College basketball season has been underway for almost two months, but Saturday the ESPN spotlight will shift college hoops into another gear with the year’s first showing of ESPN’s College GameDay.
The eight-week show will begin its seventh season with the college basketball world having an opportunity to watch Vanderbilt’s men’s and women’s teams take on intrastate rival Tennessee in Knoxville. Vanderbilt’s men’s team will play Tennessee at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN and the Commodore women’s team will face the Lady Vols at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN.
The appearance on ESPN College GameDay will be the first for Vanderbilt’s basketball programs and will mark the first time the show has originated from a site that has featured a men’s and women’s game played in the same day. GameDay is new to Vanderbilt’s basketball programs, but not to Vanderbilt. In 2008, the football team hosted the football version of College GameDay against Auburn.
For Vanderbilt’s women’s team (12-5, 3-1 SEC), the national television platform provides women’s basketball with a rare opportunity to perform on the brightest stage. Vanderbilt’s game against the Lady Vols (16-2, 4-0 SEC) will be just the second women’s game to air on ESPN’s College GameDay. The first was last year’s game between UConn and Notre Dame.
“I think it is a special event and we are proud to have our program represent Vanderbilt on a national stage and in one of the best environments that you could possibly play women’s basketball in,” Head Coach Melanie Balcomb said.
The opportunity is also not lost on Vanderbilt’s players.
“It is really a breakthrough for the women’s game in general,” senior guard Jence Rhoads said. “Last year UConn had it against Notre Dame and now we get to play in it against Tennessee. It is going to be a great atmosphere. It gives us a chance to get in front of people who don’t get to see us play.”
For many Commodores, those people will be friends and family who are unable to make the trip to Nashville to watch a Vanderbilt team that’s roster of 14 players hails from 11 different states.
“It is pretty special, especially for all of our friends and family who don’t usually get to see us play,” senior forward Hannah Tuomi said. “This will give them that chance and it will give our program great exposure.”
For the Commodores, that exposure couldn’t come at a much better time for either of Vanderbilt’s teams. The men are coming off a big win over Georgia on Wednesday and the women have won three straight league games.
However, the women will be playing at a place that has not been friendly to them. Vanderbilt is 0-25 at Tennessee, but the last two games at Thompson-Boling Arena have been decided by single digits.
Even though the team had just one day to prepare for Saturday after playing at Tuscaloosa on Thursday, you can be assured the Commodores have been ready for this moment since GameDay was announced way back in August.
“We are excited about the game and have been looking forward to the opportunity,” Rhoads said. “This is something we will remember for a long time, and it is special to be able to share it with our men’s team in front of broadcasters that we are used to just seeing on T.V.”