Vandy’s Dore (HA!) to the NCAA Tournament

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.

As Vanderbilt waits out the final hours until the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Commodore fans have experienced the helpless feeling of watching from the side as other bubble teams fight for a spot in the Tournament. Some teams, like UConn and Michigan, have left VU fans shaking their heads in disappointment with last-second wins over at-large teams that look good on the résumé. Others, such as Temple, Tulsa, Syracuse, and St. Bonaventure, came up short and have left the door open for Vandy to sneak into the field of 68.

Someone should tell Kevin Stallings that this ref isn't on the selection committee. (Ziyi Liu)
Someone should tell Kevin Stallings that this ref isn’t on the selection committee. (Ziyi Liu)

Despite the Commodores’ lifeless performance in Thursday’s loss to Tennessee, make no mistake: VU’s NCAA Tournament hopes still live. Head coach Kevin Stallings and his Dores simply have to hope the committee places heavy emphasis on parts of their profile that stand out when compared with their bubble brethren. We all know how VU’s deplorable road record and weak RPI have them on the bubble in the first place, but the committee’s more prevalent use of Ken Pomeroy metrics compared to in past years will keep the Dores in the conversation.

For evidence, I first present three test cases from the last two years that represent three of the strangest profiles that I could remember: 2013-14 SMU, 2014-15 Georgia, and 2014-15 UCLA. I don’t have access to these teams’ pre-NCAA Tournament RPI rankings, so I’ve made some ballpark estimates of strength of schedule and RPI. Here are the teams’ respective profiles, and here’s a link to Vanderbilt’s own profile as a comparison:

2014-15 UCLA (11 seed): 20-13 overall record, mid 30s SOS, 4-12 record away from home. 2-8 vs at-large teams, 2-9 vs RPI top 50, 3-3 vs RPI 51-100.5795_ucla_bruins-secondary-1964

Good wins: home vs Utah (5 seed) and Oregon (8 seed), @ Stanford (2 seed in NIT)

Bad losses @ RPI 133 Oregon St, @ roughly RPI 118 Colorado

Ken Pomeroy ranking: 42

2014-15 UGA (10 seed): 21-11 overall record, mid 40s SOS, 9-7 record away from home. 2-6 vs at-large teams, 0-5 vs RPI top 50, 7-3 51-100.1845_georgia_bulldogs-alternate-1964

Good wins: @ Ole Miss (11 seed, one of last four teams in)

Bad losses: @ RPI 148 Georgia Tech, @ RPI 132 Auburn, neutral vs RPI 101 Minnesota

Ken Pomeroy ranking: 35

2013-14 SMU (OUT): 23-9 overall record, 129 overall SOS with non-con SOS of 302, 8-8 away from home. 4-5 vs at-large teams, 4-5 vs RPI top 50, 0-1 51-100.1610_southern_methodist_mustangs-alternate-1995

Good wins: home and away against UConn (7 seed), vs Memphis (8 seed) , vs Cincinnati (5 seed)

Bad losses: @ RPI 227 South Florida, @ RPI 174 Temple, neutral vs RPI 138 Houston

Ken Pomeroy ranking: 32

Now, back to Vanderbilt. The Dores have strength of schedule numbers that are as good or better than all three of these teams’. VU has better wins than UGA and UCLA, less-damaging losses than SMU, and similar losses to UGA. The Commodores’ KenPom ranking of 26 sits higher than the three above, and the fact that the Dores have only one sub-100 KenPom loss could be an underrated factor at work. Their record against the RPI top-100 is very similar to what these three teams put together as well. I would probably put VU ahead of UGA and UCLA here, and both of those teams made the field with room to spare. It’s difficult for me to compare Vandy with SMU here simply because of the schedule numbers, but the Dores would have a good argument to be in over the Mustangs as well in this hypothetical scenario. Regardless, the résumés are close enough to where Vandy can reasonably hope the “eye test” and their advanced metrics could put them over the top. That’s the thought process that puts Vanderbilt in.

The consensus among bracketologists seems to be that VU is fighting with the likes of St. Bonaventure, Saint Mary’s, Syracuse, Monmouth, and Michigan for three spots. St. Bonaventure appears to be somewhat safe compared to the rest of the group (although the Bonnies’ KenPom ranking of 78 hurts), so I’ll set them aside.

Saint Mary’s made no effort to play a difficult non-conference schedule, and their overall SOS of 148 won’t please the committee. Their two wins over Gonzaga aren’t better than Vandy’s two best wins, but a 6-3 record against the RPI top-100 helps their case.

Damian looks worried. Hopefully he'll read this and feel better about VU's chances. (Ziyi Liu)
Damian looks worried. Hopefully he’ll read this and feel better about VU’s chances. (Ziyi Liu)

Syracuse has the profile most similar to Vandy’s out of this group. The Orange’s RPI is in the tank at 70, and its KenPom ranking of 41 falls behind the Commodores’ as well. Syracuse has better wins than Vanderbilt (neutral against Texas A&M and at Duke could represent the trump card), but they have some terrible losses, including a road setback against RPI 245 St. John’s.

In my opinion, Saint Mary’s and Syracuse are the two teams Vanderbilt will have the hardest time passing out of this group, due to Michigan‘s 4-11 record against the RPI top-100 and Monmouth‘s three sub-200 losses. Temple and Tulsa will probably be out, as the Owls and Golden Hurricane both post losing records against the RPI top-200.

Vanderbilt’s only clear advantage over both Syracuse and Saint Mary’s is its KenPom rating. Pomeroy has the Commodores down for only one sub-100 loss rather than the three bad losses by RPI numbers, and this disparity could work to Vandy’s advantage if it helps negate the Arkansas and Mississippi State losses.

Going by the selection committee’s recent history, VU has a good enough profile to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores’ résumé may not stack up, but the rise of advanced metrics and favoritism toward power conference teams has Vandy right on the cusp of a bid. Every year, there seems to be one “bomb” by the committee where a team with an inferior résumé sneaks in for one reason for another. I feel that Vanderbilt has a good chance to be that bomb Sunday afternoon.

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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