The Commodores returned from Hawaii with two wins and a loss, as was anticipated, by defeating Hampton and UT-Chattanooga and losing to Monmouth. Of course the loss had been expected to be at the hands of Notre Dame instead of the lightly-regarded Monmouth Hawks. In the tournament final, the Fighting Irish beat Monmouth with ease, but the Notre Dame play-by-play announcer commented that the Hawks did not look or play anything like as well as they did against Vanderbilt. On the other hand, Vanderbilt handled UT-Chattanooga about as well as did the Irish.
For the first time this year (including the two exhibition games), the Commodores won the battle of the boards by outrebounding the Mocs 33-27, led by Matt Frieje's five. They went 17-9 from three-point range, with Brendan Plavich sinking five of six, and were 51-27 overall from the field. As in the Monmouth game, they committed over twice as many fouls as their opponents, and had many fewer free throws. Injured guards Chuck Moore played 31 minutes and Russell Lakey 20.
The Commodores return home to play the California Poly Mustangs of San Luis Obispo CA, members of the Big West Conference (to which belongs ten teams including Utah State, Idaho, and last year's champion, UC Irvine). The Mustangs had an overall record of 9-19 last year (the first for head coach Kevin Bromley), and were only 3-13 in conference play. Only two starters return, so little improvement is expected this year. Cal Poly lost at Northern Arizona 75-57 in their opener, then came home to trounce St. Mary's 70-50, and play another home game with Portland State on Tuesday, before flying to Nashville.
If he can stay healthy, the oft-injured Brandon Beeson, 6'8" senior, is expected to be Cal Poly's best player. He averaged 8.2 ppg and 7.5 rpg last year and is described as "a warrior" on the boards, but his knees have been a problem. He didn't start against Northern Arizona and then came back to score 23 points and grab 11 rebounds in the St. Mary's game.
6'7" sophomore Varnie Dennis is the other returning starter; he also had knee problems last year when he averaged 8.7 ppg and 4.4 rpg, but was good enough to make the conference all-freshman team. He scored 12 and 11 points in his first two games this year. The other starters are: 6'1" junior Jason Allen, a transfer from Eastern Oklahoma College; 5'11" junior Steve Geary, who was redshirted last year because of a back injury after transferring in from Carl Albert College; and David Henry, 6'8" senior who averaged 4.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg last year. Erick Jackson, 6'4" sophomore transfer who was on a Mormon mission last year, might start at one of the guard positions and will play about as much as the others. Geary and Allen are both considered to be primarily point guards, but neither of them is another Rahsaan Johnson (the Monmouth point guard that gave the Dores such trouble).
Cal Poly can call upon several other players. 6'7" junior James Patterson will play the most, and 6'5" freshman Mike Titchenal, 6'5" junior James Grace (2.5 ppg last year), and two big freshmen (6'9" Phil Johnson and 6'11" Vladimir Linsinic) are all likely to get in the game.
A quick assessment of Cal Poly would be that the team is rather inexperienced, hasn't worked together a lot as a unit, has no reliable "go-to" scorer, and is not in the same class as Vanderbilt in terms of talent. The Commodores may tend to be a little "down" as this game falls between the Hawaii trip and the big game with Western Kentucky next Sunday, but there is simply no way that they should lose. Look for Vanderbilt to win by 20-30 points.