By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — The Vanderbilt Commodores won their fifth game in six tries over the weekend, while also completing a season’s sweep of the Florida Gators. That was the best news coming out of their 88-72 victory in Nashville. But the harsh reality now facing them regarding postseason possibilities is their only shot at an NCAA Tournament berth is winning next week’s SEC title. If they can take their final two games and end up with an 11-7 mark, that would improve their seeding going into the event held at Bridgestone Arena. Even a spit at 10-8 would be better than dropping both and finishing at 9-9.
The Commodes know that the LSU loss they took last week dealt a body blow to their postseason hopes. It pretty much ended any NCAA chances and made it tough for them to even make the NIT because their overall record (16-13 going into this week) concludes some really bad early season losses to inferior teams, and despite the fact they now have a better overall record than Florida for instance, their net ranking was behind that of the Gators, something that distressed Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse enough for him to publicly comment on how the rankings don’t make sense if head-to–head results don’t count more than other stats.
During the five-game winning Streak, the Commodores discovered some effective weapons that they hope to carry into tournament competition. For one, center Liam Robbins has emerged as one of the league’s premier low-post threats offensively, and a top shot blocker and rim protector defensively. His only worry is avoiding foul trouble, which did happen Saturday. Another change that Stackhouse has made is taking Myles Stute, who’s been in a season-long shooting slump, out of the starting lineup and replacing him with Colin Smoth. In fact, veterans Stute and Jordan Wright saw their time limited against the Gators, though Stute did come off the bench and play ore minutes than Wright. Wright saw only five minutes of action. Whether that will continue is unknown, but Smith contributed 11 points, while the Commodores also got good minutes from both Ezra Manjon and Paul Lewis as point guards.
The results were more balanced scoring, with six players in double figures, while Vanderbilt controlled both boards and were much better defensively. They shot 53 percent from the floor in the first half and took a 10-point lead, then outscored the Gators 8-2 to open the second half and pretty much end any chances of a Florida comeback.
Vanderbilt had one road game left on Wednesday at Kentucky, then they conclude the SEC regular season Saturday at home against the Ole Miss Rebels.