Vanderbilt headed to Missouri for its Saturday afternoon game against the punchless Tigers knowing it had little margin for error.
Through the Commodores’ inconsistent play, the losses have piled up. However, head coach Bryce Drew’s team had another chance to sneak over .500 on the year and continue its three-game road winning streak with a victory against Mizzou.
Vanderbilt’s performance in what ended up as a 72-52 loss was pathetic. While Missouri — at the time the worst three-point shooting team in the SEC — made more jumpers than anyone could have expected, the fact is the Commodores completely wilted.
This stat has made the rounds among fans and media alike by now, but let’s bring it up again: Vanderbilt did not make a single field goal in the game’s last 12 minutes and 13 seconds. And this came against a Missouri defense that now ranks as just the SEC’s 10th-best by Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
This was an implosion of epic proportions — along Arkansas lines, really. It wasn’t a showing a previously 12-loss Vanderbilt team that had sneaked into the peripheries of NCAA Tournament talk could afford. It was the Commodore program’s worst and most embarrassing game since the 2013-14 team was doubled up by Tennessee, 76-38.
“I feel very confident that we’re the best 12-12 team in the country,” Drew said prior to the Missouri game, side-stepping a question about whether a .500 team should be included in NCAA Tournament discussion in the first place. “You look at some of the wins that we’ve gotten and some of the teams that we’ve had to play, our team is much, much better than what our record indicates.”
Drew might not be wrong, but the fact stands that any remaining hope of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth is now gone. Since the Tournament expanded to include 68 teams starting in the 2010-11 season, only five teams have ever received at-large bids with 14 or more losses.
All came in 2011, when Marquette, Penn State, Tennessee, USC and Michigan State each made the Tournament with exactly 14 losses. Not once since 1985 has a 15-loss team received an at-large bid. The closest team to Vanderbilt’s profile is the 2000-01 Georgia squad that went 16-14 and somehow received a No. 8 seed, and even that Bulldogs group won five games against NCAA at-large teams (four of which came on the road). The Commodores have won no more than three such games.
History makes it clear: Vanderbilt, at 12-13, must win all of its six remaining regular-season games and then make a nice run in the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
That ain’t happening.
The Commodores’ lack of consistency this year suggests that they would be fortunate to even finish 9-9 in the SEC. The team hasn’t won more than two games in a row all year. They stand at 5-7 in league play now with games against SEC leaders South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida all remaining. A bid to the NIT is their only realistic hope, and even then they must finish with a winning record to even be eligible for college basketball’s consolation bracket.
Fans are reduced to taking solace in the little things. Sophomore forward Joe Toye has started to get more minutes and has four double-digit scoring games in SEC play. Freshman forward Clevon Brown put together two nice games in the past two weeks and looks like a player who will be integral to the team’s success over the next three years.
At this point, the Commodores are building for the future. Good play against the three SEC leaders may or may not help energize the team, but at the least Vanderbilt’s three-point shooting prowess means the team can feasibly make a run at Bridgestone in a few weeks.
Until then, we’ll have to wait and see. The ‘Dores haven’t put together two truly bad games consecutively all year, and they’ll need multiple good ones in a row if they hope to make the postseason.
They’ll need some grade-A Memorial Magic to pull it off.