Vanderbilt needs a high profile win to work its way back into NCAA Tournament consideration. Fortunately for the Commodores, the nation's no. 8 team is headed to Nashville this week.
The 'Dores are a middling 12-9 this season with only one win over an RPI top 25 team. However, that victory came last week over Florida on the same court that Texas A&M will travel to on Thursday. Vanderbilt won a slopfest that night, but they'll have to be better to topple an Aggie team that has risen to the top of the Southeastern Conference standings.
A&M has maximized its talent this winter. After being picked to finish third in the league by the Associated Press, the Aggies have leaped to the top of the standings behind the backcourt play of Jalen Jones, Danuel House, and Alex Caruso along with the uber-efficient frontcourt scoring of Tyler Davis. TAMU's devastating inside-out game has helped the team record quality wins over Texas, Gonzaga, Baylor, Florida, and Iowa State.
Vanderbilt needs to derail that scoring if they want to notch their biggest win of 2015-16. The Commodores are just 1-7 against RPI top 50 teams, and that lack of quality wins has been the anchor holding down their postseason resume. Another defeat on Thursday won't completely sink their NCAA Tournament hopes, but it will represent yet another wasted opportunity for a signature victory.
So how can Vandy pull off the upset? Here's how Arkansas did it last week.
Texas A&M (18-3, 7-1 SEC, ranked No. 8 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)
Well, this is familiar. The Aggies lost a tight game in Fayetteville when Arkansas took an early lead and then fended off a late comeback from a favored visiting team. But while Vanderbilt fans can comfort themselves with replays of Damian Jones' game-tying dunk, the Texas A&M faithful can only grumble about missed opportunities and that weird Walton Arena magic that makes mediocre Arkansas teams able to slay hardwood giants.
Point of emphasis: Create chaos. Arkansas forced 21 Aggie turnovers in their upset win, including 10 from TAMU's starting guards. Those mistakes led to 13 Razorback points, but a stronger offense could double that output - or more. If Wade Baldwin is back to full strength, expect him to be very opportunistic against Texas A&M's backcourt.
Keys to the Game: