Vanderbilt schedule breakdown: SEC needs to step up

The Black & Gold Standard is a VandyRadio sports blog featuring nuanced commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following Vanderbilt men’s basketball games and throughout the year. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball as the team looks to build on the success of last season’s NIT appearance. Check out The Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the Dores fight through the 2015-16 schedule. All stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

This weekend represents a rare occurrence for Vandy, as the Commodores are idle for the fourth straight Saturday to start the season. Lots of VU’s opponents, however, were in action yesterday, so this is a good time to take a look at how the Commodores’ strength of schedule continues to evolve.

  • Vanderbilt’s past opponents have cobbled together some pretty lackluster results so far, but things have started looking up a bit on that front. Stony Brook immediately followed up its loss to the Dores by falling to Western Kentucky on the road, but the Seawolves made up for it yesterday in handling previously undefeated Princeton. Stony Brook needs to do a decent job at capitalizing on its road opportunities in order to finish as a top-100 RPI team, and it has a big chance Tuesday at Notre Dame, a team that has already lost to Monmouth and Alabama. The NCAA Tournament committee made Ken Pomeroy rankings a much bigger part of its decision process last year, and if that continues then Stony Brook’s current ranking of 58 looks real nice for VU. Wake looked horrible at Rutgers, but ultimately was able to pull out the win, while St. John’s got blown out at Fordham this past week. Austin Peay and Gardner-Webb have continued to be pretty much what everyone thought they were, although both surprisingly have multiple wins away from home. Kansas struggled Saturday at home against Harvard, but I don’t think anyone needs to worry about the Jayhawks falling off.
  • Purdue’s performance has been a major bright spot when it comes to Vandy’s strength of schedule. The Boilermakers are undefeated and will certainly break into the top 10 if they can remain so until facing Vanderbilt. A neutral site test against Butler as a part of Indiana’s Crossroads Classic event looks to be all that stands in the way of a top-15 showdown in West Lafayette on December 22. Purdue ranks highly by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings and objectively it’s one of the best teams in the country right now. A Vanderbilt win would be a true signature victory of the highest order.
  • Dayton is off to a strong start, a brutal loss to Xavier notwithstanding. The Flyers will enter Memorial Gym Wednesday with a 6-1 record that includes at least one true quality win over Iowa at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando. UD seems like a lock to finish between about 15 and 40 in RPI at the end of the season, and a VU win on Wednesday would certainly add a quality win to the Commodores’ résumé. As a Dayton native who is probably one of about five people in the entire world to have watched 95% of both UD and VU’s games since 2013-14, I’ll have a lot more analysis of this game coming up over the next few days.
  • Most fans probably have a good idea of what Baylor has done since this game is coming up later today. BU has had nothing to show for its non-conference season so far, other than a dominating win over Stephen F. Austin. The Bears’ two opportunities for really good non-league wins are home against Vandy and on the road against Texas A&M, but they should maintain a good RPI as long as they play well during the Big 12 schedule. A win may not end up as quite as big of an RPI boost as it should be, due to BU’s weak non-conference schedule.
  • Wofford and Western Michigan were both picked to be toward the top of their respective leagues, but both have been very disappointing early on. WMU narrowly missed on road opportunities against DePaul, James Madison, and UNC-Wilmington, while also losing close neutral site games to Mercer and Stephen F. Austin. Wofford has been blown out by Mizzou and Georgia Tech, and the Terriers have sneaky potential to become an RPI drain for Vandy if they don’t step their game up during SoCon play.
  • The SEC as a whole has been quite poor this season, and while Vandy’s conscientious non-conference scheduling provides some protection there still are a lot more chances for questionable to bad losses on the Commodores’ conference slate. That’s a big problem, and awful starts by LSU (4-3, loss to Charleston), Mississippi State (4-3 with a loss to Southern), UGA (3-3 with no wins over likely top-100 teams and all three losses to opponents likely to finish outside the top 50), and Arkansas (3-4 with a very similar profile to UGA’s) are primarily to blame. We knew Mizzou wouldn’t be any good, and to be fair Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss haven’t been especially bad (although they haven’t been real good, either). There might only be two postseason teams out of the SEC’s bottom nine teams, however, and any loss to a non-NIT team or worse represents a bad loss for any squad competing for a top-five NCAA seed like Vanderbilt is. Any home losses to low-level NIT teams need to be avoided, as well. VU has proven they’re elite at blowing out below average teams, but when a team is faced with 11 chances for iffy losses during conference play, as Vandy is, there will inevitably be one or two slip-ups. These slip-ups, assuming they eventually happen, will hurt VU’s seeding by a line or two, and for this reason fans should be frustrated with the middle and bottom of the SEC for not holding up its end of the bargain.
  • Texas A&M and Florida have looked excellent against fairly strong competition this year, or at least they had until the Aggies were handled easily last night by an Arizona State team that doesn’t project to make the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina has been great against a very weak schedule. The Gamecocks have avoided bad losses, however, which is exactly what they need to do with a non-conference slate that isn’t likely to give them any opportunities for even a single top-50 RPI win.
  • You may have heard, but Kentucky lost on Thursday. This is kind of a win-win for Vandy fans, as UCLA’s victory helps Wake and Kansas, which in turn makes the Commodores look a tad better. On the Kentucky side of things, any UK loss makes for happy Vanderbilt fans. It’s too early to say whether Vandy is truly at the same level or even better than Kentucky, due to the youth of Calipari’s roster. UK has some issues to work out in its frontcourt, but it’s got plenty of time and lots of talent to work with.

Check out VandyRadio’s comprehensive Vanderbilt sports blog series. Building the Masonic Tradition covers Commodore football, The Black & Gold Standard covers VU hoops, and Eyes of the Hawk covers Vandy baseball. VandyRadio.com is your home for year-round coverage of your favorite Vanderbilt teams.

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