Even the bright spots in Vanderbilt's 2012-2013 season don't shine for long.
Just as it looked like Vandy had turned a corner with an 18-point win over Arkansas, the Commodores were beaten back into their hole by arch-rival Tennessee on Wednesday night. Their usually-stout defense gave up 40 points in the first half, while their shaky offense put up only 46 points against a struggling Tennessee team. That win gave UT the season sweep over the 'Dores and stripped Vanderbilt of one of their few remaining chances to make a statement in 2013.
Vandy is now 3-8 in conference play and looking at long odds to finish at (or even near) .500 against SEC foes. They can start that trek with a big win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Vanderbilt's late-season schedule is a mix of low-level and upper-tier SEC squads. Games with Kentucky and Florida will be challenges, but they're mitigated with matchups against teams like South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn. This team has the opportunity to enter the SEC Tournament as a possible 7-8 seed if they can rally to a strong finish.
That begins with the Aggies, a streaky team that has been tough to predict in 2012-2013. They've beaten teams like Missouri and Kentucky and lost to opponents like LSU and the soon-to-be-reviewed Southern. Can Vandy tack another bad loss on A&M's resume? Let's look at how the Aggies played when they were at their worst back in December.
Texas A&M ( SEC, Unranked)
Other Losses: vs. Florida, vs. Oklahoma, vs. Kentucky, vs. Saint Louis, at Alabama, at LSU, vs. Georgia, at Georgia
- Capitalize on second chances. Southern pulled down more offensive rebounds than A&M despite being undersized, but wasted many of their opportunities to get second-chance points. The Jaguars had seven offensive rebounds but missed put-backs and lay-ups as they only converted on two of their follow-ups. Vanderbilt hasn't been especially good on the offensive glass, but they'll have an opportunity to shine against an Aggie team that plays a similarly small game as they do. Making the most of these extra chances will give the 'Dores an advantage at home.
- Make your free throws. Southern only went to the line eight times - but they made all eight of those attempts. That included the four huge free throws that pushed this team to the win with under a minute to play. Vandy hasn't been hot garbage from the line lately - 16-23 against Arkansas, 14-19 against LSU - so there's a chance that Vanderbilt may have exorcised some of the early-season demons that doomed them from the charity stripe.
- Defend the perimeter. Elston Turner Jr. is one of the SEC's most prolific gunners. He's putting up six three-pointers per game, and while he's only connecting on 38% of those, he's shown up in a big way from behind the arc in A&M's wins. He had six threes in a victory over Kentucky, five in a blowout over Northwestern State, and seven in the Aggies' most recent win against Ole Miss. He didn't hit a single three against Southern, though, and keeping him scoreless from long range could be the key to a Vanderbilt victory on Saturday.