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NCAA Tournament Watch: There Are Only So Many Teams Who Can Pass Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt lost at Texas A&M on Saturday, but that didn't seem to affect the Commodores' standing on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt's loss at Texas A&M on Saturday was, at first glance, just another in a season of missed opportunities.

But given that the Commodores were well ahead of the cut line going into the weekend, "missed opportunity" just means that Vanderbilt remains on the 9- or 10-line after the weekend.  SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean has the Commodores as a 9-seed today, while Dave Ommen has Vanderbilt as a 10-seed.  Importantly, both Dobbertean and Ommen have Vanderbilt sitting ahead of Wichita State, whose loss to Northern Iowa in the MVC semifinals threw the Shockers into the at-large pool.  But they're behind Vanderbilt at this point, and aside from upsets in the major conference tournaments, there are few opportunities for bid thieves to emerge.

Ommen has Vanderbilt as the sixth team ahead of the cut line, and a look at who's behind them should offer a glimpse into how secure Vanderbilt's spot in the field might be right now: Cincinnati, Wichita State, Connecticut, St. Bonaventure, and VCU.

Wichita State, of course, is already done playing.  Cincinnati and UConn play each other in the American Conference quarterfinals on Thursday -- meaning it's not possible for both to make a run and secure a bid.  Equally important is the fact that the American's #1 seed -- Temple -- is hardly a lock for the tournament, so should either of those teams win the AAC, there's a good chance that it would come at Temple's expense.  (The same could be said for Houston or Tulsa, both of whom are currently out of the field.  Houston is unlikely to be an at-large team, while Tulsa has an iffy case without a run in the conference tournament.)  St. Bonaventure and VCU both face no-win games in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, and then would face each other in the semifinals.

Currently, the first four teams out of the field appear to be Tulsa, Gonzaga, Florida, and Michigan, in some order.  There's some danger with the last two, as both will face their conference's #1 seed (Texas A&M and Indiana) should they win their first game, which isn't a given in either case, but both have an opportunity to make a case for themselves.  Gonzaga can maybe get in with a loss in the WCC finals to St. Mary's, but the Zags may need to win the automatic bid -- and there's a good chance that would just cannibalize the Gaels, whose at-large case is iffy at best.  Tulsa was discussed above, but the Golden Hurricane's chances of making a case for themselves are limited at best.

The short version of all this is that Vanderbilt will probably lock up an NCAA Tournament bid just by beating Tennessee or Auburn in their first game of the SEC Tournament.  It's not so much that the committee would be impressed with a win over either team, but a loss to either would move Vanderbilt down the pecking order.  If the Commodores just maintain their resume as is, meaning not picking up a bad loss that moves them closer to the cut line, there are only so many teams that can pass the Commodores.