Conference: SEC (At-Large)
Record: 19-15 (10-8)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 9
How they got to the Big Dance
Vanderbilt made history this year, becoming the first team with 15 losses to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, their strength of schedule and impressive wins warrant this selection. The Commodores had a very up and down season, but three wins over Florida along with victories over Iowa State and South Carolina were just enough to seal the deal. Sitting on the bubble almost until the last possible second, Vanderbilt finally locked up their bid with a win over Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. But here was still some sweating due to a loss to Arkansas in the semifinals. They will take on newcomer Northwestern in the round of 64.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Commodores showed they have what it takes to beat some top teams. With an offense that holds four players who average more than 10 points and a defense that limits their opponents to under 70 points, the Commodores have a balanced team that can hurt you inside and out. They shoot 37 percent from three and 77 percent from the line, which will be big down the stretch. Vanderbilt won’t shoot you out of the gym or keep you at 50 points but they’ll do just enough on both sides of the ball to win and advance.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Although their strength of schedule was tough, some of their bad losses are a little alarming and show just how inconsistent this team can be. Losses to Bucknell, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee, Missouri and Ole Miss make you wonder if Vanderbilt will be able to play at a level they need to in order to come out victorious. Unlike the regular season, the Commodores do not get another chance next week to get an impressive win, they get one chance against one team and the must take advantage of it. If their tournament play is anything like it was early in the regular season, it could be a quick exit for Vanderbilt.
Player to watch: Forward Luke Kornet
The seven footer could be an x-factor for Vanderbilt in the tournament. Kornet averages 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, but also shoots 85 percent from the free-throw line making him a reliable option at any point in the game. The biggest reason why he is a must-watch is because of his size. At 7-foot-1, Kornet needs to take advantage of his size mismatch. Not many teams, including Northwestern, can match his height which means Vanderbilt needs to get the big man the ball early and often.