This week's SEC Tournament draw has been seen as a blessing for the Commodores. With the number two spot in the East locked up, they're sure to avoid the SEC's best teams until a potential match-up in the league finals. If favorites hold serve in the tournament, Vandy would face Arkansas/Georgia and then Mississippi State before taking on Kentucky - and most pundits predict that the 'Dores will make it there with ease. However, though having an easier path to the finals is helpful, if Vanderbilt can't win it all, it might all be for nothing.
Beating teams in the SEC's middle tier hasn't done much for Vanderbilt's ranking in 2010. Despite their 12-4 SEC record, their only significant jumps/slides in the standings have come after wins against Tennessee or losses to unranked teams like Georgia and South Carolina. Beating bubble teams like Mississippi and Florida on the road have done little to boost this team's credibility in the Coaches' eyes. Let's look at the poll over the past six weeks:
|12||Def No. 14 Tennessee 85-76, Lost to No. 1 Kentucky 85-72||+3|
|13||Def Mississippi State 75-72, Lost to Georgia 72-58||-4|
|14||Def No. 12 Tennessee 90-71, Def LSU 77-69||+4|
|15||Def. Mississippi 82-78, Lost to Kentucky 56-58||-1|
|16||Def. Georgia 96-94, Def. Arkansas 89-72||+1|
|17||Def Florida 64-60, Lost to South Carolina 77-73||-4|
While the drops in week 13 and 17 drop are understandable, it's apparent that the voters in the Coaches' poll don't hold SEC wins in high regard unless they come against the conference's elite. Wins against Mississippi State and Florida help balance out losses to South Carolina and Georgia in the fans' eyes, but the pollsters clearly don't see it that way. Losses to Kentucky aren't as destructive, but in a week where the 'Dores went on the road and beat a team that needed a marquee victory and then lost a heartbreaker to the #2 Wildcats, they were still dropped a spot in the rankings.
This provides evidence that even if Vanderbilt cruises past Arkansas/Georgia and Mississippi State on the way to a close loss in the Conference Finals, they could still watch their stock drop in the Coaches' Poll. The two opening games won't give the 'Dores much, if anything, in terms of a resume booster, and it stands to reason that unless they take home the SEC Championship trophy on Sunday, they'll be looking at a 5/6 seed in the NCAA Tournament instead of a 3/4.
In terms of seeding, though the selection committee isn't made up of pollsters from the ESPN/USA Today Top 25, it does consist of Athletic Directors and Commissioners from universities and conferences across America. It's not a stretch to think that their lines of reasoning would sway closer to the coaches' rather than the Associated Press. If this is the case, then Vanderbilt's conference transgressions could cost them big time on Selection Sunday.
As if the SEC Tournament wasn't important enough in the first place, the Commodores now have to know that this is an all-or-nothing affair. There are no moral victories in a bracket where a 2-1 record only proves that they can't get it done when it counts the most. Vanderbilt will have to leave the Bridgestone Arena with a trophy in their hands and the nets in their back pockets, or face the wrath of the selection committee come Sunday night. Anything less than a championship has to be considered a disappointment.