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The SEC's Worst Losses: Previewing Vanderbilt at Arkansas

Vanderbilt is in one hell of a slump, but a matchup against 6-7 Arkansas could be the game they need to right their ship.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt is slumping. The Commodores are 3-5 after a 5-0 start to their season and suddenly at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. A loss on Tuesday would secure their spot on the ugly side of the bubble.

Fortunately, they'll get a chance to get off that schneid against an Arkansas team that isn't even the best program in their home state. The Razorbacks have stumbled to a 6-7 start that dropped them behind Arkansas-Little Rock in the college basketball pecking order. They've yet to beat anyone from a mid-major conference or higher and have recorded losses to Mercer and Akron en route to that sub-.500 record.

The one thing Vanderbilt has done well this season is blow out the teams they are supposed to beat (except Stony Brook). Arkansas falls into that category after failing to catch a win in each of their four contests against high-major opponents. Of course, you can't count this team out against Kevin Stallings. The Razorbacks have been Vanderbilt anathema since Stallings took over in 1999. He's gone just 6-13 against them in his Commodore career.

Arkansas (6-7, 0-1 SEC, unranked in either poll and ranked No. 85 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: vs. Mercer (11-3. No. 139 KenPom, No. 93 CBS RPI), 69-66 (OT)
Other Losses: vs. Akron, vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Stanford, at Wake Forest, at Dayton, at Texas A&M

The Razorbacks and Commodores share a pair of common opponents. Each team has lost to Dayton (3-0 against the SEC this season), but Vandy thrived against Wake Forest while Arkansas' second-half comeback against the Demon Deacons fell short. The 'Dores, however, don't have the kind of ink-bleeding loss on their resume that the Hogs stumbled onto back on December 19th.

Mercer held Arkansas to 38 percent shooting on their home floor to notch an upset win that stands as the team's only victory over a major conference opponent in 2015-16. The Bears had only one player taller than 6'6 play more than four minutes in Fayetteville, yet they still out-rebounded the Razorbacks 45-40. That helped them overcome a slow start and some overall awful shooting (36 percent) to regroup for an overtime win.

Point of emphasis: A fast start. How bad were the first 20 minutes of this game? Arkansas and Mercer nearly outscored that first half performance (36 total points) in their five-minute overtime (27). The two teams shot a robust 25 percent from the field and 22 percent from three-point range in a stretch of game film marked "burn after watching." Vanderbilt hasn't had a problem building a first-half lead. However, keeping that advantage is still an issue for the Commodores.

Keys to the Game:

  • Rangy three-point shooting. Mercer's leading two scorers, leading two three-point shooters, and leading two rebounders were the same two guys. Stephon Jelks and Jestin Lewis carried the Bears to victory by draining nine of their 16 three point attempts and pulling down 24 total rebounds. Vanderbilt has the horses to make the first part of that equation a cinch. The second piece? We'll have to get back to you on that one.
  • Boxing out. Mercer didn't have height on their side, but the Bears still managed to pull down 87 percent of the defensive rebounds they had an opportunity to grab and capitalized on every one-in-four offensive rebounding chances. That helped overcome a cold night from the field and created the second chances the team needed to pull off a road win.
  • Using strong performances to overcome Arkansas' depth. The Razorbacks threw everyone they could at Mercer, giving nine different players at least a dozen minutes of court time. The Bears went in a different direction, relying on 37+ minute performances from their top three scorers to fend off Arkansas. Those three players combined for 56 points; no one else on the roster had more than five. Vanderbilt is one of the SEC's deepest programs, but a few dominating performances - especially if Damian Jones can win his matchup at the rim against Moses Kingsley - could push the 'Dores to a house-straightening victory.
  • Make someone other than Moses Kingsley beat you. Kingsley has been great as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks this season. He was on point against Mercer, where he scored 18 points on 50 percent shooting. Unfortunately for him, the rest of his roster made just 34 percent of their field goals.