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NCAA Tournament Watch: February 8

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At 13-10, 5-5 in the SEC, Vanderbilt's backs are against the wall. What do the Commodores need to do to get to the NCAA Tournament?

FIRE STALLINGS... for wearing this.
FIRE STALLINGS... for wearing this.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

If Vanderbilt had to get a split in the two games last week, well, it went down the way that you would want.

The Commodores' strength of schedule -- currently #14 in the country, according to rpiforecast.com -- and in particular their #24 non-conference SOS have given them a considerable margin of error all season long.  The one thing that's been lacking until recently, however, has been quality wins.  But Vanderbilt picked one of those up on Thursday night with a win over Texas A&M.  That was Vanderbilt's second win against the RPI top 25 in two weeks.

But those two wins, over Texas A&M and Florida, are currently the Commodores' only wins against the RPI top 50.  Now, that could change even if Vanderbilt doesn't pick up another one.  Stony Brook currently sits at #61 in the RPI, and if the Seawolves keep winning -- Ken Pomeroy gives them over 90 percent odds of winning in five of their six remaining regular season games -- they could conceivably wind up in the top 50.

And Vanderbilt does have three more games remaining against teams in the top 50.  A home game against Kentucky on February 27 is sandwiched between road trips to Florida (February 23) and Texas A&M (March 5) in a key stretch to end the season.

First things first, though.  Vanderbilt has ten losses, but the Commodores have not lost to a team outside the RPI top 100 -- Ole Miss, who beat Vanderbilt on Saturday night, is currently #85 in the RPI.  Up next on the schedule are three potential land mines.  Missouri (#202) visits Memorial Gym on Wednesday night, and that's followed by road trips to Auburn (#118) and Mississippi State (#183.)

Can Vanderbilt get to the NCAA Tournament if they lose any of those games?  It's possible -- but the "path of least resistance," so to speak, is to win those three, plus home games against Georgia (February 20) and Tennessee (March 1.)  Win those five games, and the Commodores probably just need to win one of the remaining three games against Florida, Kentucky, and Texas A&M.  There's even an outside shot that Vanderbilt could lose all three of those and still get in, provided that they take care of business in the five games mentioned.

But if there's a slip-up -- and particularly against any of the next three teams, since those would qualify as "bad losses" in the selection committee's world -- Vanderbilt may need to win two of three against Florida, Kentucky, and Texas A&M to feel good about their chances.  So that's why it's imperative that the Commodores take care of business.  It's a bit unfair, since Mississippi State is probably a better team than the RPI (and, well, their record) makes them out to be; but I would not argue that Missouri and Auburn should not be considered bad losses.