SEC Tournament Preview: Does Vanderbilt Stand A Chance?

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

There is nothing quite like March Madness, and Nashville college hoops are at the center of the madness. Between teams like MTSU and Belmont, there is always something to watch, but the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena is the main event in town before teams head to the Dance.

This year, there are a lot of questions surrounding the big teams and some expectations rising for teams that aren’t usually basketball powerhouses. Tennessee and Auburn are obvious contenders for the championship and will be NCAA Tournament teams regardless, but both teams haven’t looked as dominant as they have in recent years.

Tennessee was a clear favorite going into this year but suffered some major losses and are currently without Zakai Zeigler, who is injured. They are still probably one of the favorites to win the SEC Tournament but anything can happen.

Alabama is currently sitting at No. 4 in the country and is predicted to be a Final Four team. They are the heavy favorites to not only win the SEC but the National Championship as well.

That leads us the “middle of the pack” teams, which includes Vanderbilt. The Commodores have had one of their best seasons in nearly a decade, led by SEC Co-Coach of the Year Jerry Stackhouse. They have won 11 conference games against ranked Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn. Vandy finished the season with a 12-5 home record. Though they won’t be at Memorial Gym, they will be right down the street at Bridgestone which is sure to help.

Vanderbilt has a great team that can definitely fight for a spot in the semifinals, but how fan can they go?

This Commodores team is very talented with players like Jordan Wright, Tyrin Lawrence and 2023 Defensive Player of the Year Liam Robbins. The only issue is Robbins suffered an injury in the final game of the season. He averaged 15 ppg, 6.8 rpg and blocked 82 shots. His presence will be greatly missed in the SEC Tournament as the dominant teams fight their hardest to prove they are the best.

But some of Vanderbilt’s most clutch moments of the season came from guys like Wright, Lawrence and Ezra Manjon. This team is still a major threat to the top contenders and needs a deep run in the conference tournament if they want any chance of getting a bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Commodores have found themselves on NCAA Tournament mock brackets, just missing the tournament. With a few bad wins and an already stacked field, it’s going to be hard for Vandy to make it to the big Dance, but it’s not impossible. Today (March 9), the ‘Dores will face LSU at 8 p.m. A few weeks ago, Vandy lost to the Tigers 84-77 in Baton Rouge but it’s safe to say that Vanderbilt is still the favorite to win.

If they can beat LSU, the Commodores will then face Kentucky, who they just beat last week. From here it will be an uphill battle and Vandy will need to play sharp. This season, Vanderbilt has averaged 72 ppg while allowing opponents to score 71.7 ppg. They played tight games all year long and will definitely need to bring it down to the wire, feeding off of the panic from these top teams, which was a key factor in them taking down Tennessee and Kentucky.

Vandy will look to their veteran players like Wright and 6’10 fifth-year senior Quentin Millora-Brown to step up big time and lead the team. With the absence of Robbins, Millora-Brown is essential to the Commodores success as height and strong defense will make or break the ‘Dores. It will be a difficult few days for Vanderbilt and their loyal fans, but if they can bring a little Memorial magic to Bridgestone Arena, the Commodores could have an exciting Selection Sunday.

Steven Boero