Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles at Vanderbilt Commodores
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. Central
Where: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn. (14,168)
Radio: Nashville: 104.5 FM
Rankings: Neither team is ranked
RPI: Vanderbilt is 60th, Southern Miss is 151st
The line: N/A
Sagarin prediction: Vanderbilt by 10
Pomeroy prediction: Vanderbilt 73, Southern Miss 64 (VU 83 percent chance of victory)
Series record: Southern Miss leads 1-0, defeating Vanderbilt in Nashville in the NIT in 1987.
|VANDERBILT STARTING LINEUP||SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI STARTING LINEUP|
|0||Jermaine Beal||6-3||205||Sr.||12.7||2.6||3.1 a||PG||23||Angelo Johnson||6-0||180||R-So.||9.4||2.6||3.3 a|
|1||Brad Tinsley||6-3||210||So.||7.3||2.6||3.3 a||SG||15||R.L. Horton||6-0||180||Jr.||9.4||3.6||1.9 a|
|44||Jeffery Taylor||6-7||205||So.||15.0||6.1||1.5 a||SF||1||Maurice Bolden||6-10||200||R-So.||13.0||7.2||1.0 b|
|24||Andre Walker||6-7||220||So.||6.6||4.9||2.0 a||PF ||14||Sai'Quon Stone||6-6||225||R-Jr.||4.2||3.0||1.1 a|
|3||Festus Ezeli||6-11||255||So.||4.4||3.5||1.6 b||C ||4||Gary Flowers||6-8||214||Jr.||14.6||8.9||2.3 b|
|VANDERBILT KEY RESERVES||SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI KEY RESERVES|
|23||John Jenkins||6-4||215||Fr.||9.9||2.3||0.9 a||G||25||Buchi Awaji||6-3||185||Sr.||6.5||3.2||1.2 a|
|5||Lance Goulbourne||6-8||225||So.||2.9||1.8||0.5 b||F||5||Torye Pelham||6-6||225||Jr.||2.9||3.2||0.8 s|
|4||A.J. Ogilvy||6-11||250||Jr.||12.3||5.8||1.7 b||C/F||3||Josimar Ayarza||6-9||235||R-Jr.||8.9||5.0||0.8 b|
About the Golden Eagles
After entering the season with nine newcomers, Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy wasn't sure what kind of squad he'd have this season. Twelve games into this season, it's still hard to tell.
Eustachy, in his seventh year in Hattiesburg, has guided the Golden Eagles to a 9-3 record so far. However, four of those wins have come against non-Division One teams, and furthermore, USM dropped a pair of games to Northern Florida and Canisius on the heels of an 8-1 start in which the only loss game at the buzzer to a ranked Ole Miss squad.
Eustachy, the 2000 national coach of the year at Iowa State whose undoing there came after photos surfaced of his attending a Kansas State fraternity party following a road loss there in 2002 (Eustacy later admitted to alcoholism and resigned), may need a good season to stick around Hattiesburg for another year.
USM has not been to postseason in Eustacy's tenure, and come off a 15-17 mark last season after which it lost three-time all-conference point guard Jeremy Wise, who left early for the NBA but didn't stick on a roster.
One thing is for sure: USM will live and die with its newcomers this winter. Three of Eustachy's starters didn't play for the Eagles last year, and a fourth starter, SaiQuon Stone, was injured in last season's eighth game and missed the rest of the year.
The Eagles' nine new faces, which include three transfers and three junior college players, have accounted for 79 percent of USM's scoring and 81 percent of its rebounding.
A trio of newcomers, point guard Angelo Johnson, guard Maurice Bolden, and forward Gary Flowers, are three of the team's top scorers. (Johnson is tied with returnee R.L. Horton for third with 9.4 points a game.)
Flowers, a former Rivals.com four-star recruit, transferred from Chipola J.C. and leads USM in scoring, rebounding and blocks. Flowers is a talented player with a reputation for being difficult to coach.
Johnson, a Southern Cal transfer, is fast with the ball and shoots 78.4 percent from the line. He shot 40.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc and averaged 4.5 points a game backing up O.J. Mayo and Daniel Hackett at USC.
