Adams: Vanderbilt can't fall behind big

The problem for a lot of mid-major teams is that they never really know how good they are. Because of trouble scheduling top power conference opponents and weak conference schedules, they typically have to wait to the NCAA Tournament to get truly tested.

Vanderbilt gets the opportunity this week to clearly find out what they're made of. Road games in Knoxville and Lexington will show how good this Commodores squad is. Their game against Auburn showed toughness that they'll need this week.

The ‘Dores allowed Auburn to race off to a 16-point first half lead, and still trailed by 11 at the break. They woke up and dominated the second half, outscoring the Tigers 50-31, to walk away with a 82-74 victory. The win moved Vandy to 4-0 in SEC play for the first time in 44 years.

Coach Stallings sounded torn in the victory. He was impressed with his team's fight and unwillingness to give up, but he was very discouraged at their slow start to the game.

"It looks like we hadn't played in a week in the first half," Stallings said. "I thought Auburn was a more aggressive team. Our team responded in the second half. I'm happy to win, but wish we could have played a better, more consistent game throughout."

It's amazing how many times good teams fail to respond to inferior competition. Some people would say they were playing down to the level of their competition or simply looking ahead to the next game. Here's how two of the team's leaders described the abysmal first half.

We were flat to start the first half," said junior A.J. Ogilvy. "Can't put a finger on it, but we played better on the defensive end and got a spark from that. We got a couple scores and that helped get us going."

"I wouldn't say we were looking ahead, but we were just starting slow," said Jeffery Taylor. "It almost cost us. They were up by 16 at one point and we cut it to 11 at the half. We were able to keep going after halftime."?

Vanderbilt won't have the chance to fall behind by 16 to either Tennessee or Kentucky. If that happens, you might as well turn off your TV.

The Commodores will likely jump back into the Top 25 after a slew of teams near the bottom of the rankings lost this past week. That means the ‘Dores will be on the national radar for both games this week. Vanderbilt isn't close to securing an NCAA bid, but a win against either UT or UK would get them a lot closer.

Regardless, this week is an opportunity for Vanderbilt fans to watch their team play two amazingly tough road games and see where they stand. That's really all you can ask for. Hopefully this time next week, we'll be talking about a Top 15 team with a one game lead in the SEC East.

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