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NCAA Tournament Watch: Vanderbilt Does No Harm

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We're only four weeks away from Selection Sunday now. In the last week, Vanderbilt survived two potential land mines; now, there's another one coming this week.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt's NCAA Tournament Resume

(All RPI numbers are from rpiforecast.com and are current as of February 14.)

RPI: 55

SOS: 32

Non-conference SOS: 26

Record vs. RPI Top 25: 1-5

Record vs. RPI Top 50: 3-7

Record vs. RPI Top 100: 4-9

Record vs. RPI sub-100: 11-1

The RPI numbers are a moving target.  Over the past couple of weeks, Alabama's four-game winning streak has pulled the Tide up to #37 in the RPI, giving Vanderbilt a third quality win on its resume; on the other hand, Arkansas has fallen out of the top 100 down to #119.  It's not entirely clear whether the NCAA considers a "bad loss" to be one outside the top 100 or just sub-150 losses, but either way, a loss to Mississippi State (#181 in the RPI) on Tuesday night would be damaging to Vanderbilt's tournament chances.

As a quick aside, both Joe Lunardi and Dave Ommen currently have Vanderbilt just narrowly out of the field; in fact, Ommen as of Sunday has Vanderbilt as the very last team out of the field.  The second to last team out is Alabama.  The odd thing about this is that it's hard to argue that Vanderbilt has a stronger profile than Alabama: at least per the NCAA's stated criteria, the Tide have a better RPI and SOS than Vanderbilt, and also have four wins against the top 50, with two of those coming away from home (all three of Vanderbilt's top 50 wins have come at home.)  The only thing I can really think of is that Vanderbilt is about 50 spots higher in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, which aren't an official Selection Committee criterion but are a decent proxy for the so-called "eye test."  Still, if we're just going off RPI-based metrics, what exactly is the argument for Vanderbilt being ahead of Alabama?

Both the past week and the coming week are about maintenance.  Vanderbilt needed to beat Missouri and Auburn (and did) because the Commodores' profile is thin enough that they can't afford a bad loss to either team.  This week is going to be the same: Vanderbilt needs to beat Mississippi State in Starkville because, regardless of whether the Bulldogs are actually a bad team, the RPI says that they are.  Georgia, who comes to Nashville on Saturday, is #67 in the RPI, so a loss to the Bulldogs wouldn't hurt too much... but Vanderbilt still needs wins, and a loss to Georgia probably removes any margin for error the Commodores will have in the final two weeks of the season.

The math for Vanderbilt hasn't changed a whole lot.  Go 4-2 in the last three weeks of the regular season, and (depending on who the first opponent is in the SEC Tournament) pick up at least one win in the SEC Tournament, and Vanderbilt should be fine.  Going 3-3 down the stretch would have Vanderbilt entering the SEC Tournament at 18-13 -- which might be good enough with a win or two more, but Vanderbilt will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday with that profile.