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Vandy hoping to get NCAA call despite loss

John Marshall, AP Basketball Writer

Vanderbilt guard Joe Toye (2) drives against Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford (0) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Arkansas won 76-62. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Vanderbilt had a rough ending to the SEC Tournament, blown out 76-62 to Arkansas in the semifinals Saturday.

Now the Commodores will have an anxious 24-or-so hours to find out if they're in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's been spectacular run by our guys the last couple weeks, been a lot of emotional games all packed into the last few weeks," Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. "And, you know, we're going tomorrow to watch the brackets and hopefully have a good celebration after."

Vanderbilt (19-15) has a solid resume.

The Commodores have six RPI top-50 victories, 12 top-100 wins and were the only SEC team to sweep Florida this season, beating the Gators three times. Vanderbilt won eight of its final 11 games while playing the nation's toughest schedule, with six of its final 11 wins against projected NCAA Tournament teams.

The two knocks against Vanderbilt: a whopping 15 losses and a bad last impression with the blowout loss.

"The NCAA Tournament, I think it's the best time of the sports season, obviously, coming up," Drew said. "It's awesome whenever you get to be a part of it. I think our guys have worked really, really hard to put themselves in that position to be part of it. And with the schedule we played this year, with the teams that we have some wins over, we feel like if we go and we play well, hopefully we can stay there for a little while."

Alabama had a huge opportunity to move a bit closer to bubble when it faced No. 8 Kentucky in Saturday's other SEC semifinal.

The Crimson Tide held their own against the Wildcats, but fell short with a 79-74 loss, dropping to 19-14. Alabama beat Vanderbilt and knocked off South Carolina in the SEC quarterfinals, but finished 6-13 against the RPI Top-100 teams.

A NCAA Tournament berth could be a longshot now.

RHODY WINS: Rhode Island still have to play in the Atlantic-10 championship game against VCU on Sunday, when an automatic NCAA Tournament berth will be on the line.

The Rams could have a slot waiting for them regardless of what happens.

Rhode Island was No. 25 in the preseason AP Top 25, but had a couple of rough stretches and finished 13-5 in conference. The Rams at least started playing well at just the right time, winning their final seven games, including a blowout over Davidson in Saturday's tournament semifinals.

Rhode Island is still firmly on the bubble, though, so beating VCU for the auto bid will make the rest of Sunday a whole lot easier on the Rams.

"This is what we talked about four years ago and to be like finally here, we can really taste it," Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews said. "We're not there yet, so we know we have a lot of work to put in and we're going to be patient and we're going to get a lot of rest. We're going to look at it as another game even though it's not and be ready to play tomorrow."

BLUE RAIDERS RIDE: Middle Tennessee appeared to have a strong enough resume to get into the field of 68 regardless of what happened in Saturday's Conference-USA title game.

The Blue Raiders took all the doubt out of it by beating Marshall 83-72 victory for their second straight C-USA title.

"For us to be able to do that in the fashion we did it, it really speaks volumes about our team and what we had to go through over the season and not just being satisfied with what we did last year," Middle Tennessee senior Reggie Upshaw Jr. said.

MOUNTAIN WEST: Nevada took itself off the bubble by beating Colorado State 79-71 in the Mountain West Conference Tournament title game on Saturday.

That creates a question: Is the Mountain West a one-bid or two-bid conference?

Colorado State finished the season 23-11, but was runner-up to Nevada for the regular-season and tournament titles in a conference that is not particularly strong. The Rams didn't do much during the non-conference schedule, either, their marquee win coming over rival Colorado.

Selection Sunday is going to be tense for them.

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