Vanderbilt will host some of the SEC's best teams and brightest stars when league play gets underway at Memorial Gym. The Commodores will get a pair of games against probable NCAA Tournament teams Kentucky and Texas A&M, but they'll also host longtime rival Florida and a Ben Simmons-led LSU team in Nashville this winter.
Vanderbilt basketball is coming off their best season in three years after running to the NIT quarterfinals last March. The 'Dores will have a big target on their backs as a veteran team in the middle of a rebuilding SEC. ESPN's Eamonn Brennan rates them as the second-best team in the league.
They'll have to fight and claw to earn or exceed that title. Brennan's early top-25 has only four Southeastern Conference teams in its ranks. The Commodores will play the other three ranked programs a minimum of five times this season. That's on top of a non-conference schedule that includes some steep competition at the Maui Invitational. In all, seven of the 14 teams Vanderbilt will play outside of the SEC could be ranked at some point this winter.
A quick look at the unbalanced side of the schedule suggests that the Commodores may have been unlucky when they drew their 2015-16 league slate. Vanderbilt used to play each team in the SEC East twice while alternating home and away contests with teams from the West to make up a 16 game schedule each year. Now that the conference has expanded to 14 teams the East/West divisions have been shelved, leaving some mystery about which teams the 'Dores will face twice each season. Vanderbilt is guaranteed a home/home series against Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida every year from 2016 on, but the other two teams they'll get intimately familiar with aren't revealed until the league's schedules go live.
Teams Vanderbilt plays twice (2014-15 KenPom Ranking): Kentucky (1), Tennessee (89), Florida (45), Auburn (147), Texas A&M (62)
Average 2014-15 Rank: 68.8
Teams Vanderbilt plays once: LSU (44), Arkansas (29), South Carolina (67), Alabama (57), Ole Miss (50), Missouri (214), Mississippi State (179), Georgia (39)
Average 2014-15 Rank: 84.9
Of course, those prior year rankings aren't dead-on indicative of how these teams will perform this winter. Auburn and Texas A&M will be better. Kentucky will be a little bit worse. Florida, now without basketball wizard Billy Donovan, may be a lot worse. LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia will all have to replace their leading scorers and hope that the four or five star recruits they've got coming to campus can contribute immediately. The SEC will be a bit of a crapshoot this winter, but at this point that's a tradition as storied as cocktail parties in Jacksonville, FL.
Here's the full 2015-16 SEC schedule.
|1/9/2016||at South Carolina|
|2/4/2016||vs. Texas A&M|
|2/6/2016||at Ole Miss|
|2/16/2016||at Mississippi State|
|3/6/2016||at Texas A&M|