Commodores still looking for elusive SEC road win

Vanderbilt's men's team (13-2, 2-2 SEC) has opened the season impressively, yet is still seeking its first SEC road win. After a week's layoff, the Commodores try again vs. Stan Heath's Arkansas Razorbacks (9-7, 1-4) Saturday at Fayetteville's Bud Walton Arena (2 p.m. CT, Jefferson-Pilot TV, 650 WSM-AM). VandyMania's SEC hoops expert offers this scouting report on the Razorbacks and makes a prediction.

Vanderbilt used a barrage of three-point shots, combined with fast-break baskets, to stun the Florida Gators last Saturday, 86-72. Breaking out of their recent shooting slump, the Commodores connected on 10-of-15 threes and took over in the second half after trailing by one point at halftime. Matt Freije led the way with 23 points, followed by Mario Moore with 21, including five threes. Corey Smith had by far his best game of the season with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.

Arkansas comes into Saturday's game with a 1-4 conference record, 9-7 overall. The Razorbacks' only SEC win was at home over Mississippi 86-78, and their losses have been to LSU 66-55, Mississippi State 80-62, Alabama 81-65, and most recently to Auburn 70-63. In non-conference play Arkansas defeated Nicholls State 89-60, Grambling 64-46, Jacksonville 85-65, Oral Roberts 77-71, Southeast Missouri 78-68, Louisiana Tech 68-56, Tulsa 81-74, and North Texas 96-61; it has lost to Illinois 84-61, Oklahoma State 73-58, and Western Carolina 62-59. The Razorbacks have lost twice at home, to LSU and Western Carolina, and their only win on the road was at Tulsa.

The Razorbacks are a very young team, with two seniors and two juniors, none of whom see much action. The seniors are 5-10 reserve guard Charles Tatum (2.3 ppg) and little-used Jamar Blackmon (6-3); the juniors are 6-9 reserve forward Michael Jones (2.3 ppg) and 6-6 Matt Jones (1.6 ppg), the latter better known as a football player. Jones and Tatum average nine minutes per game and Michael Jones just over six. Obviously Coach Stan Heath is still rebuilding from the depths to which Arkansas sank in the last years of Coach Nolan Richardson's long stay.

The leading scorer is 6-4 sophomore wing player Jonathan Modica (17.4 ppg). Modica, who also averages 4.4 rebounds per game, can both shoot from the outside and go to the basket. He is hitting 33.3% of his threes and 47% of his shots from the field. He is a very good free throw shooter.

The other starter on the wing is 6-7 freshman Ronnie Brewer (right, AP photo by Todd J. Van Emst), the second-leading scorer at 12.5 ppg, who gets most of his points inside the three-point line. He is the leading rebounder (6.4 per game) and best passer (3.6 assists per game), and also leads in steals (1.9 per game). The son of a former Razorback basketball star, Brewer is likely to be an all-conference player before he finishes his eligibility.

Although he trails Brewer in assists, 6-1 sophomore Eric Ferguson is the point guard and main ball-handler. Ferguson is making 35.7% of his threes and is a dead-eyed free throw shooter, but his assist/turnover ratio is rather shaky (2.7 assists per game and 2.4 turnovers). He scores 10.0 ppg.

The best three-point shooter on the team is the starter at high post, 6-8 junior Billy Pharis, a transfer from Southern Methodist. Pharis has connected on 43.9% of his shots from behind the line, while scoring 8.2 ppg. He is capable of scoring well up in double digits or going scoreless, as he did in the Auburn game.

6-10 freshman center Vincent Hunter and 6-8 sophomore Rashard Sullivan more or less share the low post, but Hunter plays more. He scores 5.6 ppg and snares 4.2 rebounds per outing. Sullivan (1.5 ppg) has limited skills, but rebounds with enthusiasm.

6-5 freshman Olu Famutimi was a highly-rated high school player and averages 15 minutes per game. He is scoring 6.2 ppg and 3.9 rebounds. 6-4 sophomore Kendrick Davis is a useful player who averages 5.6 ppg and plays guard. 6-6 sophomore Wenbos Mukubu (1.2 ppg) and 6-6 freshman walk-on Preston Cranford complete the roster.

This is a road game that Vanderbilt should win. The Commodores have far more experience and size than the Razorbacks, and so far this season show much more cohesiveness as a team. Arkansas has better quickness and speed, and will have a considerable advantage of playing before a large and enthusiastic home crowd; but the Razorbacks have been erratic and probably the weakest outside shooting team in the conference.

Along with the Mississippi game, the game at Arkansas may present the Commodores with their best chance for a badly needed road victory. Vanderbilt is selected here to win by five to ten points. Top Stories