous campaign) despite the fact that he played in four more games.
If ever he was going to dominate a game, it should have been against the undersized Racers. Instead, he scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds – both of which were short of his season averages.
Festus Ezeli is nowhere near as accomplished as Ogilvy, but he looks to have an enormous upside. The best way to develop his game is to play him, and that can't happen with Ogilvy in the way.
Of course, one also can gaze deep into this defeat and wonder where sophomore forward Jeffery Taylor went.
One of the team's top scorers and best defenders throughout much of the season, he pulled something of a disappearing act down the stretch. Only five times in the first 28 games did Taylor fail to score at least 10 points. Then four times in the last five he was limited to single digits.
Part of the reason he managed a meager nine points against Murray State was the fact that he was in foul trouble most of the game. It was a game where athleticism was at a premium, and one of Vanderbilt's most athletic players was not near enough of a factor.
Those are the primary ways to look at what happened, but there are so many more — some positive, some negative.
To name a few: The toughness Brad Tinsley showed playing through a knee injury was evidence he will be able to offset the graduation of Jermaine Beal; Vanderbilt simply never will make a deep tournament run; John Jenkins' ability to make baskets in the second half was a harbinger of great things to come for him; coach Kevin Stallings can't properly motivate his team for a seemingly sub-par tournament opponent.
On and on it goes.
Chances are, though, that the moment the Racers' Danero Thomas made that jumper, many Vanderbilt fans felt the need for some therapy.
A good first step would be to look at that shot, that game, the just-completed season and decide what they see. That will tell them something about themselves and what it means to be a Vanderbilt fan.
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