Vanderbilt entered Humphrey Coliseum with very little margin for error because of its suspect NCAA tournament resume. The Commodores left “The Hump” with their tournament hopes on life support after a devastating 75-74 loss to Mississippi State.
The Commodores blew a 17-point lead with 13 minutes to play and allowed the game to come down to the final possession. Vandy forced an ill-advised 3-point attempt from Mississippi State freshman Malik Newman, but failed to corral what would’ve likely been the game-winning defensive rebound. The Bulldogs swung the ball around the perimeter to a waiting Quinndary Weatherspoon, who buried Vandy at the buzzer.
— MSU Men's Basketball (@HailStateMBK) February 17, 2016
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 17, 2016
The Commodores (15-11, 7-6) desperately could not afford another bad loss. They entered Tuesday night as one of the last four teams included in the tournament field, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The loss to Mississippi State knocked Vanderbilt out of Lunardi’s field.
Overnight bubble shifts: IN (Butler, Alabama) and OUT (Vandy, Saint Mary's).
— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 17, 2016
Tuesday night’s loss is just the most recent disappointment in a season that began with promise, but has been riddled with missed opportunities. The Commodores were expected to, at the very least, be a lock for March Madness with a talented roster featuring a few players with NBA talent. Some experts thought Vandy had the talent to make a Final Four run.
That potential hasn’t come to fruition with five games remaining in the regular season. The Commodores battled injury, namely to forward Luke Kornet, during the non-conference slate and failed to earn any signature wins against Kansas, Baylor, Purdue and Dayton.
Vandy was expected to turn things around as conference play tipped off with a fully healthy roster. Instead, it dropped its first three games of SEC play, won the next three and have been mediocre and inconsistent since.
Now, the Commodores are cramped in the middle of the crowded SEC standings. They are a game out of second place, but only 1.5 games ahead of 10th-place Tennessee.
Vanderbilt isn’t dead yet as the home stretch of the regular season approaches. A home game against Kentucky plus road tilts against Texas A&M and Florida will give Vandy a few more opportunities to bolster its resume. But a 4-1 record over its final five games plus a win or two in the conference tournament may be necessary to qualify for the NCAAs.
Anything less will cause a once aspirational season to end in utter regret.