Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Vandy still fighting for NCAA tournament spot

We’ve officially reached mid-February, which of course means that we’re only several weeks away from the madness of March.

Several local college basketball teams are trying to beef up their resume in order to be a part of all the fun and excitement, and that’s the focus of this week’s Three-Point Play.

Damian Jones is fighting to help Vandy make the NCAA tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Damian Jones is fighting to help Vandy make the NCAA tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

1. Vandy still has work to do to get in the NCAA tournament

It was an interesting week for the Vanderbilt Commodores.

After scoring their biggest win of the season against No. 8 Texas A&M, Kevin Stallings’ team turned around and went to Ole Miss.

Few expected Vandy to lose. But it did.

The loss to the Rebels had Vandy fans scratching their heads once again. How could a team that knocked off a Top 10 program turn around and lose to a mediocre Ole Miss team? It was befuddling.

The Commodores followed up the loss to the Rebels with a win over Missouri. The Tigers are easily one of the worst teams in a power conference, so the win did little for Vandy’s NCAA tournament hopes.

But still, a win is better than a loss.

And thus Vandy now enters yet another pivotal week. The good news is that their competition won’t be a whole lot better than what they faced against Missouri on Wednesday night.

Damian Jones and company will face back-to-back road games against Auburn and Mississippi State, two teams that are nowhere close to factoring into the SEC title race. Auburn is only averaging 59.5 points per game during its six-game losing streak, and Mississippi State is firmly in the bottom portion of the standings.

Both are games that Vandy should win. Scratch that. Both are games that Vandy must win.

Losing to a bad team like Auburn or Mississippi State will crush this team’s chances of making it to the Big Dance.

Right now, Vandy is on the edge. The only way to stay on solid ground? Win the games you should, and then go win a big road game against Florida or Texas A&M.

The players know that. Now they just have to go out and make it happen if they want to put on their dancing shoes come March.

Evan Bradds and Belmont bounced back from their first-ever OVC home loss by beating Jacksonville State. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Evan Bradds and Belmont bounced back from their first-ever OVC home loss by beating Jacksonville State. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

2. Belmont trying to regain momentum in OVC

The Belmont Bruins did something this past week that they’ve never done before: they lost an OVC game at home.

Yes, the streak officially ended, as Eastern Kentucky came into Nashville and walked away with a surprising 88-78 victory.

It was strange on several levels. For starters, Belmont hadn’t lost an OVC home game since joining the conference in 2012. For that to happen really was mind-blowing.

Then there was the fact that Eastern Kentucky is the definition of average.

The Colonels sit at 14-13 as of this writing, with an underwhelming 5-7 record in the conference. Who expected a team with that kind of resume to end Belmont’s incredible home streak?

Luckily for Rick Byrd, his team bounced back and held off Jacksonville State to get the home streak going again.

The Jacksonville State win put the Bruins back in sole possession of first place, which is without question where you want to be with March only a few weeks away.

But Belmont’s final four games of the season will be far from easy. The Bruins head to Morehead State on Saturday, but the stretch after that is where things get interesting.

Belmont goes to Eastern Kentucky, comes home to play Tennessee Tech, and then finishes up the season at Tennessee State. All three of those games will be huge tests for this team.

Finding a way to win all of them would certainly make the Bruins the most feared team in the conference heading into the OVC tournament.

Lipscomb is trying to rise into the top half of the standings in the Atlantic Sun. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Lipscomb is trying to rise into the top half of the standings in the Atlantic Sun. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

3. Lipscomb fighting for top-half finish in Atlantic Sun

This season has not been ideal for Casey Alexander and the Lipscomb Bison. The team sits at 9-18 on the year, with little hope of any postseason play in their future.

However, Lipscomb still has a top-half finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference in reach.

Of course, that’s going to take some work. The Bison are currently fifth in the eight-team conference, but are riding a two-game winning streak.

Lipscomb avenged a home loss by picking up a solid road win at USC Update, and then came right back and won a 93-92 thriller over Jacksonville, who is tied for the conference lead at the moment.

Maybe that was the confidence boost that Alexander’s team needed heading into the stretch run of the season.

The next two games for the Bison will come against two teams sitting in the top part of the conference. North Florida is tied with Jacksonville for the A-Sun lead, and Florida Gulf Coast is right behind them.

It’ll take two more strong efforts for Lipscomb to win those games.

But as it showed at home against Jacksonville, when everything comes together, the Bison can beat anyone in this conference.

And-1:

Tennessee State continues to try and catch Belmont in the OVC standings. The Tigers have won two in a row, with the most recent coming in dominant fashion in a 30-point home win over Tennessee Tech.

There’s no doubt that the regular season finale against Belmont could go a long way towards determining the OVC regular season champion.

Anything else I need to know about in Nashville hoops this week? Let me know on Twitter.