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NCAA Tournament Watch: Don't Laugh, Vandy Can Still Do This

No, really. Vanderbilt still has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night's loss to Mississippi State, we thought Vanderbilt's chances of making the NCAA Tournament were practically finished.

Further reflection says that's not the case.  Or, at the very least, Vanderbilt still has an opportunity to play their way into the tournament.  A few weeks ago, I posited that Vanderbilt needed to go 2-2 in the four-game stretch that started with the Kentucky debacle; then 5-0 through the five-game stretch that just ended; and then 2-2 in the four-game stretch to end the season.

By that logic, since Vanderbilt has actually gone 5-4 in the last nine games, Vanderbilt needs to win their last four, right?  Eh... maybe.

For one thing, that line of thinking was that we needed to do that to have a bid locked up going into the SEC Tournament.  If we're planning on not being one-and-out in the SEC Tournament, though, we might just need to go 3-1.  Or hell, maybe even 2-2.

For another thing, some things have changed over the last few weeks.  Louisville announced that it was banning itself from the postseason, for one thing.  Second, while we fret over Vanderbilt's resume, comparing it to the actual resumes of bubble teams should tell you that the Commodores are actually in decent shape.  For instance, here's how Vanderbilt's resume compares to that of Seton Hall, currently projected as a 10-seed in the Bracket Matrix:

Vanderbilt Seton Hall
RPI 62 41
SOS 53 72
NCSOS 38 246
Road (2-8) (5-3)
Neutral (2-1) (2-1)
vs. Top 25 (1-5) (0-3)
vs. Top 50 (3-7) (1-4)
vs. Top 100 (5-9) (7-7)
vs. Top 150 (9-10) (9-7)
vs. Sub-150 (7-1) (9-0)
Last 12 (8-4) (7-5)
KenPom 29 34

Do you notice a big difference there?  If we want to put on our gold-tinted glasses, Vanderbilt has played a better schedule (particularly in non-conference play) and has more Top 50 wins.  Seton Hall does have a slightly better record against the top 100 and has avoided bad losses (whereas Vanderbilt has that eyesore of a loss to Mississippi State, and also a road loss to Arkansas isn't helping), but depending on how the Selection Committee wants to weight the various factors, you could make a case for Vanderbilt over Seton Hall.

And that's a team that's projected as a 10-seed, above the last four in who go to Dayton.  We may end up being pleasantly surprised on Selection Sunday is all I'm saying.

Plus, there are two more factors that work in Vanderbilt's favor:

  • The Selection Committee will give us some consideration due to the Luke Kornet injury.
  • Three of Vanderbilt's four remaining games are against RPI Top 50 teams.

So, the good news is that Vanderbilt has an opportunity to improve their profile between now and the SEC Tournament; the bad news is that, well, Vanderbilt has to actually win those games.  The Commodores are 2-8 on the road this year, and while the Kentucky game is at home, with the way the Wildcats are playing that will be a difficult game to win (but, obviously, with massive potential rewards if they do.)

Given the actual composition of the bubble, I think Vanderbilt will be fine if they go 3-1 to finish the regular season, provided they don't pick up a bad loss in their first game of the SEC Tournament.  If they go 2-2?  Well, there's a chance -- Vanderbilt may still be just fine if they can win their first game of the SEC Tournament, but they might want to pick up another win just to be sure.