Vandy Seniors Fuel Early SEC Success

FAYETTEVILLE -- Vanderbilt is a surprise team in the Southeastern Conference basketball race this season with a 14-6 record and 4-2 league mark, and coach Kevin Stallings cites experience as a big reasons.

"I worked for (former Purdue coach) Gene Keady, and he always said if you're going to have a great year your seniors have to play the best basketball of their careers," Stallings said.

Stallings credited his three seniors -- 6-foot-7 forward Derrick Byars, 6-5 guard/forward Dan Cage and 6-11 center Ted Skuchas -- with providing the leadership that has promoted "chemistry and effort level" on the Commodores.

"I think Cage has been the backbone of this team," Stallings said.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy agreed.

"Cage plays the 4 position so well," Kennedy said.

Shan Foster, a 6-6 junior who led Vanderbilt with 15.9 points per game last season, has also been a factor offensively.

"Vanderbilt shoots so well that you can't just hope they miss," said Kennedy, whose Rebels must travel to Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday for a televised noon game.

Vandy boasts three straight wins over ranked teams, including Wednesday's 64-53 decision at No. 21 LSU.

"Our team defense is better, and we boxed out well against LSU," Stallings said. "I think all but one of (Byers') rebounds hit the ground."

While Stallings likes his team, he knows there's not much breathing room in the SEC.

"The depth in this league is the best I've seen it in my eight years," he said.


Florida coach Billy Donovan has a theory on why there's such parity in the SEC (excepting his team, which has won 11 straight games).

"This is my 16th year in the league and I've never seen anything like it," Donovan said. "Recruiting has changed. With more players leaving early, you have to build teams. Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have everyone back.

"I've really enjoyed watching Auburn play. They took their lumps last year but now they have experience. (Auburn coach) Jeff Lebo and some other coaches have done a terrific job of building teams over a period of years."

Donovan noted that even Florida was able to keep stars such as juniors Al Horford and Joakim Noah, neither of whom was rated in the top 10 nationally at his position coming out of high school.


South Carolina coach Dave Odom, whose team broke a five-game losing streak with its 66-60 home win over Arkansas on Wednesday, commended his players for "doing the right thing at the right time for the right team reasons."

Also, Odom reminded, "For about two weeks there, we had more players injured than healthy."

Asked to describe his team's postgame mood, Odom said, "There wasn't euphoria, or a party atmosphere, but more relief. There was more air in there. It was fresher."


Georgia coach Dennis Felton calls LSU forward Glen Davis, the Bulldogs' adversary this Sunday, "arguably the most forceful player in the country."

LSU coach John Brady, meanwhile, continues to lament his team's offensive woes.

"We can't keep scoring 55 points a game and putting it on our defense," Brady said...

Like many observers, Brady can make neither head nor tail of the SEC West race.

"If you start looking around the league, it will certainly drive you mad trying to figure out why this team or that team plays this way on a particular night," Brady said.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath said, "The West is just wild. We're one game out of first place and we've got two wins."...

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said Tide forward Richard Hendrix has slumped partly because of foul trouble.

"We haven't played consistently the past few weeks," Gottfried said. "But there's a ton of basketball left."...

Kennedy said Ole Miss played its best second half of the season in its 83-69 win over Tennessee on Wednesday.

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