Men's Hoops: Michigan game preview

VeeMan analyzes Saturday's SEC-Big Ten matchup between Vanderbilt (6-2) and Michigan (2-6). The Commodores take on the Wolverines at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich. at 1:30 p.m. CST (Comcast Sports Southeast TV).

Each year the Vanderbilt Commodores make at least one supposedly easy game into a hard one.  Last year it was the last-second 77-75 win over Centenary, and the year before it was a desperate struggle with Birmingham Southern, finally won by a 70-65 score.  This year it came last Sunday and resulted in a hard-fought 81-75 victory over the High Point Panthers.

Joe Knight, who comes from Columbia Tenn., was spectacular for High Point and kept the Panthers in the game to the end.  He was the first opposing player to score 40 points against Vanderbilt since Chris Jackson of LSU racked up 46 on Feb. 18, 1990.  The Commodores were led by Brian Thornton (22 points) and Corey Smith (19 points).

Vanderbilt's next opponent is the Michigan Wolverines, coached by Tommy Amaker, former assistant to Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and head coach at Seton Hall for three years, where he had a record of 46-45.  Last year was his first at the Michigan helm, and his record was 11-18.  This year to date, the Wolverines are 2-6, as follows:

Lost to St. Bonaventure (89-69), in the Paradise Jam, Virgin Islands.

Lost to Virginia Tech (65-53), in the Paradise Jam.

Lost to Kansas State (82-71), in the Paradise Jam.

Lost to Western Michigan (56-52), at home.

Lost to Central Michigan (85-78), at home.

Lost to Duke (81-59), in Durham, N.C.

Won over Bowling Green (83-57), at home.

Won over Charleston Southern (84-53), at home.

Since the season began, Michigan has suffered the loss of two players, both guards.  6-4 sophomore Dommanic Ingerson, who averaged 8.1 ppg last year, decided to transfer.  5-7 junior Avery Queen, 4.3 ppg in 2001-2002, was booted off the team after appearing in the first four games.

The Wolverines are shorthanded, especially in the backcourt.  6-3 freshman Daniel Horton of Cedar Hill, Tex., was a McDonald's All-American and now must handle the point guard chores with minimal assistance.  He is averaging 13.3 points, but only 3.3 assists.  6-3 Sherrod Harrell, a freshman walk-on, gives Horton about five minutes of relief per game.  Horton is a genuine inside-outside threat who hit four three-pointers in the Bowling Green game.

There is more manpower on the wings in the persons of 6-6 freshman Lester Abram of Pontiac, Mich., 6-6 junior Bernard Robinson of Washington, D.C., 6-5 senior Gavin Groninger, and 6-5 senior Rotolu Adebiyi.  Abram (10.3 ppg) is a bright prospect and can either hit the three or take it to the basket.  Robinson (10.8 ppg) doesn't shoot much from the outside and gets about six rebounds per game.  Groninger is a three-point threat, but he scored only 14 points in the first eight games.  Adebiyi sees little action.

Hard-working Lavell Blanchard, a 6-7 senior, is the undersized high post player.  He is averaging 16.3 ppg and 5.7 rebounds.  Having grown up across the street from the Michigan campus, he was a highly-sought high school star who decided to stay home.  It hasn't been easy for Lavell, who has been on the team through four difficult seasons, and has had to work a lot inside against bigger men.  He goes outside too and has made 43% of his 35 three-pointers so far this season.  6-7 sophomore Chuck Bailey of Detroit (4 ppg) helps out Blanchard, and with the failure of Groninger to deliver so far, Bailey has also played some in the wing forward position.  6-7 junior Colin Dill may also see limited action.

Center is divided between two freshmen, 6-9 Graham Brown of Mio, Mich., and 6-11 Chris Hunter of Gary, Ind.  Brown (5.8 ppg, 4.8 rebounds) is now seeing more action than Hunter (3.9 ppg, 3.8 rebounds).  A third freshman center, 6-10 Amadou Ba of Mauritania in Africa, has not played and presumably is being redshirted.

With only three players with much experience (Blanchard, Robinson, and Groninger), the Wolverines are even younger than Vanderbilt and have only nine scholarship players.  After a very shaky start, the team is playing better basketball.

This game is a golden opportunity for Vanderbilt to win a road game from a Big Ten opponent.  But the Commodores should expect to have to play as well as they did against Connecticut to make that dream a reality.  Should Horton, Abram, Robinson, and Blanchard all have good games, this could be a very difficult game, and if the heretofore quiescent Groninger starts sinking threes (as Kyle Hornsby of Indiana did against Vanderbilt), Crisler Arena could get uncomfortably hot.  The prediction is a close win for Vanderbilt by three to seven points. Top Stories