Let's face it, we know bad out of conference (OOC) losses here at Vanderbilt. Appalachian State in 2007? Bad loss. Furman that same year? Bad loss. Western Kentucky this year? Well...the jury's out on that one, but still an upset loss.
Fortunately, the WKU (RPI #104) loss is far from the worst the SEC has seen in 2009-2010. Headed into the tough part of the schedule, we'll take a look at what caused Vanderbilt's conference rivals to tumble, and if the Commodores can exploit some of the problems that led to these upsets. Let's start with Vandy's first two SEC opponents:
Other Losses: vs. Richmond, vs. Syracuse
The previously ranked Gators started out hot, dropping former #2 Michigan State before hitting a three game skid with a minor upset to mid-major Richmond and then a major surprise against the South Alabama Jaguars. Florida has beaten BCS-conference opponents Rutgers (weak), Florida State (solid), and N.C. State (jury's out) on their way to a solid record and some nationwide respect. Despite the recent slump, they pose a dangerous threat to the 'Dores, and a victory either way Saturday would be fodder for a NCAA tournament resume.
Key to destruction:
South Alabama is a gritty team. Anyone who remembers their 2 OT loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville in 2007 can tell you that. Against Florida, they used this grit to knock the home team out of their rhythm and forced the Gators into bad shots. While USA's shooting wasn't pretty from inside the arc, Florida's was even worse (.403 to .368, respectively) - and their numbers are bolstered by the shooting of Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus, who were arguably UF's only effective players on offense. Additionally, despite being undersized, the Jaguars negated Florida's size advantage through physical play and tough rebounding.
If the Commodores can bully the Gators into bad shots and translate this strength into rebounding position, they'll not only win, but they'll go a long way in answering the lingering questions about this team's toughness (see Davis, Seth). South Alabama may have exposed a key weakness in Florida's squad - or maybe the Gators were just having a bad night - but the gameplan should be the same; play tough, work harder inside, and use this strength to set up your shooters.
Other Losses: vs. Florida St., vs. Purdue, vs. Kansas St.
Alabama's four losses can be attributed to the strength of their OOC schedule. They've played four teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 (their three losses and a win against Michigan), and have played pretty much to expectations for the year. Their worst loss was against a strong Cornell team that's blossomed into a NCAA tournament regular and took #1 Kansas to the wire last night. With a RPI rank of 67, it's tough to call a 4-point loss "bad," but it's the worst the team has seen so far. 'Bama could prove to be a stout contender in the SEC West, especially with home-and-home series with LSU, Auburn, and Arkansas looming.
Key to destruction:
Cornell won through their perimeter presence, shooting well from 3-pt range (10-18), and 50% from the field. Though they were out-rebounded, the Big Red were able to control the pace of the game and found open shots. If Vanderbilt can combine ball movement and three point shooting with tough interior play, they can build on the formula that the Ivy League school used to win in Tuscaloosa. Even if Ogilvy and Festus end up in foul trouble and the team can't control the glass, this is a Crimson Tide team that can be beat on the perimeter; fortunately, we've got quite a bit of talent there. If A.J. can't take this game over, then Jermaine Beal will have to if the Commodores are going to win.