Will Vols overlook Vandy?

You don't need a degree in psychology to recognize that the Vanderbilt basketball team which plays Tennessee tonight has a split personality.

This is a Commodore team that is 10-16 overall, 3-11 in SEC play, riding an eight-game losing streak and coming off a 62-point annihilation at Kentucky.

This is also a Commodore team that is tough on its homefloor -- beating Alabama, beating Georgia and putting Florida on the ropes before losing in overtime.

The question is: Will the blowout loss to Kentucky demoralize the Commodores or infuriate them?

Vol head man Buzz Peterson thinks he knows the answer.

''Any time Tennessee and Vanderbilt play, you've got a heck of a game,'' he said. ''Playing at Memorial Gym makes it more difficult for us. We'll find a team that's going to be pretty hungry, trying to get a win before they go into the conference tournament.''

The Commodores aren't a one-man team but they're close. Matt Freije is their clearcut star. The 6-foot-9 post player ranks fourth among SEC players in scoring (18.0 points per game) and fourth in free throw percentage (80.0). He has enough size to score inside and he has enough touch to score from the perimeter.

''Freije presents a lot of problems because of the inside/out,'' Peterson said. ''He's one of the better low post players in this league. He doesn't get a lot of credit for it, but I think he's really improved his game tremendously.''

Like Tennessee's Ron Slay, Freije has great range for a big man. He's hitting nearly 50 percent of his 3-point tries this season.

''You've got to get to him,'' Peterson said. ''He's having an excellent year. He's an all-league player. I know I voted for him. He's a very dangerous threat on the offensive end.''

Tennessee fans who think the Dores will be easy pickings Saturday night need to recall the earlier Vol-Vandy meeting in Knoxville. Tennessee struggled mightily before eking out a 71-66 victory. Peterson remembers that game quite vividly.

''Our game here with them, Thaydeus (Holden) hit five 3s, and that was the separation,'' the Vol coach recalled. ''They really played an excellent game here, and they present a lot of matchup problems.''

Like the Vols, Vanderbilt's season has been a roller-coaster ride. The Dores went 7-4 in preconference play, lost their SEC opener at Auburn by a mere 62-59 score, then shocked No. 4 Alabama 70-69.

After going 2-3 in the next five SEC games, Vandy stood 10-8 overall and 3-4 in SEC play. The Commodores then fell into their current eight-game losing streak that included homefloor losses to South Carolina (84-72), Florida (77-74 OT) and Arkansas (60-50).

Tennessee, meanwhile, is just as unpredictable. The Vols followed a six-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak. They ground out a 59-49 defeat of Mississippi State Wednesday night but do not have enough talent to overlook the Commodores. With an NCAA Tournament bid hanging in the balance, surely the Vols will be properly motivated. If so, they ought to win.

My pick: Tennessee 72, Vanderbilt 64.


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