Vanderbilt opens Southeastern Conference Tournament play Thursday (9 pm CT, SEC Network) against sixth-seeded LSU (11-20, 3-13 SEC). In losing their last two regular-season games to Kentucky and Florida, the Commodores slipped to a 3-seed and blew their chance at a first-round bye that would have allowed them to report to the Georgia Dome on Friday instead of Thursday.
Mississippi State (17-13, 9-7), the 2-seed from the West, awaits the Vandy-LSU victor on Friday in the quarterfinals (9 pm, SEC Network).
With its high RPI and quality wins, Vanderbilt seems assured of a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the seedings for which will be announced Sunday. Still, the Commodores, participating in a lively shoot-around Wednesday at the Georgia Dome, say they have plenty of motivation to play well on Thursday.
"Obviously, we were a little disappointed with how we ended the season," said junior forward Jeffery Taylor. "Especially since we had that long winning streak, things were really looking up for us.
"But we felt like we did a really good job throughout the whole season with the injuries, just sticking together."
Vanderbilt soundly defeated LSU, 90-69, on Feb. 26 in the team's only previous meeting this season. LSU coach Trent Johnson talked Wednesday about the difficulty of defending the Commodores' multi-pronged offensive attack.
"You have to pick your poison in terms of [Festus] Ezeli, or are you going to force him off his left shoulder and let them throw the ball in the post and then not cover down off of [John] Jenkins?" asked Johnson.
"Or [Jeffery] Taylor is so effective-- he's probably one of the more underrated players in our league, let alone the country in terms of his explosiveness and ability to defend. But I think the key to their basketball team is Brad Tinsley. I think he does an exceptional job of getting the ball to the right person at the right time."
Since the SEC Tournament was revived in 1979, Vanderbilt has never advanced to the championship game, and has advanced to the semifinals only six times (1981, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2004 and 2010). The Commodores are 30-48 all-time in the SEC Tournament.
"We have not talked about winning a championship," said Stallings. "We want to play well on Thursday night. And that's all our focus is about and all it will continue to be about.
"Like I said, if we're good enough to get by LSU, then we want to play well on Friday night. And fortunately these guys have done a good enough job over the course of the entire season that we're not here sweating out our NCAA tournament berth. That's good. So our focus can be on what it should be on, and that is, let's just play well."
SEC Tournament bracket: