Nashville, Tenn.--With four starters back, including perhaps the top player in the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt is a team to watch for the 2003-2004 basketball season.
Vandy was a dangerous team last year, but couldn't get over the hump in most SEC games and finished with a 3-13 league mark to go with an 11-18 overall record. However, it will be a surprise if Coach Kevin Stallings doesn't have more wins this season.
A big reason to expect that to happen is 6-10, 249-pound senior forward Matt Freije, a matchup problem for coaches around the league. A dangerous scorer inside and outside, he averaged 17.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season and is primed to have an even better final campaign. He was voted as the preseason pick to be the SEC's Player of the Year.
Freije (35) was a second team All-SEC pick as a junior as selected by the league's coaches.
"He is certainly capable of being the best player in the SEC and he is certainly one of them," Stallings tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "Will he be the best player every night? No, but our team will walk out to the floor knowing that we have got somebody on the floor that is as good as anybody else in the league. I am not going to put pressure on him or act like he is the best, but he is certainly one of the best."
Other returning starters include 6-6 guard Jason Holwerda (5.3 points, 2.7 assists), 5-11 sophomore guard Mario Moore (6.1 points, 2.0 assists) and 6-6 junior forward Corey Smith (8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds).
The Commodores also return a pair of senior guards, 6-5 Scott Hundley (5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) and Russell Lakey (6.0 points, 3.4 assists). David Przbyszewski, a 7-2, 253-pound sophomore center, averaged 5.5 points and 2.4 rebounds last year. At forward the Commodores return 6-9, 244 sophomore Julian Terrell, who averaged 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds. More size comes from 6-10 senior forward Martin Schnedlitz, who played sparingly last season.
Newcomers include 6-11, 248 redshirt freshman center Ted Skutchas from Audubon, Pa., and junior LeBraun Andrews, 6-7, 205 forward from Memphis who is a transfer from Colgate. Dan Cage is a 6-5 true freshman guard from Indianapolis, where he was an All-State selection as a senior.
Stallings notes that his team didn't have seniors last year and it showed. "This year we will go from one of the least experienced teams in the SEC to one of the most experienced," he says. "Other than great talent level, that is as valuable as anything you can have."
Vandy opens the season Nov. 21 vs. cross-town opponent Belmont before taking on Indiana three nights later in Nashville, the site of every Commodore game until they hit the road for a Jan. 3rd contest at TCU. On Jan. 7 Vandy opens SEC play at home vs. Auburn. Non-conference opponents include Tennessee-Martin, IUPUI, Michigan, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Wofford, Appalachian State and Lehigh.
Key Losses: 6-8 forward Brian Thornton, 11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, left the team.
Keys to Success: Vanderbilt was outrebounded 35.9 to 33.2 per game last season. The Commodores hit the weight room in the offseason to prevent that from happening again. More success on the boards will make this a tougher team to handle, especially on nights when Vandy is not shooting well.
More on the Commodores: Vandy took an offseason road trip to play exhibition games in Spain. Stallings says he believes the tour helped develop team chemistry and gave his Commodores a head start on the season...Vandy basketball was once a hot ticket in Nashville, but that hasn't been the case in recent years because of mediocre teams and competition from pro sports franchises. Stallings says one of his goals this season is to get back the strong homecourt advantage that the Commodores have traditionally enjoyed.