If Vanderbilt is planning on firing a shot across the bow of the traditional powers in the SEC, not to mention grabbing the attention of the national media... what better night than tonight?
Vanderbilt gets a rare opportunity Monday evening to upset a Top Ten team before a national television audience, when the Commodores (5-1) take on No. 10 Indiana (6-0) at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., in a game that will be televised on ESPN2 (6 p.m. CST).
Certainly the Hoosiers will be a heavy favorite. Mike Davis' team is coming off a 25-12 season that saw them advance to the NCAA championship game before losing in a memorable final to a heavily favored Maryland team. In terms of tradition, recent history, home-court advantage and other intangibles, Indiana will certainly approach the game knowing it holds the upper hand.
But the Commodores, bolstered by an invigorated inside game and a stronger-than-expected bench, enter this game eager to prove to the world that they are ready to take on some world-class competition. The Indiana game is the centerpiece of Vanderbilt's upgraded 2002-03 non-conference schedule, one that also includes Connecticut, Michigan and Notre Dame.
"Our guys have looked at that schedule and said, guess what? We had better be ready, or we're gonna get our butts kicked," said Stallings. "That has been a motivating force for them, to get themselves ready. We'll see if we're up to that challenge."
Perhaps only in the states of North Carolina and Kentucky does the populace's fervor for its state university's basketball team rival that of Indiana. In Indiana's Assembly Hall (capacity 17,257), Vanderbilt faces an intimidating arena on the order of Kentucky's Rupp Arena-- where the Commodores are an ignominious 0-24.
The aura of the red-sweatered Bob Knight still hangs heavy over Assembly Hall, though he has been departed for more than two seasons. Knight's successor Mike Davis, though the subject of much controversy his first season, found great favor in Hoosierland last spring with a late-season rally that led his charges back where fans expect them to be each and every season-- the NCAA Final Four.
The Hoosiers are unbeaten so far this season, and among their victims is Maryland, which defeated Indiana in the national championship game last April 1.
The Commodores are unquestionably improved over last season-- but are they improved enough to win against an opponent like Indiana in a pressure-cooker environment like this one?
The whole nation will tune in tonight to find out.
Trivia question: Who is the only Vanderbilt coach in history to defeat Indiana?
Answer: C. M. Newton, whose 1986-87 team defeated the Hoosiers 79-75 on Dec. 9, 1986 at Memorial Gym. That Indiana team, with Steve Alford and Keith Smart, went on to win the 1987 national championship.
Indiana holds a 5-1 all-time edge in the series. Indiana won twice in the 1930's. Vanderbilt came close to knocking off Indiana at the Assembly Center in the 1987-88 season, Will Perdue's senior season, but lost 63-61. Knight's teams swept two of Eddie Fogler's teams in a home-and-home series in the early 1990's.
Bob Knight and C. M. Newton, by the way, became fast friends when Newton assisted Knight on the United States basketball team in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.