Indians stumble into SEC country

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings believes the very nature of college basketball makes it hard to believe that his team would dare take Southeast Missouri State University lightly tonight -- even though on paper the non-conference game in Nashville, Tenn., looks like a mismatch.

"SEMO has proven over the last couple of years they can beat a lot of people," said Stallings. "I know they're undermanned right now, but the thing about Division I college basketball, and it really is the case, you look around college basketball this year moreso than ever and anybody can win. Almost everybody around the country has been upset by somebody."

In addition, said a laughing Stallings, the way he got on the 5-2 Commodores last Thursday after they stumbled to a win over Cal Poly should help in getting properly prepared for the 0-4 Indians.

"My displeasure in our team last Thursday night when I didn't think we were ready to play...I don't know, it's too early in the season," he said. "It's a problem we shouldn't have to face at this point."

The Commodores bounced back from that five-point win over Cal Poly to record their most impressive victory to date, knocking off nationally ranked Western Kentucky 80-75 Sunday. Vanderbilt's other triumphs have come against Liberty, Hampton and Chattanooga while the losses were to Connecticut and Monmouth.

"I was really concerned, very disheartened with the way we played against Cal Poly, but we bounced back with a very good game against a good Western Kentucky team," Stallings said.

Stallings, in his third season at Vanderbilt after having impressive success at Illinois State, said he had relatively high hopes entering the year, although optimism is always tempered somewhat by the kind of league -- the rugged Southeastern Conference -- the Commodores compete in.

"In this league, you're always cautious," he said. "You start at the top with Kentucky and Florida, then the rest of us might be playing for third, and that's just in our division.

"We're pretty young, but I'm encouraged. I like our attitude and our coachability."

Stallings said the Commodores' main strength and weakness so far are easy to pinpoint. That would be shooting on the plus side and rebounding on the minus side.

"We've shot the ball real well. I think we're a good shooting team," he said. "And we're a bad rebounding team. That's the long and short of it."

Vanderbilt is shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. Brendan Plavich, Sam Howard and 6-foot-11 David Przybyszewski are all shooting well above 40 percent from beyond the arc.

"We've got good shooters," said Stallings. "If somebody is going to look at our team, they're going to say that's a good shooting team. And that's not an accident. I knew before the season we had a lot of guys that could shoot."

The Commodores are being outrebounded by an average of more than four per game, although they won't be going up against a rebounding juggernaut tonight as the Indians are being beaten on the board by nearly eight a contest.

Matt Freije, a 6-9 sophomore forward, is Vanderbilt's leading scorer at 16.1 points per game. Also in double figures are senior guard Howard (14.4), senior guard Chuck Moore (12.4) and sophomore guard Plavich (11.1).

Vanderbilt's shooting prowess has Garner concerned, although he said he's more worried about the Indians right now than the opposition as Southeast tries to keep its head above water.

"They're a really good shooting team," Garner said. "All five guys can shoot the 3, even their bigger kids. They've got shooters at every position out there.

"We know they're going to be a good basketball team. But it's our team that I have to concentrate on now. We just have to keep working to try and get better."

Stallings re-emphasized that the Commodores are not going to look past the Indians in the first-ever meeting between the squads.

"I know Gary has done a great job of coaching wherever he's been," Stallings said. "It's a lot of triangle offense and they're always real solid defensively. I believe we're going to be ready to play."

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