Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's next opponent, the Tigers of Tennessee State, were engaged in a tough overtime battle at Western Kentucky, finally losing in overtime 76-73. The resurgent Tigers are coached by Cy Alexander who, in his first year, inherited a program in tatters and did well to guide it to a 7-21 record. Alexander came from South Carolina State, where he had been head coach for 16 succesful years, compiling an overall record of 277-202. A graduate of Catawba College, he served eleven years as an assistant at Howard University before coming to South Carolina State.
Alexander has loaded up his team with two transfers from four-year programs and two others from a two-year program (Los Angeles City College), plus a couple of freshmen, two returning starters, and three other veterans. Vanderbilt played Tennessee State last year and won 85-64, with forward Roshaun Bowens leading the Tigers with 22 points. Bowens, a 6-6 senior, is a returnee but has been suffering from a sinus infection and did not start against Western Kentucky.
6-9 senior center Rod Flowers is expected to be Tennessee State's leading player and scorer this year. He is a transfer from Cincinnati, where he played three seasons, and is a 240 pounder who scored 22 points and snared ten rebounds in the Western Kentucky game. He will give Vanderbilt's big men a much stiffer test than they experienced from Toledo.
At the high post will be 6-7 Eric King, a 230-pound junior transfer from St. John's. He had 14 points and 14 rebounds against Western. Other forwards are Bowens (16.9 ppg last year, 6-8 sophomore Courtney Bohannon (1.6 ppg), and 6-7 senior Jeremy Jackson (7.0 ppg), all of whom are slender. Flowers and King carry most of Tennessee State's bulk.
The starting point guard is 6-3 sophomore Bruce Price, who was freshman of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2003-04, scoring 17.6 ppg and handing out 108 assists. Price is a combination guard who will often move over to the shooting guard position. 5-10 freshman Reiley Ervin is the backup point, and is expected to develop into an excellent player at that position. He had a 22-point performance in State's first exhibition game.
The pair of junior transfers from Los Angeles City College, 6-4 Wayne Arnold and 6-6, Kareem Grant, are the starters at the wing positions. Arnold actually began his college career at the University of Georgia, but soon left and never played against Vanderbilt. Arnold is probably the best outside shooter on the team, making three of six treys against Western in a 15-point performance. Grant runs the floor very well and is more of a driver.
Rounding out Tennessee State's roster are 6-4 senior Herley Maclin and 6-3 freshman Andrae Belton. Of the two, Maclin is more likely to see action against Vanderbilt; he scored 21 points in one of State's exhibition games.
In summary, Tennessee State is a well-coached team that has considerably more talent than last year, and good depth at the wing positions and point guard. But they have no size to back up Flowers and King underneath and will have difficulty staying on the boards with the Commodores.
On the other hand, Flowers is a much more effective post player than anyone that Toledo had. Price and Arnold are dangerous from the outside, and Bowens, Ervin and Jackson are sufficiently good on the perimeter as to require attention. Vanderbilt's top defender, Jason Holwerda, will probably draw the assignment of guarding Arnold.
The keys to a Vanderbilt victory are much the same as they were against Toledo. The Commodores must dominate the boards against a smaller opponent, as they did against Toledo (49-34 rebounding margin), and keep the opposing three-point shooters in check. Price and Arnold need to be held to 25-30 points between them, and another reasonable goal would be to limit Flowers to 12-15 points. Tennessee State will be a competitive and spirited opponent, but the Commodores should win by 10-15 points.