The Commodores restored a tiny bit of their luster by rolling over Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State, Manhattan, Mercer, and Tennessee State; enough to make one AP voter include Vanderbilt at #25 in their poll. Unfortunately, this writer was the only one that felt that way, and the squad got zero additional votes in either the AP or Coaches Poll. Still, staying on the radar is a big step forward in keeping the team relevant when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
Arguably the biggest test of the season to date comes Saturday. A home win against a formerly ranked Florida squad would be a nice resume builder, but would likely get downplayed by the media - Florida is fading at the end of their OOC schedule (a loss to South Alabama to rival Vandy's WKU loss), and Vandy's homecourt advantage at Memorial has been a big factor in their recent wins over Florida.
While a win here wouldn't put the team back in the rankings, it would garner the team a few more votes and some respect in the Coaches' poll. Afternoon games at Memorial have been kryptonite for Billy Donovan in years past, and a raucous crowd can be a dangerous ally. Florida has a similar makeup to the Commodores - talented athletes and great singular players, but not a great team dynamic - and if the crowd can rattle UF while pumping up Vandy's guys, it could be the key to a victory.
As for the quickly approaching future, the bracket experts at ESPN and Sports Illustrated differ in their opinions of where Vandy stacks up in the NCAA Tournament. Check out a breakdown after the jump.
Joe Lunardi, author of Bracketology over at espn.com, puts the 'Dores on the happy side of the bubble as one of the last teams in the bracket. The reward is a 12 seed and opening round game against Florida State. This would fit given the recent mediocrity of Vanderbilt's early schedule - what looked like quality wins against Arizona and Missouri have been tainted by their mediocre records, and currently the squad's only RPI Top 50 win is against St. Mary's. Conversely, Western Kentucky has continued their high level of play and as a result the 'Dores count zero bad losses against teams outside the Top 100. As a result, there's very little attention grabbing data to create arguments for the team in their non-conference slate - and unless Illinois or Arizona picks it up, or WKU tanks, it'll probably stay that way in the eyes of the selection committee.
Andy Glockner's Bracket Watch at SI.com paints a different picture. While Vanderbilt still merits consideration, they fall outside the tournament field. Given the team's struggles and lack of cohesion, this is understandable. Until the Commodores can string together victories over legitimate opponents, they'll have a difficult time making a case to go dancing in March. Fortunately, the SEC schedule will line up several solid competitors - all this team needs is to knock them down. Easier said than done.