In their improbable 96-94 overtime victory against Georgia, you were able to watch a team with their backs against the wall, somehow piece together a victory. Great teams have to find ways to win. After the Kentucky debacle, it was important for the Commodores to get their mojo back.
"Our guys were hung over all week from the Kentucky game," Coach Kevin Stallings said. "You try to do what you can [as a coach] and recognize it. It came out on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, it looked like we were someplace else. I was not surprised we struggled and not surprised that this was a hard-earned win."
The ‘Dores were trailing by six with only 54 seconds remaining, then by five with only 33 seconds left to play. The ending had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game: Having to overcome a poor performance to advance. With a few missed free throws by the Bulldogs, Vandy forced overtime and pulled out the victory.
The second game of the week was a clinic. Vanderbilt walked into a hostile environment and basically punched the Arkansas Razorbacks in the face. Vandy was impressive throughout in the 89-72 rout. The game wasn't even that close. The Commodores had the end of their bench playing while the Razorbacks had starters in trying to pad the stat sheet.
Here are a couple things to take away from the 2-0 week:
- If Vanderbilt has an Elite Eight or Final Four run in them, it will be because of their free throw shooting. In their two games this week, Vandy has shot a combined 55-for-62. That's 89 percent as a team! The TV commentators mentioned it a lot in both games. Hitting free throws is how you win clutch tournament games. Vanderbilt is the anti-2008 Memphis Tigers.
- It looks like the ‘Dores have the 2-seed in the SEC Tournament secured. Vanderbilt would have to lose their remaining two contests (@Florida, South Carolina) and Florida would have to beat both Vandy and Kentucky. I don't see Florida winning at Rupp Arena. Although…
- Now there is a small chance that Vanderbilt could still capture the SEC regular season title. Could Kentucky lose at Georgia and then against the Gators on Senior Day? I doubt it, but it's still out there.
- John Jenkins has been officially inserted into the starting lineup. He took the spot from Brad Tinsley against Arkansas. I'm not sure what the long-term difference will be in terms of splitting minutes. We weren't able to tell against the Razorbacks because of the large lead. We'll see how the minutes are divvied out against Florida.
- The Commodores are able to overcome poor performances from their key guys. Jermaine Beal was a non-factor against Arkansas. How many teams could get nothing from one of their studs and still will by 17? On a given night, any one of the following could lead the team in scoring: A.J. Ogilvy, Jeffery Taylor, Beal, and Jenkins. You're always going to get production from Tinsley and Andre Walker as well. The ‘Dores have about six players that can consistently put up double-figures. (Let's not count Darshawn McClellan to this group just yet.)
- Speaking of which, Darshawn looked focused and ready to play. Something that Lance Goulbourne has only shown in spurts. I think Darshawn forced a couple shots, but I hope he gets some of Lance's minutes.
So where does this team stand? Let's ignore the ridiculous ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll. The vast majority of experts list Vanderbilt in the top 16. Some people have them as high as 11. Something that I've been saying for a while was echoed this week by ESPN's Joe Lunardi. One of the ESPN announcers quoted Lunardi as saying that Vanderbilt could get a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish in the regular season and SEC Tournament.
If Vandy beats Florida and South Carolina and makes a run to the SEC Tournament final, you're looking at a 2 or 3-seed. It's a good time to be a Commodore fan.