Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wide Angle Lens: The SEC Picture and What It Means for Vanderbilt

After losing to Tennessee on Tuesday night, Vanderbilt put themselves in a precarious position for the coveted bye in the SEC Tournament. With 3 games left and 8 wins in conference, Vanderbilt's grip on 2nd place in the SEC East was shaky, especially with games at Rupp and against the pesky Gators in the suddenly penetrable Memorial Gym remaining on their schedule. But that was before the full slate of weekday games were in the books; before Vanderbilt remained the only team in the East with 8 wins; and before Kentucky and Georgia both lost on the road. The Commodores aren't out of the woods yet, but we can breathe a little easier now than they could after Tuesday.

The Race for Second:

The Volunteers pretty much eliminated Vanderbilt's chances of winning the conference outright. The Gators now have 11 wins and, absent a 0-3 finish (not completely outside the realm of possibility, but doubtful given their resiliency in close games this season) and the Commodores running the table, will enter the SEC Tournament as the #1 seed from the East. As a result, for the rest of the season, Commodore fans need to pulling for whoever is playing Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. With that in mind, lets see what their schedules look like.

Georgia (7-6)
vs. South Carolina (5-8)
vs. LSU (3-10)
at Alabama (11-2)

Mark Fox's bulldogs absolutely have the easiest schedule of the teams fighting of 2nd. One can easily foresee a scenario where Georgia and Vanderbilt head into the final game of the season tied for 2nd in the East. If the two teams end the season tied for 2nd, Vanderbilt will win the tie-breaker because they won the the teams' two meetings this season.

Kentucky (7-6)
vs. Florida (11-2)
vs. Vanderbilt (8-5)
at Tennessee (7-6)

I don't know about you all, but I have a hard time rooting for the Gators. I'll get over it Saturday, as another Wildcat loss will go a long way in ensuring Calipari understands what its like to play on Thursday in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky's schedule is not nearly as easy as Georgia's, but with 2 at home and a game in Knoxville against a bipolar Tennessee, the Wildcats can absolutely run the table. If the Wildcats end the season tied for 2nd with Vanderbilt at 10-6, they would win the tie-breaker because they'd end the regular season with a record of 7-3 against the East, while Vanderbilt would be just 5-5 against the East. Assuming Georgia, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt all end the season at 10-6, Vanderbilt would win the tie-breaker because they are a regular season record of 3-1 against Georgia and Kentucky, while Kentucky would be 2-2 against Vanderbilt and Georiga, and Georgia is just 1-3 against the Wildcats and Commodores.

Tennessee (7-6)
vs. Mississippi State (6-7)
at South Carolina (5-8)
vs. Kentucky (7-6)

Vanderbilt has no one to blames but themselves for Tennessee still being in the picture. Mississippi State vs. Tennessee is a battle of the unpredictables. While I wouldn't bet money on the Volunteers running the table, given their schedule the rest of the way, it's not outside the realm of possibility. If Tennessee and Vanderbilt find themselves tied, or knotted with Georgia for 2nd, the Volunteers will earn the bye. Tennessee obviously has the tie-breaker over Vanderbilt by virtue of their season sweep, and has a 3-1 record against Vanderbilt and Georgia, while Vanderbilt is 2-2, and Georgia is 1-3. If Tennessee runs the table, Kentucky can't.

What if We're All 9-7?

This strikes me as a very real possibility with a multitude of scenarios to consider. For Vanderbilt, the a 1-2 finish is highly problematic. By my count, the Commodores come up short in every tie-breaker that includes Tennessee. Conversely, Vanderibilt comes out ahead in every tie-breaker that includes Georgia. Vanderbilt's fate is decidedly more complicated when it comes to Kentucky. If both the Commodores and the Wildcats finish 9-7, then the the winner of next Tuesday's game in Lexington will determine who controls the tie-breaker. If Vanderbilt wins next Tuesday in Rupp, and there is a pile-up at 9-7, Vanderbilt would control the tie-breaker over every team other than Tennessee. Assuming the Commodores don't beat Kentucky in Lexington, the Wildcats would finish ahead of Vanderbilt.

So What Does It All Mean?

Assuming you've been able to follow all this (and if you have, you deserve a medal), the race for 2nd in the East is still incredibly murky. While having a 1 game lead with 3 to play is better than not having a 1 game lead with 3 to play, the Commodores are certainly not out of the woods. If the Commodores can end the season 10-6, you have to like their chances of resting on day 1 of the SEC Tournament. If they do, and another team (or teams) wins out, we need that team to be a) Georgia, b) not Tennessee, and c) not Kentucky unless it also includes Georgia.

Got all that?

1 comment:

Dore.ZA said...

This is great. Now I can watch almost every remaining SEC game with interest. Also, we can all go back to cheering against UT for the rest of the season. No more of awkwardness of needing UT to help us by beating someone (e.g., Florida a few weeks ago). Thank goodness, because that was awkward.