Commodores open season Friday at Belmont

Vanderbilt begins the 2003-04 season on the road, even though the Curb Event Center is only a few blocks from the Vanderbilt campus. The Commodores help christen Belmont University's new 5,000-seat arena Friday at 7 p.m. (no TV, WSM-FM 95.5). What to expect from Coach Rick Byrd's Bruins, an Atlantic Sun Conference team that finished 17-12 last year? VeeMan takes a look at Belmont and offers a prediction.

Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt Commodores start their 2003-04 season on the road, even though the Curb Event Center is only a few blocks from the Vanderbilt campus. It is the new homecourt of the Belmont Bruins, and the Dores will be there to help them christen the 5,000-seat facility.

Coach Rick Byrd's Belmont team comes off a 17-12 record, and 12-4 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Senior Adam Sonn, 6-8 center, has completed his eligibility after an outstanding career. In 2002-03 he averaged 16.1 ppg, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Replacing him is a big challenge, but the Bruins have some outstanding players coming back.

Adam Mark, 6-8 senior forward, averaged 16.4 ppg and 6-7 rebounds and led the NCAA Division One players last year in shooting percentage (67% from the field), the second consecutive year in which he has done so. An outstanding student, he is an excellent example of the player lacking in so-called "athletic ability," but who instead depends on intelligent play and superior basketball shooting and passing skills.

6-0 senior Steve Drabyn is an outstanding three-point marksman, making 43.3% of his long-range efforts last season (about three treys per game). He can also play the point, coming off an average of 3.8 assists.

6-10 freshman Adam Preston and 6-10 sophomore John Morningstar are the team's only big men. Coach Byrd expects Preston to play a lot of minutes, and he may start at center. Morningstar saw limited action in his freshman year at Miami University (Ohio).

The rest of the team consists of small-to-medium sized players. 6-3 junior Jese Snyder averaged 6.9 ppg and made 36.5% of his threes last season. He could easily be a third major scoring threat for the Bruins this year. Another player who may be ready for the break-out season is slender 6-4 sophomore Brian Collins, who averaged 8.6 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman, and who handles the point most of the time.

Two other veterans who will play a lot this year are 6-4 junior Nick Otis (3.2 ppg) and 6-6 senior Jason Sonn (2.1 ppg). Two other freshmen who will see action are 6-2 Josh Goodwin and 6-5 Adrian Jones.

Belmont should be very good at the mid-major level this year. At home, and hitting the threes regularly, they can be dangerous even for a major conference team such as Vanderbilt. However, the Commodores are much bigger and have more experience. They should win by eight to 15 points or more, providing that they don't allow the Bruins to shoot the lights out. Top Stories