Scouting report: Vandy opens homestand vs. TCU

After a nine-day layoff, Vanderbilt (4-4) returns to action Saturday, hosting much-improved TCU (5-2) in the first game of a six-game homestand. Here's VeeMan's in-depth scouting report on Coach Neil Dougherty's Horned Frogs, a team Vandy beat easily last year in Fort Worth. <P> <I>Tipoff: 7 pm<BR> Radio: 104.5<BR> TV: None

Vanderbilt's loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats last Saturday was the team's fourth consecutive loss on the road this season, but first on the home court of the opposition. The Commodores got off to an excellent start, piling up a ten-point lead in the early going, but Cincinnati soon came back and it was a close struggle until about three minutes before the end of the half. The Bearcats surged ahead to lead 46-31 at halftime and maintained a comfortable lead throughout the second half. Vanderbilt surprised by out rebounding Cincinnati, but once again turnovers and weak ball handling brought defeat. Mario Moore led the Commodores with 17 points, with Shan Foster adding 15 and Dawid Przybyszewski 13.

The TCU Horned Frogs will be returning Vanderbilt's visit to Fort Worth last season. On that occasion the Commodores played one of their best games, winning 95-60 and leading 54-28 at halftime. Five players had double-digit performances: Jason Holwerda (15); Scott Hundley (14); Matt Freije (14); Mario Moore (12); and Dan Cage (12); and Vanderbilt out rebounded TCU by a 42-32 margin.

TCU finished with a 12-17 record in 2003-04, but improved in the late going to go 7-9 in conference play. The Horned Frogs twice defeated Marquette and knocked off Louisville 71-46. This season has produced further improvement and a 6-3 record to date, including wins over Texas Tech (83-68), Florida State (71-70), North Texas (88-78), and SMU (65-51). The losses were to Old Dominion at home (67-62), and on the road to Texas A.& M.-Corpus Christi (85-79) and Kansas (93-74).

TCU is coached by Neil Dougherty, for whom the Vanderbilt game is a homecoming. He was an assistant coach for the Commodores under Eddie Fogler from 1989-93, and accompanied Eddie to South Carolina and held a similar position there from 1993-95. After that he was an assistant coach at Kansas, under Roy Williams, from 1995-2002. This is his third season as head coach at TCU and his record to date is 27-39. Dougherty emphasizes a fast paced offense and, with a full slate of thirteen scholarship players this year for the first time, he has often extended his defense to full court.

The leading player for the Horned Frogs is 6-2 senior point guard Corey Santee (14.2 ppg, 4.4 assists). He triggers the fast break, gets to the basket, and shoots the three (34% to date). He will play 30 minutes or more against the Commodores and is likely to be guarded by defensive ace Jason Holwerda. He scored 19 points in the Vanderbilt game last season.

TCU starts two other guards, 6-0 senior Marcus Shropshire and 6-4 junior Nile Murry. Shropshire had an off-night against Vanderbilt last season, and didn't score a point although his average for the year was 13.1. That isn't likely to happen again although his scoring is down a bit, to 11.2 ppg, but he is making 43.2% of his threes. Shropshire played two seasons for Texas Tech before transferring to TCU, and considered Vanderbilt during his days of being recruited.

Murry is a newcomer, having transferred in from Temple, where he started 19 games. He is another good three-point shooter (42.9%) and is scoring 12.1 ppg. Like Shropshire, he will play 25-30 minutes, and may be the best defender on the team. If he guards Mario Moore, his size could be a problem to the Commodore's top scorer.

6-7 junior Chudi Chinweze may not start, but he is the best frontcourt scorer (11.1 ppg) and the top rebounder on the team (6.8 grabs per game). He is a very good jumper and is always active; only his comparative lack of height handicaps him under the basket.

Backing up Chinweze and taking care of the low post is a committee of three: 6-9 sophomore Femi Ibikunle; 6-9 senior Marcus Sloan; and 6-7 junior Judson Stubbs. Ibikunle usually starts and has been snaring 4.8 rebounds per game, but he is not a scoring threat (4.0 ppg to date). Sloan is also a starter, rebounds at a rate of 5.6 per game, and is scoring 4.7 ppg. Stubbs, a JUCO transfer from Miami-Dade, is actually playing more minutes than the other two, is a better scorer (7.7 ppg), and is averaging 4.1 rebounds. The 255-pound Ibikunle has the most weight to throw around, the others being in the 215-225 pound range.

Several other Horned Frogs will get some playing time. Two of them are freshman guards: 6-3 Brent Reese-Hackett (3.1 ppg) and 6-4 Neiman Owens (1.1 ppg). 6-9 sophomore Art Pierce (1.1 ppg), a 240-pounder, is especially likely to get significant minutes because he has the best size of anyone on the team except Ibikunle. 6-5 senior Aaron Curtis (4.9 ppg) plays on the wings, as does 6-6 sophomore Blake Adams (one of the best shooters on the team). 6-5 senior Corey Valsin saw a lot of action two years ago but his playing time has shrunk greatly. 6-0 sophomore Neil Dougherty, Jr. usually gets in the game briefly.

Since TCU is likely to press full court, and the Commodores have had trouble holding on to the ball, the question arises as to how effective the Horned Frogs have been in turning over their opponents? In their most recent game, SMU committed an ominous 21 turnovers and even careful Texas Tech coughed up the ball 17 times. Florida State probably lost to TCU because the Seminoles committed 22 turnovers. Only Old Dominion and Kansas have been able to keep their turnovers to a low number.

TCU has depth, good quickness and team speed, considerable experience, and some dangerous outside shooters, but only Chinweze has been a reliable inside threat. Don't expect another 35-point blowout, but Vanderbilt should win this one on their home court by 10-15 points. An unknown factor is that the Commodores will be coming off their examination period, and in the past they have sometimes played badly in that situation.

Texas Christian's Marcus Shropshire puts up a shot as Marquette's Karon Bradley falls to the floor in the second half Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2004, in Milwaukee. Shropshire was the game's leading scorer with 20 as TCU won 85-79. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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