Bolden redshirted last year after averaging 14.3 points and 7.1 rebounds after transferring from junior college. The 6-foot-10, 200-pound guard is an 82 percent shooter from the line with a team-leading 61 attempts, but he's also committed a team-leading 38 turnovers. He's registered three double-doubles this season and hit a team-leading 45.2 percent of his 31 3-point shots.
Horton's scoring is down from the 12.7-point average of last season, and is working on his second-straight season of poor shooting from the field (39 percent from the field and 25.3 percent from 3 last year, and 34.6 and 30.8 this season).
Stone, a good defensive player, may be pushed by junior college transfer Joe Ayarza for his starting job. The Panamanian is a terrific athlete who scored 17 points in USM's win over Dillard on Dec. 30. He's Southern Miss's leading scorer off the bench.
Kansas State transfer Buchi Awaji provides backcourt depth off the bench. He's a graduate student who averaged four points and 1.9 rebounds his last season at KSU.
The Golden Eagles aren't a dynamic offensive team, and in the losses to Canisius and UNF, they shot just 37.7 and 25.9 percent from the field. Where the Eagles do well offensively is get to the foul line, where they've made more free throws (209) than opponents have attempted and shoot 71.3 percent from the line.
Defensively, USM has been outstanding in several areas. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Eagles are the fourth-best defensive rebounding team in America and out-rebound opponents by nearly 10 rebounds per contest. They are also holding opponents to 37.9 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from 3
Breaking down the matchup
Are the Commodores recovered from their mid-December slump in which they lost back-to-back games to Illinois and Western Kentucky after being ranked? It's hard to tell. While VU's three-game win streak included 40- and 38-point blowouts over Mercer and Manhattan, respectively, history shows that blowout wins over overmatched opponents don't foretell a lot about what's ahead for conference play.
Even so, there have been some encouraging things out of those wins. Offensively, Jermaine Beal has passed out 14 assists in 78 minutes in those games, and freshman John Jenkins has scored 44 points in 66 minutes (hitting on 10-of-18 3-point shots) in those three games. Centers Festus Ezeli and A.J. Ogilvy have also performed well in the middle, averaging 19 points and 11.3 rebounds between them in those three games.
While Southern Miss likely won't present the challenge of Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee, the Golden Eagles rebound and play tough defense around the rim and (at least statistically) resemble the Cincinnati team that knocked off the Commodores in November in those respects.
So, in a sense, the USM game could be a litmus test for the Commodores, as a lopsided loss on the backboards could show that some of the cracks the 'Dores showed earlier in the season are still there.
This matchup may also be a harbinger for the rest of the season as far as the Ezeli/Ogilvy platoon goes; the three tore it up against weaker opposition, but will face long, lean, SEC-type athletes inside in USM. A good performance by the duo will be a key to victory by Vanderbilt.
That makes Jenkins's outside shooting all the more important. USM defends well from the outside, but likely hasn't faced a shooter of Jenkins' caliber. His continued effectiveness will be a key in freeing things up underneath for Vandy.
It will also be interesting to see who Eustachy uses to guard Vandy's best athlete, Jeff Taylor. A Taylor vs. Bolden matchup may not be out of the question, as Bolden is athletic enough to play on the perimeter, and his three-inch height advantage on Taylor could make Taylor's above-the-rim game less of a factor than it normally is.
The fact that USM does some things that resemble Cincinnati should be enough to scare any Commodore fan. However, it should be noted that Southern Miss has only played one team (Ole Miss) of much consequence on its schedule, making it easier to accumulate some fairly gaudy defensive stats.
So, it's hard to expect a team that couldn't handle Canisius and Northern Florida last week to come to Memorial Gym and win. I foresee an ugly, sluggish contest in which USM gets enough garbage baskets to keeps things close-probably staying between six and 10 points most of the way-but the Commodores winning because they simply have more offensive answers than do the Golden Eagles.
Chris's pick: Vanderbilt 66, Southern Miss 59
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