Vandy presents tough match-ups

The Alabama basketball team (12-9, 4-6 SEC) finally broke a 5-game losing streak with a win over Tennessee. The Crimson Tide will look to continue that streak tonight against Vanderbilt, a team generally regarded in the bottom tier of the SEC.

But that team-the team that finished last in the SEC East last season even though it beat the Tide twice-returns nearly everyone and comes into the game with a 15-6 record, 4-6 in the SEC. The Commodores have impressive wins over Florida, Indiana, and Michigan and were once ranked, and boast one of the league's top players in Matt Freije.

"We're getting ready to play a very good team in my opinion, an experienced team, a veteran team, a team that beat us twice last year and one that has predominantly their entire team back," Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. "It's a different team on our side of the ball, and we look a little bit different but they look very similar with (Matt) Freije and a great cast around him, and that's where our focus is right now."

Freije was a preseason SEC Player of the year pick, and the 6-foot-10 senior forward has not disappointed this season, averaging 18.1 points per game. Freije has been a Tide nightmare throughout his career, and poses a difficult challenge inside and out. Gottfried isn't sure yet who will guard Freije, but it will likely start off being either of the Tide's big men in Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson.

"You've got to pick your poison a little bit," Gottfried said. "He lit us up last year for 24 points and 19 the other game. Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson will both have him some. I think your wing players could guard him a little bit. He's just a handful."

Freije won't be the Tide's only problem. Point guard Mario Moore is the Commodores' second-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game, and he lit the Tide up for 25 points in an SEC Tournament win last season. David Przybyszewski, a 7-foot-1 Polish center, is also a threat to hit from the outside.

An injured shoulder hurt in practice is limiting Pettway's production right now, but predictably he refuses to take any time off.

The Commodores' other starters are 6-foot-6 junior guard Jason Holwerda and 6-foot-6 junior forward Corey Smith. The matchups don't tend to favor the opposition in Vandy's case.

"I think most coaches in the league feel like, with Freije, you've got a player first of all who's big enough to take you around the basket to score, a good enough shooter on the perimeter," Gottfried said. "You end up with a player, typically who's in unfamiliar territory: either a big guy outside or a smaller guy inside. And then with (David) Przybyszewski in there at seven foot one-he's made 30-something three pointers this year.

He's made almost as many 3-pointers in the league (15), I think, as Earnest Shelton (18). So all of the sudden a guy like Jermareo Davidson is chasing a guy around the 3-point line. Because of that, they are very different from any other team you play."

Gottfried said that he hadn't seen how his point guard, Antoine Pettway, was reacting to a shoulder injury, but it's likely he'll continue to play through the pain.

"I think Antoine is just going to play hard no matter what," Gottfried said. "He's a guy who, he can go down pretty hard in practice, and he'll pop right up and say he's alright even though he's sore or struggling or whatever he may be, but he still can do a lot for our team. He's running our team from the point guard position."

Gottfried praised Pettway's unselfish play. "Defensively Antoine did a good job. He's not really looking to score as much as he has or take open shots because he feels a little limited."

Davis played well for the Tide against Tennessee, scoring 20 points after several sub-par outings. Positive play from him this season has been a direct correlation on the Tide's success, but the sophomore has seen his share of ups and downs.

"He has a tendency to play good at times and a tendency to play poor at times," Gottfried said. "He needs to be more consistent. He knows and the team knows that when we have an inside presence, we're a different team."

With six games left in the regular season, the Tide finds itself on the bubble of an NCAA or NIT berth. A high RPI and strength of schedule will help the Tide, but not as much as winning will.

"We're trying to do everything that is positive from here on out,"

Gottfried said. "There are 25 teams out there that are similar to us, teams like Michigan State, Maryland and Michigan. Everybody's got to do something well if they want to have something to play for in March."


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