QUIT STARING AT LOOSE BALLS I SWEAR TO GOD
There's not much good to take out of yesterday's loss to Tennessee. Vanderbilt got outplayed, outhustled, and outshot on their way to a seven-point loss that shouldn't have even been that close. It was a disappointing follow up on a big Tuesday win over Florida.
The only consolation is that they'll likely get to see these Volunteers again next week.
Vanderbilt fell to the third seed in the SEC Tournament by virtue of a 10-6 record in conference play. Tennessee, on the strength of a pair of wins over 10-6 Florida and a season split with the 'Dores, took the third seed. If the two teams win their opening game matchups in the first round of postseason action, they'll meet again on Saturday in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
This means that the Commodores will be on the opposite side of the bracket from both #1 Kentucky and #16 Florida when the tournament begins. While a potential showdown with UT is a big threat, the Volunteers are a more manageable opponent for this team than either of the previous two squads. Cuonzo Martin's team proved that they could take it to the 'Dores. They won by capitalizing on a lack of intensity on the Vanderbilt end. If these two meet again, Vandy will be more dialed in than they were on Saturday.
And, holy crap, did they look bad yesterday. Lance Goulbourne was the only starter to shoot better than 33 percent from the field. Tennessee beat this team to every 50/50 ball and killed them with second chances through offensive rebounds. The toughness and fortitude from the Florida game was gone. When the Vols gave this team opportunities to retake the lead in the second half, Vandy had no response. Shaky jumpers and sloppy play kept this team from sustaining any momentum at a capacity Thompson-Boling Arena.
John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli, and Jeffery Taylor, a trio that average 47 points per game between them, were held to 34 points on 12-37 shooting. The 'Dores suffered through a -12 rebounding disadvantage and let freshman Jarnell Stokes destroy them while fighting off the flu. Stokes drank Ezeli's milkshake, finishing with 11 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks. His presence kept Vandy from getting anything working inside, and the Commodores couldn't pick up their shooting in time to right the ship.
The loss dropped Vanderbilt to 21-10 on the season and slowed what had been a solid ascent up the selection committee's S-Curve for the NCAA Tournament. The 'Dores are fighting to earn a six seed or higher in the tourney and fight their way to a better path to the Final Four. Losing to a rejuvenated Tennessee team didn't help - but it didn't hurt much either. In fact, it may have helped them get a better matchup on their way to the SEC Tournament title game. For a team that has historically struggled in the conference's postseason play, they'll need every advantage that they can get.