For the second consecutive year the Commodores are meeting the Appalachian State Mountaineers of Boone, NC, on the basketball court. The two teams first met last season in Nashville and Vanderbilt came away with a 63-48 victory, even though the team was not at its best. Matt Freije was ill that night and played just 17 minutes, scoring only five points. Mario Moore led with 19 points and Scott Hundley had ten.
The head coach of the Mountaineers is Houston Fancher, a 1988 graduate of Middle Tennessee State. Still only 37 years old, Fancher took over the helm at Appalachian in 2000 and has had a record of 49-69 in four seasons there as head coach, including a dismal 9-21 last year. Before that he had been an assistant for four years at Maryville, head coach for four at North Greenville College, an assistant for one year at Vanderbilt (under Jan Van Breda Kolff), and an assistant for four years at Appalachian (under Buzz Peterson). He appears to be on the hot seat this year, and needs a winning season to keep his job.
The Apps have gotten off to a 5-3 start. Their two best wins are over Tennessee Tech (98-87) and James Madison (78-69), both at home, where the Mountaineers have also easily beaten three Division II opponents. Their three road games have produced defeats at Virginia (77-60), South Carolina (91-57), and Wofford (75-66).
Their two leading scorers are both seniors, 6-1 Noah Brown and 6-5 Chris McFarland. Brown is a shooting guard who has an average of 14.5 ppg and a 40.4% shooting percentage from behind the three point line. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment is having come back from a serious injury in the summer of 2002 to his left hand, which involved multiple broken bones and resetting of two fingers that did not heal properly.
McFarland is second in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (3.8 per game). Although undersized, he is active and aggressive. He gets to the free throw line more than any other Mountaineer and makes his charity tosses (86.2%).
Another good performer is 5-8 sophomore point guard D.J. Thompson. He is a good outside shooter (hitting 45.5% of his threes to date) and easily leads the team in assists (about five per game). He is very quick and has a team-leading 23 steals.
6-4 junior Derek Thomas is a 230-pounder who transferred in from Okaloosa-Walton Community College after one year there, and averaged 8.9 ppg at Appalachian last season. This year he is scoring 9.7 ppg and leads the team in rebounds (4.3 per game).
The fifth starter, 6-8 senior Clint Deas, is the tallest and heaviest of the five at 6-8 and 235 pounds, but a non-factor as a scorer (2.5 ppg). He is a JUCO transfer from College of Southern Idaho who was slowed last season with a hip injury.
Appalachian has no one taller than Deas, but four other players are in the same size range. Two of the four are freshmen, 6-7 Jeremy Clayton (5.3 ppg) and 6-8 Douglass McLaughlin-Williams (4.9 ppg). 6-7 senior Herbert Jones is a good rebounder and is scoring 5.3 ppg. 6-8 junior Lennox Marshall has suffered so many injuries during his college cage career that he has scarcely played.
Three small reserves are 6-2 sophomore Demetrius Scott (6.3 ppg), 6-2 sophomore Nathan Cranford (3.8 ppg), and 5-11 senior Corwin Davis (3.4 ppg). In all, eleven players have been seeing significant action but, in addition, Marshall, 6-6 freshman Vincent James, and 5-9 sophomore Cortney Polk could also get in the game.
Appaclachian has been staying on the boards with all its opponents by running in fresh players often and by scrapping. They were outrebounded by South Carolina by just 30-28 and by Virginia only 44-36. A big problem has been turnovers, about twenty per game against division I opponents.
In summary, the Mountaineers do not seem to have the size, firepower, or quality of players to trouble the Commodores in Memorial Gymnasium. On paper, this looks like it could be Vanderbilt's easiest game of the season and a win in the range of 20-30 points, providing that the Dores don't overlook the Apps in anticipation of the Christmas break.
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