The 11-0 Commodores, who have equaled their best start in school history, will provide a very tough test for the Tigers in Nashville's historically hostile Memorial Gym. Vandy holds a 29-13 advantage over the Tigers in their home gym and that includes wins in six of the last seven meetings between the two clubs in the Music City.
Tigers' forward Marco Killingsworth says that the early road trip will be a good learning experience for the newcomers. "We have been teasing them, telling them what stuff is going to be like when we go to Florida, LSU and all of that," the junior says. "It is going to be good for your first game to give the new guys a test of what they are about to go through."
Auburn will be counting on strong inside play from Marco Killingsworth to deal with the Commodores.
Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, who is in his fifth season as the Commodores' head coach, returns four starters including the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, six-foot-ten senior forward Matt Freije, who is averaging 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
The Commodores' have three other returning starters, including 5-11 sophomore point guard Mario Moore, who averages 9.6 points and four assists per game.
Six-foot-six junior guard Jason Holwerda is hitting for 6.5 points per game on 60 percent field goal shooting.
Six-foot-six junior forward Corey Smith, who is scoring 6.3 points per contest and hits 40 percent of his three-point attempts, is also a returning starter.
The Commodores only first-year addition to the starting lineup is 6-9 sophomore center Julian Terrell, who is averaging 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Auburn center Kyle Davis says that the experienced Commodores are not to be taken lightly. "First off, they have Matt Freije. He is a great player--he creates shots, goes to the glass hard," Davis adds. "And, everybody on their team they have stepped up their game and it will be a good test for us to open up and start the SEC."
As its record would indicate Vanderbilt is playing very well right now and its season statistics show why. The Commodores are leading the SEC in scoring offense at 84.2 points per game and scoring margin with an average margin of plus 22.5 points. A lot of that scoring comes from excellent shooting as the Commodores are hitting 49 percent from the floor, 37.6 percent from three-point land and an SEC-leading 76.4 percent from the free throw line.
Vandy also crashes the boards very well as they are grabbing an SEC-best 42.4 rebounds per game while only allowing their opponents 30.8 rebounds. The Commodores are also tough on the defensive end of the floor as opponents are only shooting 38 percent against them and are only scoring 61.7 points per game.
Along with the normal host of guaranteed pre-conference season wins the Commodores have taken on a couple of the big names in college basketball and come away with wins. Vandy has home victories over Big Ten opponents Indiana (73-60) and Michigan (83-63).
Other pre-conference victories include road wins vs. in-town Belmont (74-59) and at TCU (95-60), the final tuneup for the Commodores prior to playing Auburn. At Memorial Gym the Commodores have also beaten UT-Martin 94-60, IUPUI 86-68, Tennessee State 85-64, Tennessee Tech 98-79, Wofford 90-59, Appalachian State 63-48 and Lehigh 85-59.
The Tigers, who are 9-2, will open SEC play against the Commodores for the eighth time with Vanderbilt holding a 6-1 advantage. Auburn's only victory over Vandy to open the SEC season came last season in 62-59 win at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
The Tigers will have to rely on Ian Young, who is averaging 9.4 points and 2.8 assists per game, to run the point again as Lewis Monroe's rehab of a fractured bone in his foot is far from being complete. Monroe returned for the final three minutes of the Tigers' win over New Orleans, however he will be unlikely to see a lot of action against the Commodores.
However, when Monroe does return Davis says it will be a big boost for the Tigers. "That is going to be good because he has always been a great point guard," the senior says. "With the team we have now we have just been trying to find our way early in the season--I think we have come around to that. Ian Young he is a great point guard he makes things happen and when Lewis Monroe gets back he can make things happen, push the break, set the team up and everything like that. So, that is going to be one added bonus to our team."
For the Tigers' newcomers, who will be relied on heavily Wednesday night, it will be a trial by fire for their first SEC game. Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis, who is 5-5 at Auburn against Vanderbilt, says that his newcomers' play will be a big factor in the outcome.
"Experience is such a factor in this league," Ellis explains. "Our frontcourt is going to be very experienced and we have to rely on that, but our backcourt without Lewis is not very experienced," note Ellis, who adds, "A big key for us is in handling that and you don't know how they will respond until they get out there. This is a first. What I want them to do is to just go out there and play hard--just let it come and see what happens."
With the Tigers heading into such a tough atmosphere for their first SEC game, Ellis says that you have just got to get the newer guys out on the floor and let them experience the game.
"They have shown some times that they have stepped up and made good plays, but I think that they have got to go through the mix a little bit," Ellis explains. "Get that experience and have some confidence while you are getting that experience. Experience is one thing, but you have to get some confidence while you have that experience. The thing that I know is that the group of players that played a year ago have had that experience and have had that confidence."
Kyle Davis is the only senior in Auburn's starting lineup.
Despite the fact this will be the Tigers' first SEC road game, Ellis says his team's trip out west should have prepared his team for Wednesday night's game against the Commodores. "They are going to have the experience of going on the road--they had that with Las Vegas--that was a good one because we didn't handle that well," Ellis says "But that was the experience that they needed because UNLV is like a conference road game. But we will have to do a better job than we did at Vegas."
Heading into Wednesday night's game the Tigers are averaging 77.8 points per contest and leads the SEC in shooting percentage at 49.8 percent and three-point shooting at 38.3 percent.
The Tigers have also been stingy on the defensive end of the floor giving up only 61 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot only 41.3 percent. On the glass Auburn is grabbing 37.6 rebounds per game while allowing its opponents a league low 28.7.
Much like they did against New Orleans, the Tigers will look to take advantage of their size on the blocks against the Commodores as they will likely start three post players in Davis, Killingsworth and Brandon Robinson.
Davis is back in the starting lineup to give the Tigers a true center and is averaging 9.5 points, the best of his career, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Killingsworth is leading the Tigers in scoring at 14.5 points per game. He is averaging six rebounds and is hitting 65 percent of his field goals. Robinson is scoring 13.8 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds with 2.3 steals per game.
Auburn's fifth starter will likely be junior guard Nathan Watson who has regained his touch over the past four games after getting off to a slow start. Watson is averaging 9.5 points and 3.1 assists and is now shooting 40 percent from the floor and 35.3 percent form behind the arc.
With a very tough SEC schedule ahead, Davis says that a road opener like the Tigers' will face on Wednesday night can be an advantage for the remainder of the season. "By playing in hostile environments that helps you throughout the season to go into other peoples' backyards and pull off wins," he says. "If you can start off playing well in other peoples' homes no matter how rowdy the fans get you are still going to go out there and play your hardest."
Auburn's home opener will be on Saturday with a 3 p.m. tipoff vs. Ole Miss on Charles Barkley Bobblehead Doll Day.