As ESPN's College GameDay prepares to take its talents to Knoxville this Saturday, the Vanderbilt Commodores make the trek to Thompson-Boling Arena with hopes of capturing what has typically been a very difficult road victory in the recent past.
With Bruce Pearl out of the picture because of the SEC mandated suspension, two-time SEC Coach of the Year Kevin Stallings looks to push the Vols' skid to three consecutive in-conference losses.
The competition within the SEC is brutal for both the coaches and the players. After Vanderbilt's victory over the streaking Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday night, Stallings attested to the inner-conference struggles.
"I will say that any time you lose in this league, it puts a little bit more pressure on the next game," Stallings said. "Then you've got a trip over there (Knoxville), staring at you right in the face, you feel even a little bit more stressed, or at least I do. I was only worried about today, but what you have next, you always worry about, or at least I do."
Stallings will need to rely on Tennessee native John Jenkins and Switzerland import Jeffery Taylor to work together if they want to move to 2-1 in SEC play. Jenkins, an up-and-coming sophomore guard from Hendersonville, must lean on Taylor's athletic ability to push the ball in transition. Jenkins averages 18.4 points per game, but in Vandy's three losses (West Virginia, Missouri and South Carolina) he has averaged 25.7 points. He must spread the ball around, and looking Taylor's way will yield solid dividends.
Taylor, another international recruit for Stallings, often resembles the Vandy great Shan Foster, the 2008 SEC Player of the Year. Similar to Foster, his abilities to run the length of the floor, dunk, slash through defenses and shoot a reliable 3-pointer this season (.386 percent) will need to be on display in totality for Vanderbilt to win Saturday.
Although the Commodores will knowingly rely on Jenkins and Taylor to set the tone, they will also need another strong performance from budding center Festus Ezeli. His athleticism outmatches the Vols' overall presence down low, but Ezeli will have to remain patient and determined, as he was against Georgia on Wednesday, totaling 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Ezeli knew his team came up short after an overtime loss to South Carolina last weekend and was quick to point out the newfound motivation.
"We're hungry because we're still mad about (South Carolina)," Ezeli said. "Still got a bad taste about that one."
Vanderbilt's perspective and hunger seems perfectly aligned, but Stallings will surely realize the sense of urgency the Vols have for a win, especially with a favorable homecourt matchup for UT.
Although Vanderbilt knows what product they must put on the court, the Commodores come to Knoxville not knowing exactly what to expect from their opponent. As any UT fan knows, the Volunteers have redefined the word inconsistent this season, but support of the Rocky Top Rowdies and fan's allegiance goes unmatched in rivalry games like this one.