Monday, February 14, 2011

Why Wednesday's Game in Athens isn't a Must-Win for Vanderbilt

Before I start, let me first say that I don't expect Vanderbilt to lose Wednesday in Athens. This post is not meant to be defeatist, or anything like that. Rather, it's meant to give a little perspective (and dare I say analysis) on where the Commodores stand heading into their final 6 SEC games.

Right now, Vanderbilt and Georgia are tied for 2nd in an SEC East race that has all but been locked up by the Gators after they took down Tennessee Saturday. Both the Commodores and Bulldogs are 6-4 in conference, and the winner of Wednesday's game would move into sole possession of 2nd place. That fact alone might cause some to say Wednesday night's game is a "must-win" for the Commodores. I disagree. Looking at the respective teams' 5 remaining games after Wednesday, Vanderbilt has a decided advantage as far as I'm concerned. While both teams play 3 of their final 5 on the road, UGA's road opponents are much better (@Tennessee, @Florida, @Alabama) than Vanderbilt's (@Auburn, @LSU, @UK). Admittedly, Vanderbilt's home opponents are significantly better (Volunteers and Gators) than Georgia's (South Carolina and LSU). Call me crazy, but I don't expect the Commodores to lose at home again this season, even to quality teams like Florida and Tennessee. The same goes for Georgia, mind you, which means both teams' fans can count on wining at least 2 of their remaining 5. Which brings us to back to the road games. I don't see Georgia winning in Knoxville, Gainesville, or Tuscaloosa, meaning they're stuck on 2. Conversely, I do expect Vanderbilt to win at Auburn and LSU (now those are games you can call "must-wins"), meaning I'm counting on the Commodores winning 4 of their last 5 and finishing no worse than 10-6. Even with a loss in Athens, assuming all my prognostications are correct, Vanderbilt would finish the season 1 game ahead of a 9-7 Georgia team. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Georgia steals one of their remaining 3 road games (incidentally, they have a better road record in conference than we do), and Vanderbilt finishes 4-1. The Commodores would still most likely finish 2nd due to the SEC tie-breakers (I won't bore you with the various scenarios until I have to).

There is a wrinkle to my "Wendesday's game at Georgia is not a must-win for Vanderbilt" theory: Kentucky. UK is currently 5-5 in conference. However, unlike Vanderbilt or Georgia, 4 of their final 6 SEC games are at home (Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida, and Vanderbilt). The Wildcats 2 remaining road games, at Arkansas and at Tennessee to finish the regular season, are both winnable games (especially the game at Fayetteville). Given their success at home, and the fact they play an Arkansas team who is likely to have little to play for come late February, one can probably pencil in UK for finishing the season no worse than 10-6. If that happened, they'd be tied with Vanderbilt for 2nd. Projecting who would win the tie-breaker is difficult at this point, but one would have to give the edge to Kentucky who are likely to have a better SEC East record after winning at South Carolina (you just knew that game was going to bite the Commodores on the butt).

Obviously, the best thing the Commodores can do for themselves is win Wednesday night. A win in Athens would go a long way in the Commodores securing a bye in the SEC Tournament, and giving them an outside chance to wrest the SEC East crown from Floria. With that said, this game is not a "must-win." Georgia is a good team who's resume still isn't a lock for the NCAA tournament. Winning conference games on the road isn't easy, especially against quality opponents. That the Commodores let 2 slip away in early January is why they find themselves in the dog-fight for 2nd in the SEC rather than having a chance to lock up their first SEC Championship in quite some time. If the Commodores don't win Wednesday I won't be happy, but I also won't be panicking.


Anonymous said...

Definitely not a must win. However, let me say this. A disappointing performance from JT (meaning < 12 pts., < 4 rebounds) would make me on edge. 2 wins on the road this week would make it very likely that we will finish the season ranked in the Top 25.

Anonymous said...

Just win out and all this is moot. 12-4!

Recall, last few years we limp in at the end.

Anonymous said...

At the begining of the 09-10 season, I told everyone Vandy was a terrible road team. After last season I believe this team can win anywhere. Stallings has actually turned into a good road coach, and Georgia's lack of depth should be in our favor.

Dore.ZA said...

CKS didn't sound very hopeful about Lance and Andre on last night's call in show. Sounds like Lance is getting worse and I think there was a suggestion that he might not even play (or at least start) the next game. We didn't get much out of him on Saturday and the bench really responded well. Let's hope Steve and Rod can carry the load this week. (Wonder if we'll see more of the Fes-Steve tandem until either Lance or Andre can go?)

That being said, I'd rather drop a couple games in February and enter the tournament as a #6 seed with a healthy 9-man rotation than push those guys now, and hobble around with the dreaded #4 seed monkey on our back.

Anonymous said...

Another important point to keep in mind is this IS a must-win for UGA. Beating Vandy is a must if they want to make the tourney. I think we need to keep that in mind.