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NCAA Tournament Watch: Vanderbilt Is (Probably) In

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Entering the last game of the regular season, Vanderbilt suddenly finds itself in strong position for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the final weekend of the regular season and the SEC Tournament, Vanderbilt may be playing for NCAA Tournament seeding.

That's a sentence I didn't think I would be writing two weeks ago.  At that point, Vanderbilt was 15-11, 7-6 in the SEC, and had just one marquee win (over Texas A&M) to go along with bad losses at Arkansas and Mississippi State.  Since then, Vanderbilt hasn't lost, the Commodores have picked up another marquee win (over Kentucky) to go along with completing a season sweep of fellow bubble team Florida.  On Tuesday night, they beat Tennessee -- which was important because the Volunteers would decidedly qualify as a bad loss.

As of today, March 3, Vanderbilt is in 103 of 108 brackets at the Bracket Matrix, with an average seed of 9.77, and ahead of six other at-large teams.  If that is to be believed, then Vanderbilt would need to be passed by at least seven other teams between now and Selection Sunday to miss the tournament.

What's more, the final game of the regular season -- at Texas A&M on Saturday -- is a game that can't hurt the Commodores.  If Vanderbilt loses, well, that's to be expected.  If Vanderbilt wins?  Then I would say that Vanderbilt is practically a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

And even if Vanderbilt loses, there aren't likely to be that many teams who could pass them.  A loss by Wichita State in the MVC Tournament would hurt as that would take an at-large bid off the board.  But there are only so many bubble teams that will make a run in their conference tournament.  For every bubble team below Vanderbilt that makes a run to the finals of their conference tournament, there's likely to be at least one that loses early, perhaps to a bad team.

A Vanderbilt loss on Saturday would, in all likelihood, make the Commodores the #5 seed in the SEC Tournament.  I will have more on this tomorrow, but that would probably mean facing somebody like Auburn or Mississippi State in the first game of the SEC Tournament -- and that would be a game that Vanderbilt can't afford to lose.  But at this point, it's fair to think Vanderbilt just needs to win Saturday or win their first game of the SEC Tournament and we can talk about what seed we'll get in the NCAA Tournament.

By the way, for everyone who thinks this season has been a disappointment, Joe Lunardi had Vanderbilt as a 9-seed in his original preseason bracket back in August.  Somehow Joe moved Vanderbilt up to a 5-seed -- without playing a game -- in his preseason bracket in November, as expectations for the Commodores got ramped up in the few months preceding the regular season; but Vanderbilt winding up in an 8/9 game is what should have been expected.