ATLANTA – When Vanderbilt and Auburn tip-off today at 2:15 (CST) in the opening round of the SEC Tournament, they'll be a group of interested observers courtside draped in red.
That's because the University of Arkansas will get the winner of Thursday's battle between the No. 17 Commodores (25-6, 10-6) and the Tigers (14-15, 4-12).
The Razorbacks swept Auburn – including a home win last Saturday - and beat visiting Vanderbilt as well.
"They are uniquely different," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said of his team's two possible foes.
"Auburn is the toughest matchup in the league for us," Pelphrey said. . "Quan Prowell is strong and athletic, and Frank Tolbert is a handful. Darian (Townes), Steven (Hill) and Michael Washington – there's no one on their team that looks like them, so who do they guard? If you go zone, they shoot threes and it comes down to if they make them or not.
"For Vanderbilt, Shan Foster is the best player in the league," Pelphrey added. "He's scary. A.J. Ogilvy is a terrific, terrific player. They can go inside or outside. We'll have to try to deny Foster. No one guy can lock up on him. Everybody will get a chance."
Action gets underway at noon with LSU playing South Carolina with Alabama and Florida meeting at 6:30 p.m. and Georgia and Ole Miss capping things off at 8:45 p.m..
Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas all have first-round byes.
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings and Auburn bench boss Jeff Lebo both took the to podium at the Georgia Dome on Wednesday afternoon with no thoughts of Arkansas.
Both of those teams will be trying to become the first team to win four games in four days since Arkansas did so while winning the championship in 2000.
"We'll go and do whatever we have to do to win on Thursday," Stallings said. "If that means Shan has to play 38 minutes, then Shan will play 38 minutes if he can. And there won't be any self-preservation going on because you can't win four if you don't win one.
"…We'll just try to win the game and then worry about Friday," Stallings added.
Lebo's team has lost four straight and comes in as a big underdog – albeit the Tigers lost just 78i-71 at Vanderbilt earlier this season.
"I think our kids know that I think you're motivated here at tournament time," Lebo said. "You win, you move on; you lose, you go home. Our kids know that. Hopefully we'll play loose. We've been the underdog most of the time we have stepped on the floor, so that's not something knew to us."
One reason that Auburn was able to hang with Vandy earlier in the season was Frank Tolbert's 32 points.
"It is coming to an end and it got here so fast that you just want to play your best ball and leave it all out on the floor every night because you know for us there is no next year," Tolbert said.
Interestingly the Commodores and the Tigers have played three of the last four tournaments and Auburn has a 6-1 record against Vandy in recent tournament history.
"I don't see it as a trap game because I think our guys are very aware of Auburn's capabilities," Stallings said. "We've done a very good job this year, I think, of not taking anybody lightly. I think in terms of the psychology or being the underdog or being the favorite, I think once the game starts, I don't think there is much bearing on that. I don't think that matters much."
Stallings team has lost its first game the past two seasons, but he downplayed that.
"We lost last year to Arkansas in a game that we had a wide-open shot for this year's best player in the league," Stallings said. "That's a game that was obviously very winnable. The year before I recall we got beat by LSU just before they went to the Final Four, so I would say chances are that we probably got beat by a better team.
"Sometimes you come down here and you play teams that are better than you," Stallings added. "Now I am not saying that was necessarily the case last year, but certainly it was two years ago and I don't remember beyond that."
Foster, the league's player of the year, wants to have good memories from this tournament even thought his school is regarded as a lock for the NCAA Tournament regardless of how it fares in Atlanta.
"I think it is important to us a group and as a whole to have a good showing in this tournament," Foster said. "Unfortunately last year we didn't have great success so we have an opportunity to do something that Coach mentioned and that's finish," Foster said. "You are always remembered about how you finish at the end of the year and we definitely have an opportunity to go out and do that."
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