March 9, 2011 8:06:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- With a bye in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament, the Mississippi State men''s basketball team has a more favorable path to Sunday''s title game.
But the Bulldogs won''t know who they''ll face in the quarterfinals until Thursday.
MSU will open play Friday in Atlanta against the winner of the LSU and Vanderbilt game. Both teams defeated MSU in Starkville this season.
Vanderbilt (21-9, 9-7), the No. 3 seed from the SEC''s Eastern Division, is favored to beat LSU (11-20, 3-13), which finished with the league''s worst record. The Tigers won their first two league games before losing 10 straight. They snapped that skid by beating MSU 84-82 on Feb. 23.
The Commodores rallied from an eight-point deficit midway through the second half to beat MSU 81-74 on Jan. 27. Vanderbilt enters the tournament having lost three of its past four. The lone win in the stretch was a 90-69 win against LSU.
"Can LSU upset them? I think anybody can beat anybody, but (Vanderbilt) is a team that if you''re going to put a little emphasis on -- it''s got to be them," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "They have two things to attack us as well as any team. Their five guy is going to attack you in the paint. The best of any five guy in this league is (Festus) Ezeli. They try to get the ball to him in that lane. Then (Jeffery) Taylor, he''s a tough matchup for us at that three spot."
Ezeli and Taylor were named Tuesday second-team All-SEC.
Taylor, who had 25 points against MSU, hit seven free throws in a 12-0 second-half run that turned a 66-59 deficit into a 71-66 lead.
"I''ve talked about two guys who are not even their leading scorer," Stansbury said. "I''m not even talking about Jenkins -- the leading scorer in the SEC and the problems he presents. Vanderbilt is well put together. They''re experienced. They have depth. They don''t make a whole lot of mistakes you can take advantage of."
MSU''s players said the fact they''ve faced LSU twice this season (the last game was two weeks ago) makes the preparation for their SEC Western division rival easier.
The Tigers have struggled to score all season. LSU averages just 62.6 points a game, and only broke 70 points once in SEC play -- against MSU.
"If they''re hitting shots they''re hard to beat," MSU guard Dee Bost said. "Vandy, we all know they real good and got a lot of weapons. Us not knowing who we got to play, we just got to prepare for both of them ''cause LSU could beat Vandy."
MSU to play in 2K Sports Classic
MSU has accepted an invitation to participate in the 2011 2K Sports Classic on Nov. 17-18 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
St. John''s, Arizona, and Texas A&M also will participate. Tickets went on sale at 11 a.m. today and can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 866-448-7849 or through Ticketmaster.com.
The Classic features 12 teams from across the nation competing in the 17th annual event. St. John''s, Arizona, Texas A&M, and MSU will play host to regional round games from Nov. 7-11. They then will advance to the championship rounds in New York.
Matchups for the Championship Rounds and the bracket for the Classic will be announced at a later date.
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