Neither Vandy nor Tennessee is going to the NCAA Tournament, so all that's on the line Thursday night in Knoxville is some state SEC bragging rights and potential better seeding in the SEC Tournament.
Vols Struggling Under Tyndall
Tennessee made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament, losing to No. 2 Michigan 73-71 in that round. The program looked on the rise under Coach Cuonzo Martin, but then he surprisingly left for the University of California job. UT hired Donnie Tyndall after he had two successful seasons at Southern Miss.
However, Tyndall could be in some hot water. Southern Mississippi announced in January it was self-imposing a postseason ban for this season as the NCAA investigates its basketball program. Reportedly it involves Proposition 48, which mandates minimum high school grades and standardized test scores that athletes must meet in order to play collegiately. The investigation centers on the two seasons Tyndall was there. Tyndall's contract at Tennessee allows the school to fire him, without having to pay out his contract, if he's found to have committed a major NCAA violation, even previously. Two former Tyndall signees at Southern Miss have already been ruled ineligible. Tyndall also was punished for a violation involving a booster while coaching at Morehead State before Southern Miss.
On the court, the Vols (14-12, 6-8) were NCAA basketball pick to finish near the bottom of the SEC, but they started well with a 12-5 overall mark and 4-1 conference start following a Jan. 20 win at South Carolina. Obviously things haven't gone well since with only two victories. Tennessee enters on a three-game losing streak, getting blown out at home by LSU and Kentucky before falling 59-57 at Ole Miss on Saturday. Vols leading scorer Josh Richardson missed a 12-footer to tie it at the end against the Rebels. UT dropped to 2-5 in the SEC in games decided by six points or less. In three of their eight SEC losses, the Vols have had shots to either tie or take the lead at the end of regulation.
A Tyndall-coached team hasn't lost four straight games since 2009 when he was at Morehead State. Tennessee is 9-15-2 against the betting spread overall and 2-11-1 at home.
Better Luck Next Season
Vanderbilt (15-12, 5-9) is going to miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. The Commodores come off a 76-53 blowout of Missouri that was one of their best efforts of the season -- although take that with a grain of salt because Mizzou is the SEC's worst team. Vandy jumped to a 7-0 lead and never trailed in its biggest margin of victory in almost exactly two years. Damian Jones led five players in double figures with 16 points. Vandy made a season-high 10 3-pointers and outrebounded the Tigers 46-26. The Dores are now 11-2 this season when outrebounding a foe.
Jones, a sophomore, is Vanderbilt's best player and leads the team in scoring (14.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg). Riley LaChance is second in scoring at 12.6 ppg, which leads all SEC freshmen. Freshman guard Shelton Mitchell returned against Missouri after missing four games with concussion-like symptoms. He has started a handful of games this season but came off the bench against Missouri and had four assists and two points.
The Commodores haven't won at Knoxville since 2010. They are 13-11 against the spread overall this season and 4-5 ATS on NCAA basketball odds on the road.
On Feb. 11 in Nashville, the Volunteers were 6-point underdogs on NCAA basketball odds (total of 125) but won 76-73 in overtime. Vols sophomore guard Robert Hubbs III hit a layup at the end of regulation to force OT. Vandy had led 65-60 with just 15 seconds left but was just 3-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final seconds. Kevin Punter hit two free throws with 1:18 left in OT to give Tennessee the lead for good. The Commodores' LaChance missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds. Richardson was easily the best player on the floor with 27 points. Jones led Vanderbilt with 16 points. Vandy played without Mitchell due to that concussion.
NCAAB ATS: The Vols have won eight of their past 10 at home and they make it 9-for-11 and cover the spread. A win would give Tennessee its fifth season sweep over the Commodores in the past 10 years. The Commodores are 1-4 ATS in their past five Thursday games. The Vols are 5-2 ATS in their past seven after a loss. Vandy is 2-7 ATS in its past nine in Knoxville.
Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Tennessee -1 at Pinnacle