We’re just a week away from the start of college basketball season, and Joe Lunardi has released his first bracketology of the new season. The Vanderbilt Commodores are in the “First Four Out” of the field of 68 (along with two other SEC teams, Arkansas and Georgia.)
Vanderbilt returns three starters off a team that went 19-14 and lost in last year’s opening round. That suggests that Lunardi sees a minimal dropoff in spite of the losses of Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin IV, both of whom are now playing in the NBA. Perhaps further growth from players like Joe Toye and Jeff Roberson, along with the return of Luke Kornet and Matthew Fisher-Davis, will help make up for the losses of the two stars.
So what about Vanderbilt opponents? Aside from the three SEC teams Lunardi thinks will make the tournament — Kentucky (1-seed, of course), Texas A&M (7-seed), and Florida (8-seed) — a few more Commodore opponents are in the projected field. Marquette, whom Vanderbilt will face in the season opener next Friday, is not projected to make the field but is in the “Next Four Out” (a notch below Vanderbilt.) Belmont (November 15) is in the tournament as a 14-seed. Butler (whom Vanderbilt will face in Las Vegas on November 24) is in as a 9-seed, and potentially Vanderbilt could play projected 2-seed Arizona in Las Vegas as well. Chattanooga (December 17) is projected as a 14-seed, Dayton (December 21) is projected as a 7-seed, and Iowa State (January 28) is also projected as a 7-seed.
That means, not counting the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt could play as many as 12 games against projected NCAA Tournament teams, and four more against teams that are in either the First Four Out or the Next Four Out. So about half of Vanderbilt’s regular season schedule is against potential tournament teams, and that’s not even counting Bucknell and High Point (which both won their respective conferences last year) and MTSU (which made the tournament last year; you might remember that.)
Also, Coach Bryce Drew’s former team is projected to make the tournament as a 12-seed.