Vanderbilt approaches SEC play

Vanderbilt wrapped up its non-conference schedule with an impressive five-game winning streak. During that stretch their average margin of victory was 29 points. Needless to say, they are riding a hot streak into league play.

As of right now, most prognosticators have the Commodores on the bubble in regards to the NCAA tournament. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Vanderbilt projected as a No. 12 seed. Based on his calculations the ‘Dores have a 55 percent chance of staying in the NCAA field. Not very reassuring.

I wanted to take a quick look at what Vandy needs to do in SEC play to assure themselves of a spot in the NCAA tournament. I separated Vanderbilt's remaining schedule into a couple different categories to make everything a little simpler. Game dates in parentheses.  

Games that would be considered good wins

RPI 1-25: @Kentucky (1/30), Kentucky (2/20)

RPI 26-50: @Tennessee (1/27), Tennessee (2/9), @Ole Miss (2/18) 

Games that are considered neutral

RPI 51-99: Florida (1/9), @Alabama (1/13), @South Carolina (1/16), Mississippi State (2/3), @Florida (3/2), South Carolina (3/6) 

Games that would be considered bad losses

RPI 101-200:  Auburn (1/23), Georgia (2/6), LSU (2/13), @Georgia (2/25),

RPI: 201+: @Arkansas (2/27) 

First, realize that the RPI numbers will fluctuate throughout the remainder of the season. If Tennessee struggles without their suspended quartet, their RPI will suffer. But if Florida roles off a few wins, they will jump into the good wins column.

As of now, the Commodores only get credit for one good win (St. Mary's). The struggles of Arizona and a couple bad losses by Missouri have hurt the quality of those wins.

Because of that, I am going under the assumption that 20 wins is a must for Vanderbilt to make the NCAA tournament. That means that Vandy must finish at least 9-7 in SEC play.

Before we get started, go through that list and find nine games that you have confidence that Vanderbilt will win. It's not so easy, but I'm confident that I can find nine wins. I am going to group a couple of games, then predict Vanderbilt's record in those games. 

Two home and away games with both Georgia and South Carolina: Vandy 3-1

Two home games against LSU and Auburn: Vandy 2-0

Home and away with Florida: Vandy 1-1

Two home and away games with both Kentucky and Tennessee: Vandy 1-3

Two road games against Alabama and Arkansas: Vandy 1-1

Two games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss: Vandy 1-1 

That's a combined SEC record of 9-7 and get's Vanderbilt to 20-10.

It allows for a couple slipups on the road, but requires a single victory against Kentucky or Tennessee. I think the ‘Dores should be able to handle both Alabama and Arkansas, but this projection gives them the ability falter on the road and still be in decent shape.

The bigger problem for Vanderbilt is that unless they knock off Kentucky, Tennessee, or Ole Miss, they will not have any additional quality wins to add to their post-season resume. I think we can all agree that this Commodore squad is very talented, but they need a signature victory that will stand out to the tournament committee.

That's why a loss against Florida on Saturday would be crippling. A loss to the Gators would make Vanderbilt play catch-up for the rest of league play. The goal has to be nine or 10 wins, and one of them needs to come against Florida.

Check out Eric's blog at Top Stories