Monday, February 8, 2010

Dawg Bite: Why Vanderbilt's Loss to Georgia Could Spell Trouble for Vanderbilt's Bid for a Bye in the SEC Tournament

We have come to the mid-way point of the SEC season, and all and all, Vanderbilt fans should probably feel good about where their team is positioned. The Commodores, are 6-2 in conference tied with Tennessee and a 1/2 game up on Florida for second in the East. Expectations are a funny thing though. If you told fans that this team would be 6-2 at this point at the beginning on SEC play, they'd have been ecstatic. However, because the team started out 6-1 with a chance to keep pace with the Wildcats by beating the cellar-dwelling Bulldogs, suddenly VSLNation is convinced the sky is falling.

It's not, but with Saturday's loss, the Commodores now find themselves in a dog-fight for second place in the SEC, and a shot at a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. With this in mind, I thought it made sense to look at Vanderbilt's final 8 games, and how their schedule compares to Tennessee and Florida.

Vanderbilt's Schedule:

vs. Tennessee (2/9)
vs. LSU (2/13)
@ Ole Miss (2/18)
vs. Kentucky (2/20)
vs. Georgia (2/25)
@ Arkansas (2/27)
@ Florida (3/2)
vs. South Carolina (3/6)

I think Vanderbilt needs to be no worse than 11-5 to finish second in the SEC East. This would mean winning out at home (no easy task with UT and UK coming to town), or steal a game on the road. I think the best chance to do that would be at Ole Miss. The most pivotal stretch will absolutely be the next 4. If Vanderbilt can finish 3-1 or better, than I love our chances to win the east because we will own the tie-break over Tennessee and a split with UK. 2-2 or worse, and the sky might actually be falling.

The last 4 are tougher to predict. Certainly you have to think Vanderbilt will finish .500 or better in the final 4, although South Carolina is capable of anything. Playing back-to-back road games at Arkansas and in Gainesville is almost as treacherous as our end of January trip that took us to Knoxville and Lexington in successful games.

Bottom Line: If Vanderbilt is the team we think they are, they'll need to go 5-3. An 11-5 finish in the SEC might be enough for a 2nd place finish, and probably means the Commodores can earn a 4 seed come March.

Tennessee's Schedule:

@ Vanderbilt (2/9)
@ Kentucky (2/13)
vs. Georgia (2/17)
@ South Carolina (2/20)
@ Florida (2/23)
vs. Kentucky (2/27)
vs. Arkansas (3/3)
@ Mississippi State (3/6)

Tennessee's next 2 could very well define their season. If they get swept this week, then they probably finish no better than 4-4. Florida is a tough enough place to play without the Gators feeling like they got jobbed. Combine that fact, with the fact that Florida appears to amassing a tournament-worthy resume, means this is not a game Tennessee fans should feel confident about. At Mississippi State is another tough game. The Hump isn't an easy place to play, and it's possible that Mississippi State will be fighting for 1st in the SEC tournament (to say nothing of an invitation to the dance).

With that said, if UT can even the season series with the Commodores, or take 1 of 2 from Kentucky, then it's possible that the Vols could finish 12-4.

Bottom Line: I think tomorrow will tell us a lot about UT. If they lose, their chances of finishing second in the East are greatly diminished. If however, they win, then they've got to be the odds-on-favorite to be the team that can take down the Cats.

Florida's Schedule:

@ South Carolina (2/10)
vs. Xavier (2/13)
vs. Auburn (2/18)
@ Ole Miss (2/20)
vs. Tennessee (2/23)
@ Georgia (2/27)
vs. Vanderbilt (3/3)
@ Kentucky (3/7)

Florida is the real wild-card. What Vanderbilt and Tennessee have going for them, is that Florida has already played 9 conference games, and are currently 6-3, a 1/2 game back of either team. Florida certainly seems to have the easiest schedule among the teams vying for second place in the East. Based on their schedule, I think Florida will finish their last 7 in conference 5-2, which would make them 11-5 overall. With the benefit of playing the final game of the SEC season, the Gators might head to Lexington 5-1 with a chance to earn a second place SEC East finish and the first round bye that comes with it. That, combined the UK having less to play for (since they appear poised for nothing worse than a 2 seed), means Florida has the potential to be the real move-maker in the SEC east.

Bottom Line: Florida is playing very good basketball right now, and they don't have much in their way. For the same reason UT should be scarred headed to Gainesville, so too should the Gators be nervous headed to Columbia after what happened a few weeks ago when Devan Downey hit, what should have been, two game-winners before Chandler Parsons hit a three at the buzzer. If the Gators win Wednesday, look out.

What it all means:

Admittedly, I'm not sure. Vanderbilt's loss to Georgia takes them out of the driver's seat and gives Tennessee and Florida a chance to get back into the SEC East race. If the Commodores can take care of business tomorrow, that might be enough to quash the Volunteer charge (assuming the Commodores don't blow any games they shouldn't, like losing a home game against anyone besides Kentucky). Still, a win over Tennessee won't be enough. Vanderbilt still finds itself in a dog-fight for second.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the write up. That said, I disagree with your thoughts that UF has the easiest schedule. In fact I doubt they are favored in more then 2 or 3 of their final 7 SEC games.

Vandy is in the drivers seat with head up wins against both.

Bobby O'Shea said...

They are only in the driver's seat if they win tonight. A loss and the Commodores are looking at, potentially losing 4 of 5 games. Tonight's game might very well determine Vanderbilt's seeding ceiling.

Anonymous said...

If VU wins tonight they get to stay in the drivers seat, but they are in it as of this post, if they lose they sit shotgun :)

UT still has to play UK two times. That gives Vandy a leg up in mind as well.

All and all, Vandy still determines their own destiny, even with catching UK and winning the SEC.

It all starts tonight with a big game, which I expect to be a big win.