It took Vanderbilt two and a half months and 48 games to reach .500.
With just three weeks remaining, the Commodores hope they’ll have at least eight games to finish with a winning record – a requirement for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
But even staying above .500 doesn’t guarantee Vanderbilt (24-24, 11-13 SEC) its seventh straight trip to an NCAA Regional.
“I would not want to be putting a gun to my head and predicting if Vandy gets in or not,” Tim Weiser said.
Weiser spent the last five years making the tough calls as a member of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament Committee. He served as the chairman from 2009-11 and spent his Memorial Day weekends in Indianapolis trying to piece together the field of 64.
From the outside looking in, Weiser, the Deputy Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, said a couple factors weigh in Vanderbilt's favor. The Commodores’ RPI is in the 40s according to three different sites – the NCAA.com (47), boydsworld.com (43) and warrennolan.com (42). Plus, they have won seven of their lst nine.
“If you’re in the 40s [RPI] and finishing strong and you’re in a conference like the SEC, without knowing who else is in there [for at-large berth consideration], I think you’ve got a chance,” Weiser said. “But finishing strong is going to be hard for Vanderbilt if they’ve got three at LSU.”
They can bolster their case with victories over the next two weekends before the 10-team, double-elimination SEC Tournament on May 23-27. The Commodores begin a three-game road trip at No. 4 LSU (38-11, 16-8) on Friday and end the regular season next weekend by hosting No. 25 Ole Miss (31-18, 11-13).
“If you’re a Vandy fan I guess the good news is you still kind of control your own destiny,” Weiser said. “If you’re truly deserving you’re going to prove in Baton Rouge that’s the case and at home against Ole Miss. But if you slip a bit and drop all six, now you’re clearly, even if you make your conference tournament, you’re below .500. They can’t even mathematically get themselves in position to argue where they should or shouldn’t be in unless they get to the conference championship probably.”
Weiser can’t recall the committee taking more than eight teams from the SEC during his tenure and says reaching the SEC Tournament is a must.
Even with a 36-20 record last year, perennial power LSU didn’t get a NCAA bid partially because the Tigers didn’t make their league tournament.
“Certainly when a team doesn’t make their conference tournament the implication is kind of if you are not good enough to make your conference tournament how can we justify selecting them for the NCAA Tournament?” Weiser said. “I don’t think [Vanderbilt] would have nearly as much of an argument with them not making their conference tournament as they would making their conference tournament, which, I think, is probably why the SEC went from an eight team to a 10 team [tournament].”
The Commodores’ road record (5-12) and number of non-conference road games (five) might hurt their prospects. Though Vanderbilt opened its season at Stanford, a top five team at the time, its only other non-conference road games were in the state – at Belmont and at MTSU. The Commodores went 1-4 in those games and were just 13-11 overall in non-conference play.
Last year, LSU boasted an RPI of 26, according to boydsworld.com, and had a 23-3 non-conference record. But none of the Tigers’ road games were outside of Louisiana.
“When you have committee members that represent the northern locations they are going to be very biased about why would a school in the SEC or Big 12 or the Pac 10 that has resources not go play road games?” Weiser said. “Texas is notorious for that. They buy in everybody. They don’t hardly go anywhere. That can work for you if you remove any doubt to the committee about how good you are. If you play all your non-conference games at home, you win them all, and you win a majority of your conference games in a conference like the Big 12 and SEC you’re in.
"But that’s not typically the kind of discussion, like we’re having about Vanderbilt, that happens.”