Scouting Report: VU tries to extend season vs. IU

The NIT wasn't the kind of March Madness Vanderbilt or Indiana had in mind, but it's nonetheless a chance for post-season redemption for both teams. The Commodores (18-13) visit Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. Wednesday for a first-round matchup with the Hoosiers (15-13). Can Vandy extend its season here in basketball-mad Hoosierland? VeeMan scouts Coach Mike Davis' team and predicts a winner.<P> <i>Tipoff: 7 pm CT<br> TV: ESPN2<BR> Radio: 104.5 The Zone</i>

Vanderbilt's early, disappointing exit from the SEC Tournament had the expected effect of consigning the Commodores to the NIT. One tournament win probably would not have been enough to get them into the NCAA field, and the 77-73 loss to Auburn in the first round entirely eliminated them from serious consideration. The undermanned Tigers enjoyed an enormous lead for much of the second half before they tired, and Vanderbilt came on to make it close at the end. Mario Moore led the way for the Commodores with 21 points; Shan Foster had 19, and Corey Smith scored 11.

The Indiana Hoosiers were a genuine "bubble team" until the very end. Vanderbilt actually has the better overall record (18-13 to the Hoosiers' 15-13), but Vanderbilt was only 8-8 in conference play, while Indiana was 10-6. The Hoosiers had an early-season six-game losing streak to such powerful opponents as North Carolina, Connecticut, and Kentucky, after which they did much better. Indiana has won 11 consecutive games at home, its last home loss coming 74-73 to Charlotte on Dec. 22. The Hoosiers lost to NCAA-bound Minnesota 71-55 in their only game in the Big Ten Tournament. Their best victories have been over Wisconsin (74-61), Ohio State (67-60), Minnesota (71-56), and Michigan State (78-74). In conference play they did win twice on the road, over Purdue and Michigan.

Head Coach Mike Davis, age 44, is in his fifth year at the Indiana helm. His record is 95-65 since taking over. Before that he was an assistant to Bob Knight for three years. He played basketball for four years at Alabama (1975-79), two seasons in Switzerland, one year with Topeka of the professional CBA, and was a player-coach at Wichita Falls (also in the CBA) for four years. After leaving Wichita Falls, he was an assistant at Alabama for two years before going to Indiana. He was also an assistant at Miles College in 1989-90 and coached the Venezualan National Team for two summers in the early 1990s.

Indiana has a young team, with heavy reliance on freshmen and sophomores. The star, however, is 6-3 junior Bracey Wright (left) (18.4 ppg, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists), the leading scorer in the Big Ten. After missing three mid-season games with an ankle injury, he scored 32 points against Michigan State on Feb. 27. He is no stranger to Vanderbilt, having played twice against the Commodores, firing in 31 points in a 73-56 win for Indiana Dec. 9, 2002, and 18 points in a 73-60 win for Vanderbilt on Nov. 24, 2003. He gets most of his points on moves to the basket, but can get hot from the three-point zone, from which he makes a third of his shots.

Another junior, 6-2 Marshall Strickland (right), also starts. He leads the team in assists (3.4 per game) and scores 7.3 ppg. Like Wright, he is excellent from the free-throw line and sometimes dangerous from the outside (30.7% on three-point tries). He is not a star, and his scoring has actually fallen off this year from the 10.8 ppg that he averaged last season.

6-4 redshirt sophomore Roderick Wilmont has moved into the starting lineup in recent games. The rap against him has been that he isn't strong on the defense, but presumably he has improved lately. He is scoring 3.6 ppg, including 42.1% from the outside.

Two freshmen, 6-9 D.J. White and 6-5 Robert Vaden, have both started every game this season. White comes from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and is averaging 13.6 ppg and a team-best 4.9 rebounds. All his points come from short-range jump shots and work near the basket. He looks to be a future all-conference player, possibly an All-American. Vaden (10.3 ppg) is a good outside shooter (37.3% on threes) and defender.

Two other freshmen, 6-2 A.J. Ratliff and 6-7 James Hardy, see a lot of action. Both, like Vaden, are Indiana products. Ratliff has started 14 games this season and is scoring 6.0 ppg. He has been the team's best three-point shooter (44.4%), and is a real danger to come in and take over the game at a critical moment. Hardy averages ten minutes per game and is scoring 1.4 ppg.

6-8 sophomore Pat Ewing (son of the famous former NBA player) averages about 16 minutes of action per game. He is scoring 4.2 ppg and is a high leaper who averages 3.9 rebounds in his somewhat limited playing time.

Several other Indiana players see a little action, mainly to rest the regulars. They are 6-9 senior Mike Roberts, 6-8 junior Sean Kline, 6-2 senior Mark Johnson, 6-0 freshman Adam Ahlfeld, 6-2 senior Ryan Tapak, and 5-8 sophomore Errek Suhr. Suhr is averaging 1.5 ppg, Kline 1.3, and the others less.

Statistically, Indiana seems to be a better defensive team than offensive. They rank second in the Big Ten in field goal defense, fourth in defense against the three-point shot, third in blocked shots, and seventh in steals. The Hoosiers are sixth in points scored per game, seventh in scoring margin, fourth in free throw percentage, ninth in field goal shooting percentage, and seventh in three-point shooting percentage. In other statistical categories, they are only eleventh in assists (indicating dependence on drives to the basket to score), tenth in rebounding margin, and seventh in assist/turnover ratio.

Playing at home normally gives Indiana a big advantage over visiting teams, because their games are well-attended by demonstative fans. Vanderbilt could catch a break this week, however, as it's spring break on the IU campus.

To win, either the Commodores will have to hit a high percentage of their outside shots, or Indiana will have to have a cold shooting night-- or both. This Vanderbilt team has won only twice on the road, and one of those victories came on a great shooting night (at Tennessee). On the other hand, it has had some really bad nights on neutral and hostile courts, e.g. Southern Illinois, Arizona State, Georgia, and Auburn (second game).

The prediction, consequently, is that this will be the end of Vanderbilt's 2004-05 season, and that the Hoosiers will emerge with a six- to twelve-point home win.


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