Commodores having trouble beating top 100 RPI teams

Earning wins against these teams has been a struggle this season

Payton Willis (1) as Vanderbilt lost to rival Tennessee 87-75 at Memorial Gym January 14, 2017.

According to NCAA.com, the Vanderbilt Commodores currently find themselves with a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) of 78 out of 351 division one basketball teams. The rating system reflects a team’s record and strength of schedule, and has been an important factor in determining NCAA Tournament admittance and seeding. Their loss on Saturday to Tennessee dropped them 16 spots from 62, as the Volunteers moved up past them.

At this point in the season, the Commodores have faced one of the toughest slate of games, number 10 according to CBSSports.com. Two of their opponents, Kentucky and Butler, currently stand in the top five of the RPI rankings. Minnesota isn’t too far behind at number 14, far better than expectations for them earlier in the season.

Vanderbilt played these three aforementioned teams closely, losing by no more than 10 points in any of these matchups. They hung around with a Kentucky team that at times seemed to drive the ball to the hoop almost effortlessly, as they have done all season.

However, a true sign of disappointment is their record against teams ranked from 50 through 100 in the RPI. They have two wins, compared with three losses. One of those wins came from a late Luke Kornet three against Chattanooga (73), and the other came as they easily cruised past Auburn (83). But losses recently to Alabama (76) and Tennessee (59), in addition to the 24 point loss to Marquette (74) to open the season, have to be especially frustrating.

This struggle against not only top 50, but top 100 RPI teams could be worrisome with the remaining schedule ahead. Of the 14 remaining teams, 12 of them currently have top 100 RPI rankings, and nine of those are in the top 50. Florida and Kentucky, who they play a combined three more times, each rank in the top 6. Both are currently undefeated in the SEC and seem destined for the tournament. South Carolina could end up being a top 25 ranked opponent if they continue their success and could join Kentucky and Florida as the SEC’s only tournament-bound teams.

The problem beating top 100 teams isn’t new to the Commodores though. The team has not posted a record of at least .500 since the 2011-2012 season in this category. That year, Vanderbilt put up an impressive 16-8 record against these teams, including five wins against top 50 opponents. That Vanderbilt team won the SEC tournament, finished the season ranked and acquired a five seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Just over halfway through the regular season, Vanderbilt is below .500 for the first time since the 2013-2014. During the following two seasons, they made the NIT then NCAA tournaments. Without any top 50 wins to date, they are in danger of missing any postseason play, save an SEC Tournament championship.

The Commodores sit at ninth in the SEC with two wins and three losses in conference. Before the season, the SEC media projected Vanderbilt to finish sixth in conference. Still early into conference play, there is still plenty of room to improve upon. It will take winning plenty of games that will certainly be tightly contested, but they will not be favorites in many of them at this point.

Vanderbilt since 2010:

2010-2011: 10-5 vs. top 100, 4-5 vs. top 50

2011-2012: 16-8 vs. top 100, 5-5 vs. top 50

2012-2013: 6-16 vs. top 100, 0-7 vs. top 50

2013-2014: 4-12 vs. top 100, 2-7 vs. top 50

2014-2015: 9-10 vs. top 100, 0-5 vs. top 50

2015-2016: 7-10 vs. top 100, 2-7 vs. top 50

2016-2017: 2-8 vs. top 100, 0-5 vs. top 50

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