The memories are not distant ones. The same is true of the opponent.
Vanderbilt did not have look far into its past to understand that noting is guaranteed by seeding when it comes to the NCAA tournament, particularly when it was placed as a No. 4 seed in the 2010 event, the field for which was announced Sunday.
It was just two years ago, the last time the Commodores earned an at-large invitation into the national championship field, that they were a No 4 seed. Theoretically, that made them a comfortable favorite in their first round game. The reality was that they were dumped 83-62 by Siena.
The idea that nothing comes easy at this time of year was further enhanced by the fact that their opponent Thursday in San Jose, Calif., is Murray State from relatively nearby Murray, Ky. It was little more than a week ago that the Racers earned their way into the 65-team field when they won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship at Bridgestone Arena, the same venue where Vanderbilt lost this past Saturday in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“If we get beat on Thursday, it will be because they outplayed us not because we underestimate them or anything of that nature,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “We will give them, and already give them our utmost respect. They will continue to get that as we try to prepare to play the best game we can.”
Vanderbilt (24-8) was one of four SEC teams to make the field.
Tennessee (25-8) was seeded No. 6 in the Midwest Region and matched up with Moutain West Conference tournament champion San Diego State in a first-round contest Thursday at Providence, R.I.
Regular-season and tournament champion Kentucky (32-2) was picked as the top seed in the East Region, and Florida (21-12) was tabbed as No. 10 in the West Region, the same one in which Vanderbilt and Murray State were placed.
Mississippi State (23-11), which lost the tournament championship game in overtime Sunday, did not receive a bid.
“I’m proud of my team and what they accomplished,” Stallings said. “I feel that we were justly rewarded for a terrific regular season. … We certainly feel like we left some wins out there that we certainly would love to have had, but I think, all in all, if you look at what we did and what we accomplished … I think we were very deserving of the seed that we received.”
Now it’s their job to live up to that seed against an opponent several television analysts identified almost immediately as one with the potential to pull a first-round upset.
Murray State (30-4) set a school record for victories and was the first team in Division I to win 30 games this season. At one point, it won 23 in a row.
The Racers have four different players who average at least 10 points per game and 10 who average at least 10 minutes of playing time.
“Obviously, the season they’ve had is really beyond somebody’s wildest imagination,” Stallings said. “I can’t fathom 30 wins and being the first team in the country to get there.”
The 2008 tournament was the first time in 10 appearances Vanderbilt was a No. 4 seed. Twice – in 2004 and 2008 – it advanced to the regional semifinal as a No. 6 seed, and in 1993 it won two games as a No. 3 seed.
Now, the Commodores have another chance.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play in the tournament,” Stallings said. “We’re excited about our seed. We know that we’ve got a very difficult matchup in front of us. … We’ll have to see how we can handle it.”
This time, that is.