Wolverines should be Vandy's toughest test to date

It's another battle of unbeatens at Memorial Gym Saturday, as Big Ten heavyweight Michigan comes to Nashville. The Commodores (4-0) host Coach Tommy Amaker's Wolverines (4-0) at 8 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net TV; 95.5 WSM-FM) in what should be Vandy's toughest contest to date. VeeMan breaks down the matchup and offers a prediction on the outcome.

The unbeaten IUPUI Jaguars provided Vanderbilt with its toughest game of the season so far on Wednesday. IUPUI led at half 41-38, but their lack of depth allowed Vanderbilt to pull ahead by a decisive margin in the last ten minutes to win, 86-68. Mario Moore led the scoring with 24 points, including six 3's. Scott Hundley and Matt Freije scored 18 points each, and Julian Terrell had eleven points and ten rebounds. Nashvillian Odell Bradley fired in 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for the Jaguars.

The Michigan Wolverines come to town with a 4-0 record. They have won three games at home (Oakland 84-58, High Point 84-49, North Carolina State 68-61), and edged Butler 61-60 in Indianapolis. They certainly appear to be the toughest opponent for the Commodores so far this season, and probably the best they will face until conference play starts.

The star and leading scorer for Michigan is 6-3 sophomore point guard Daniel Horton. Horton averages 13.5 ppg and has the ball in his hands much more often than any other player, but his assist/turnover ratio is poor (2.2 assists per game to four turnovers). He hasn't played up to his usual form yet this season, but is capable at any time of breaking out with a big game.

Michigan usually starts two big men, 6-10 freshman Courtney Sims and 6-11 sophomore Chris Hunter. Between them they get over 15 points per game (Sims, 8.5 and Hunter 7.2) and about eight rebounds, and play about 20 minutes each. As the game proceeds, however, there will seldom be more than one of them on the court at a time.

6-3 freshman Dion Harris, the first man off the bench, plays about 27 minutes per game. He is the second leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and easily the best 3-point marksman (43.8%). He averaged 24.6 ppg as a senior in high school in Detroit and was considered a Top 20 player by some recruiting services.

6-6 senior Bernard Robinson scores 12.0 ppg and is the leading rebounder (seven per game). Exceptionally quick, Robinson is the best defender on the team and the only scholarship senior. He is likely to provide the Commodores with a matchup problem on defense. He may be the Wolverines' best overall player.

The fifth starter is 6-6 sophomore Lester Abram (11.8 ppg). He plays a wing position, but long-range bombing is not his forte. An outstanding high school player, he seems to have settled into a valuable, but not a starring, role at Michigan.

The Wolverines have a luxury that they did not possess last year-- a bench. 6-8 junior J.C. Mathis is a 235-pounder who transferred in from Virginia, where he was a major contributor. Mathis has already established himself as a rebounder (5.2 per game) and is capable of contributing much more than his present 4.0 ppg average.

6-9 freshman Brent Petway is a spectacular leaper who is snaring five rebounds per game (and scoring 3.5 ppg) although averaging just 16 minutes. 6-9 Graham Brown is a 250-pounder who started most of the games last season, yet has been on the court for an average of only about 8.5 minutes this season. 6-3 sophomore Sherrod Harrell came up with a big game against North Carolina State (14 points).

Other scholarship players are 6-5 freshman John Andrews, 6-10 redshirt freshman Amadou Ba, and 5-11 transfer sophomore Dani Wohl. None of them have seen much action in the first four games.

As those who saw the North Carolina State game on television know, the Wolverines play a very tough man-to-man defense and sometimes press. Their quickness, and good coaching from Tommy Amaker (a protege of Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke), make them a tough foe. They are considered to be among the top five Big Ten teams (along with Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, and so-far disappointing Michigan State). It is likely that they will be in the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.

By comparison, Vanderbilt has more experience, even more height, and the home court advantage. With the students back on campus and a marquee opponent coming to town, Memorial Gymnasium should be as full and as loud as it has been in a long time. Michigan has decisively outrebounded all four of its previous opponents and may have the advantage in that area.

This figures to be a close struggle, but Vanderbilt should win out if it continues to play as well as it has in the first four games. Look for a Vanderbilt victory in the range of 5-8 points.

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