Vanderbilt's SEC road losing streak inched up to 14 with the Commodores' 82-75 loss to South Carolina last Saturday, a game that left Vandy loyalists scratching their heads. How the heck can a team that has played so well at home (13-1, wins over ranked Kentucky and Florida teams) have such difficulty scratching out a win on the road?
Here at Vanderbilt, we know all about losing streaks. The football team recently suffered 23-game SEC skid, has lost 18 straight times to Alabama, 21 straight to Tennessee. The men's basketball team ended last year's regular season with nine straight losses, and the program has lost 30 consecutive road games against Kentucky. Even the usually reliable women's basketball program is currently riding a four-game losing streak.
But what makes this 14-game SEC road streak particularly perplexing is the fact that so many of the games have appeared winnable going in. At times the Commodores have clearly demonstrated themselves capable of taking over games, even against formidable opponents.
I don't mean to sound sour about it, but here we are in late February, and Vandy is still batting .000 (0-5) vs. SEC opponents in their venues. Can't someone please make it stop?
To be sure, road wins in the dog-eat-dog SEC have never come easy; home teams have won 70% of the time in league play so far this year. Away from the friendly confines of their home gym, players must deal with the mental challenges of rigorous travel, hostile crowds, unfamiliar playing surfaces and rims, and officiating that's often uneven.
Still, Commodore fans are befuddled... Vanderbilt's early non-conference road victories against Belmont and TCU seemed to signal that the Dores were ready to exorcise the road demons that plagued them last season.
One thing is certain-- on the road in the SEC, there is simply no margin for sloppiness. At South Carolina, for the first time all season, the effort leading up to the game was subpar, Stallings said. The results spoke for themselves-- the team fell behind by a prohibitive 21 points early in the second half.
Despite an impressive late rally, the gap was far too wide to close, especially when playing a Top 25 team on the road.
"For the first time all season, our team performed in a way that I'm not accustomed to seeing them perform," Stallings said Monday. "We were quite disappointed in our effort and our performance there. I'm certainly hopeful that our guys will bounce back."
The SEC record stands at 4-6, with six games remaining-- three at home, three on the road. A 7-9 conference record, if combined with a good SEC Tournament showing, might still be sufficient to get the Commodores into the dance-- but on the other hand, the selection committee could look very unfavorably on a team that didn't win a single road game in its conference. Does Vanderbilt thus have to win at least one road game to keep its NCAA hopes alive?
"I don't know... I can't answer that question," Stallings said. "[A road win] would certainly help us. But I don't want to take the chance.
"The best we can do, if we don't win a road game, is 7-9, so I don't want to take that chance. We need to win some games on the road, and that way maybe we can put it out of question."
When will the road win come? Stallings isn't sure, but he's not panicking-- he knows it will come. He's fond of pointing out that Belmont and TCU have ventured on the road and won at Missouri and Marquette respectively (and TCU upset No. 11 Louisville by 25 points last night).
"We've beaten some good competition," Stallings said. "We're entering a stretch of games that will be very difficult-- but, like every SEC game, it's winnable or it's losable.
"We will win on the road. What has to happen is that our will, our determination, just has to exceed that of the other team. That's the only way it's gonna happen, at home or on the road.
"Hopefully it'll happen this Wednesday."
To break up the weekly routine just a bit, Stallings took his team to Alabama early and held Tuesday's practice inside the state. Good move-- hopefully they're focusing on the game today, and not reading silly columns like this one.
When will the road win come? Let's all think positive... maybe tonight.
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