Music City Madness

Arkansas (19-12, 10-8) will try to win its first SEC Tournament game since 2008 when the Razorbacks meet Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10) Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

NASHVILLE - It's postseason in March and as usual the most-oft used phrase in college basketball is survive-and-advance.

  That's just what Arkansas (19-12, 10-8) and Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10) have in mind when the two teams meet Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the second round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

  The two teams split a home-and-home series during the year while arguably playing their worst games of the season on the other's home court.

  "We have played them before and we are familiar with them and they are familiar with us," Anderson said. "Everybody's record is 0-0 so it's survive and advance. You are going to get everybody's best shot at this point and time and we aim to give our best shot."

Arkansas has not won an SEC Tournament game since 2008.

"I'm used to success," noted Anderson, who has only been around for one of those losses. "I love this time of year. When you talk about the past, nothing you can do about that. Last year I was disappointed in exiting the tournament as fast as we did.

"Hopefully we have a better grasp of it this year and come out and perform," Anderson added. "That's the key. You have got to come out and perform."

  The league's first 14-team tournament got underway Wednesday in a place dubbed Music City with 13th-seed Mississippi State downing 12th-seeded South Carolina 71-59 and 11th-seeded Texas A&M beating 14th-seeded Auburn 71-62.

  Thursday's other games will find eighth-seeded Georgia and LSU meeting at noon, fifth-seeded Tennessee facing Mississippi State at 2:30 and sixth-seeded Missouri battling Texas A&M at 9 p.m.

  "I think it's an exciting time of the year," Anderson said. "Our teams generally trend up at this time of the year and hopefully this will give us an opportunity to go out and showcase in a tournament setting. Four games, for us if we have a chance to win it, the qualifier, the NCAA qualifier comes from this tournament. So it's one and done. Everybody's record is the same, zero and zero."

  Vanderbilt has won four of its last five games with the lone setback being a loss at Florida.

"We feel good about the way we have been playing the last few weeks and we're certainly hopeful of  being  able  to  keep  that  going starting    tomorrow    night    against    a    very    good Arkansas team," Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings said.  "We've had a number of guys play better  as  of  late  on  our  team.    When  I  say  "late," lately, talking about the last two, three weeks and I think  that's  been  a  big  reason  for  our  improved play  and  --  but,  again,  you  have  to  execute,  you have    to    play    well,    and    you    have to  certainly execute  at  the  end  of  games  in  order  to  win  in tournaments and hopefully we'll be able to do that."

Anderson knows Vanderbilt - whose players do have to attend classes on Thursday before playing - is putting forth its best basketball of the season.

  "I think they're playing well," Anderson said. "In the second half of the conference schedule, this shows you how much they improved, they went 6-3. Playing some good basketball. So it's not the same team we played earlier.

  "We played them I think our first home game of conference play and at that time we beat them pretty good," Anderson said of a 56-33 victory. "Went to there place and they beat us pretty good (67-49). Now you've got the rubber match…we're looking forward to the challenge."

While Vanderbilt's fans have not bought a lot of tickets, Arkansas junior forward Marshawn Powell expects it to be a road-type game as the Razorbacks try to win their first SEC Tournament game since 2008.

  "It will be like a home game for them," Powell said. "We've just got to go in with the mindset we're going to win and we're going to do everything we can to win…"it would mean a lot. I really, really want it man to be honest. I'm going to sit out there and try to fight as hard as I can and pull my team to get a win."

  Razorback sophomore guard B.J. Young – who along with Powell was named a second-team All-SEC selection on Tuesday – says the team is focused simply on this one game.

   "We are trying to get this first game out of the way," Young said. "We know it's the most important game of the season. We know we are capable of winning."

  Anderson is hoping a good week results in his team being in post-season play.

  "That is what post-season is all about - getting into situations where you can test yourself and get better," Anderson said. "Going into the SEC Tournament, I think this is going to be great for our basketball team. We will find out a little bit more about them and continuing to play - no question - is a big benefit.. just from the experience factor."

  The odds are against Arkansas winning four games and getting the SEC's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament as it did in 2000, but Young says that is definitely the goal going into the event.

  "I think it would be a major step in the second year under Coach Anderson having some new guys, and not even one senior on the team," Young said. "I think it shows a lot how tough our young guys were and the guys that have been in place already. I think it can be a growing experience for our team and a great building block for Arkansas basketball."

  Powell agreed with that sentiment.

  "I mean, it's very, very important," Powell said. "It shows you the direction we're headed to. Next year we got invited to the Maui (Invitational) thing. It just shows you if we continue to work we'll get it and we'll be nationally recognized again."

  Anderson knows any run will be because of one big key

  "Make shots," Anderson said. "We made shots up here. We had a lot of fast breaks that we didn't finish, and not only that, we allowed them to really attack the glass on us. We took care of it here, and then over there we didn't do a very good job. They got to the free throw line quite a bit.

  "But more importantly we had some fast break opportunities that we didn't finish and we had a lot of shots that we missed," Anderson added. You've got to make shots. And we got to the free-throw line and we didn't make the free throws that we shot."

Arkansas hopes it gets to use its depth while making a run in the tournament.

  "Typically the teams I've been associated with, they start playing some of their better basketball this time of the year, and depth has a big part of that," Anderson said. " But the only way you're gong to be able to create and use that depth is you get past the first game. That's the most important critical game. You've got to go in and it's survive and advance.

  "Our focus is on Vandy and hopefully things will go the way we want them to go," Anderson said. " Now you start getting deeper into the tournament and depth certainly is a big factor. The thing I like about it is, it's hard to prepare for us, the way we play and the style we play. The key is getting past that first game."

 

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