Every story needs a villain. Fans both Hog and otherwise find a compelling bad guy in Billy Gillespie. But we should resist the urge to jump into a shrill and irrational rivalry with the man, for any number of reasons.
If the admittedly slick and toothy Gillespie wouldn't have spurned our blundering advances last year, we'd likely view him as the second coming. Now that we've found ourselves on the wrong side of a coaching “scandal,” we should be less prone to seeing every move a coach makes as part of some grand design. But most of all, if we can drop such an unremittingly ugly and stingingly winnable game during Gillespie's first year at the helm of one of college basketball's most storied programs, we're liable to eat a lot of crow down the line when he finally gets the Wildcats firing on all cylinders.
(For the record, a bad call might suck the wind out of a rally, but spotty officiating can only help a bad team win. It can't make a good team lose.)
Still, all of us would have relished beating Gillespie in Coach Pelphrey's old digs. That we also worry about frenzied Kentucky fans poaching our own up-and-comer only lent the whole exercise a perverse undercurrent of dread. In hindsight, any anxiety about Mr. Basketball defecting to his old Kentucky home would seem a tad premature, no matter the classy reception.
Tuesday morning, I'm going to err on the side of pessimism and guess that Alabama beat us on Wednesday night, considering our, ahem, consistently sporadic road performance and that weak overtime victory over the Tide at home earlier this season. I'd be happy to be wrong, but a team that can lose the way we did on Saturday can't be cut any slack. I actually think we're ready to move Steven Hill to point and Gary Ervin under the glass for all the good they're doing us in their respective positions.
If we in fact lost to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, we're left having to win out in order to clinch a spot in the tournament. And the outlook is fairly grim. Vandy needs every quality SEC win it can get after the conference slide that followed its 16-game opening winning spree. When they come to Bud Walton this weekend, they'll bring along one of the best wingmen in the conference, Shan Foster, along with the very physical 250-pound freshman center A.J Ogilvy. Both Foster and Ogilvy played major roles in Vandy's walloping of Kentucky a few weeks back — the biggest conference loss in Wildcats history.
The Hogs are just athletic and talented enough to make the (very) late season run they need. Essentially the same team finished last season in that fashion. But without a big win against one of the best teams in our conference, this year's all but over on Sunday morning. And the seniors on this squad have more than one clock ticking.