The seriously undermanned Wolverines won despite the loss of two starters on fouls with five minutes or more to go in a close game. The play of the Vanderbilt team was inconsistent and only Brian Thornton (20 points, eight rebounds) and Mario Moore (ten points, four assists) came up to expectations. The Commodores must become a more effective unit and stay better focused if the year is to be a success.
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame come into the Vanderbilt game with a record of 10-1. The only loss was in South Bend, to the unbeaten Creighton Blue Jays (80-75). The two best wins came in the BB&T Classic in Washington DC and produced upset wins over defending NCAA champion Maryland (79-67) and powerful Texas (98-92). In other home games, the Irish have defeated Marquette (92-71) and DePaul (102-71) and a series of lesser opponents: Belmont, 76-48; IUPUI, 89-45; Bucknell, 73-42; Furman, 75-50; SUNY-Albany, 90-55; and Canisius, 93-75.
This game is the last in a four-game series which the Commodores lead two games to one. Vanderbilt defeated Notre Dame in Nashville 68-63 in the 1998-99 season and 87-85 in an overtime thriller the following season in South Bend. Notre Dame came back to win in Nashville 77-74 on December 2, 2000. Originally the two teams were to have played again last season, but it was decided to postpone the game for a year because both were participating in the Hawaii Thanksgiving Classic. The anticipated meeting of Vanderbilt and Notre Dame in Hawaii failed to occur because the Commodores were upset by Monmouth in the second round of the tournament.
The star of the Notre Dame team, and second leading scorer, is 6-1 sophomore point guard Chris Thomas. Mr. Basketball in Indiana in his senior high school year, Thomas was probably the brightest star in the McDonald's All-American game in 2001. He is averaging 18.1 points and eight assists, and is making 45.6% of his three-pointers. He usually dominates any game in which he plays with his leadership, ballhandling, penetration with the ball, and scoring (including 90% free throw shooting). He is a genuine All-American candidate.
Thomas's running mate at guard is Matt Carroll, 6-6 senior from Horsham, Penn., who leads the team in scoring with 19.7 ppg. He is making 37.8% of his threes and gets to the free throw line even more often than Thomas. Carroll and Thomas may be the most effective pair of collegiate guards in the country.
Danny Miller, 6-8 senior from Mount Holly, N.J., transferred from Maryland to finish his career at Notre Dame. He is having an excellent year (17.3 ppg, 7.1 rebounds), and is making 45% of his three point shots. He is the perfect example of how transferring seems to benefit some players.
6-10 Torin Francis, a 240-lbs freshman from Roslindale, Mass., starts at the high post. He leads the team in rebounding (9.5 per game) and blocks a couple of shots per game. He is also scoring 11.1 ppg and is quickly developing into a star player.
The center position is shared by 6-11 junior Tim Timmermans and 6-9 sophomore Jordan Cornette. Cornette blocks over three shots per game. Neither is a big scoring threat (Timmermans 3.8 ppg, Cornette 2.6 ppg). Timmermans packs the most weight, 253 lbs, to 235 for Cornette.
The team's sixth man is 6-2 sophomore Chris Quinn of Dublin, Ohio. Although he facially resembles a 14-year old boy, Quinn plays with remarkable maturity and is averaging 5.6 ppg and better than two assists. Another man who sees a lot of action is 6-4 junior Torrian Jones, who provides a lot of athleticism when he comes in, and scores 5.1 pppg.
Other players who may see action are 6-9 senior Jere Macura, 6-4 junior Chris Markwood, and 6-8 freshman Rick Cornett. The Irish have good depth and plenty of size and outside shooting. The defense has performed beyond all expectations, because of Miller's experience and Francis's intimidating inside presence.
This is going to be a hard game to win. The Commodores would have to play their best game of the season so far to have a reasonable chance of victory, and/or the Fighting Irish would have to play their worst. However, Vanderbilt has played well against Notre Dame in the present series and recent history may provide a needed boost of confidence. The prediction: a Notre Dame triumph by five to twelve points.