By the time Vanderbilt’s basketball team boarded a plane to head home from South Carolina last Saturday, it already had secured its best start in conference play in 20 years.
Before the players disembarked here, coach Kevin Stallings made it clear he expects them to be better.
“It’s about improvement this week,” Stallings said on Monday. “It’s about getting better and trying to be better (this) Saturday than we were last Saturday. That has to be our focus. It can’t be This-0 or That-0 or ‘this place’ or ‘that place.’ Let’s just try to be better and, obviously, do the things that it takes to get better.”
Instead of an opportunity to build promptly on back-to-back road wins over Alabama and South Carolina in a three-day span, the Commodores have a full week of practice before they play again, against Auburn, 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium.
The two road wins already matches the number they had all last season in conference play, and their 3-0 mark (they opened SEC play with a victory at home against Florida) is their first since 1989-90.
“Every win is a good win and every road win is so valuable and so precious,” Stallings said. “You just don’t know how many of them there are to be had. We’re thrilled with the start, but one bad week and you’re just back to the very beginning.
“If you get too satisfied with what you’ve done yesterday then you’re not doing enough today. That’s the bottom line.”
The only other teams still unbeaten in SEC player are Kentucky (3-0), Mississippi State (3-0) and Tennessee (2-0).
Following the game with Auburn, Vanderbilt will play at Tennessee and at Kentucky. All three contests will take place in a span of eight days, which means that — in a worst-case scenario — the Commodores could go from their present perch, tied atop the SEC’s Eastern Division, to .500 in conference play basically in a matter of one week.
For now, though, they have won eight straight overall and once again have started to attract national attention. In the latest Associated Press rankings, released Monday, they were 26th, 25 points behind No. 25 Baylor. In the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll they were tied — with Mississippi State — for 27th.
Vanderbilt has spent one week ranked in each poll this season (on different weeks) and each time lost within 24 hours of being included.
“I’m starting to see the value of experience and the value of confidence and guys who believe in themselves and believe they can make it happen when they have to,” Stallings said. “All of those things that go with experience are showing up for us right now, the biggest part being that they believe they can do it. They believe they can win and be successful, and they’re competing that way.”
They also know what’s expected to them this week, when they have a bunch of practices.