In their season opener the Vanderbilt Commodores trounced Southeastern Louisiana 80-58 in an erratic performance. After a good start, when they built up a lead of as much as 13 points, the Commodores hit a bad spell in which they reacted badly to SLU's tough defense and committed numerous turnovers. The lead disappeared and the two teams were tied at the half 30-30.

However, a quick 11-0 run at the beginning of the second half produced a comfortable Vanderbilt lead which was maintained and stretched as play continued. Matt Freije led the Dores with 19 points, Brian Thornton had 15, and Jason Holwerda 12.

The Alabama A & M Bulldogs finished the 2001-02 season with a 19-10 record and were 12-6 in Southwestern Athletic Conference play. They finished second in the conference standings and then lost to Alabama State in the SWAC tournament. The team's final RPI rating was 219. Coach Vann Pettway has been the coach for 19 years, with an excellent overall record of 345-131, but this is only the fifth season that A & M has competed in Division I. Vanderbilt played Alabama A & M once before in basketball, beating the Bulldogs in Nashville 113-71 in the 1998-99 season. The Bulldogs began this season with an 83-60 victory over Tuskegee Friday night.

Alabama A & M is expected to be a contender for the conference title. Four starters return, but the one starter lost was a big contributor (guard Desmond Cambridge who led the conference in scoring and steals). Cambridge's replacement in the starting lineup is 5-10 senior Scotty Jones (2.7 ppg).

The four returning starters are 6-4 forward Nigel Moore, 6-4 guard Anthony Hayes, 6-7 forward Garik Nicholson, and 6-8 center Jarvis Smith, all of whom are seniors. Moore averaged 11.7 ppg, Hayes 9.4, Nicholson 5.7, and Smith 4.0. Nicholson is the top returning rebounder (6.1 per game), but Moore (5.6), Hayes (4.9), and Smith 4.0) all contributed on the boards.

Another senior, 6-8 Rodney Kellum, will get a chance to play plenty of minutes, although he averaged only 1.8 ppg and 1.6 rebounds as a junior.

6-8 freshman forward Chris Collins, from Huntsville AL, is expected to be a big contributor to the front line, as is 6-7 junior Andre Matthews, a transfer from Gulf Coast Community College, where he averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds last year. The work of these two, and perhaps that of two other frontline men, 6-7 junior Otis Walker and freshman Jermaine Shakespeare, is considered crucial to Bulldog success this year.

Depth at the outside positions will be provided by a pair of freshmen, 6-2 Obie Trotter and 5-10 Michael Davis. However Trotter also plays football and likely won't be available in the Vanderbilt game. Davis averaged 18 points and five assists at Johnson HS in Huntsville in his senior year and is expected to develop eventually into a high scorer.

Although Alabama A & M competes strongly in the SWAC, the Bulldogs simply don't have the players to contend successfully with opponents from major conferences. Athleticism is reasonably good, but height, depth, and skill are simply not at the level needed to beat teams from the SEC.

Vanderbilt should win this game rather handily. Look for a Commodore victory of about 10-20 points.

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