The Southern Miss game is one Commodore fans have circled as the team's last big test before SEC play began. With a 9-3 record (the same as the Commodores), there is reason for the Golden Eagles to scare Vanderbilt fans. On the other hand, 2 of Southern Miss' losses are highly suspect (losing to Canisius by 3 and the University of North Florida by 7 on consecutive nights). Their third loss came against a pretty good Ole Miss team who beat them when an Eniel Polynice slammed home a dunk with 2 seconds left to put the Rebs up 81-79 back on December 5th. Southern MIss' opponents are not exactly household teams. In fact, with the exception of Ole Miss, it's unlikely any of their first 12 opponents will be checking Lunardi's Bracketology and holding their breathe's on Selection Sunday. Thus, while it's clear that the Golden Eagles can play up to quality opponents, the team's overall talent is not something that the Commodores should fear. Southern Miss can get up for a game, and this, their last non-conference game that will televised on FSN South, is certainly one where Larry Estachy's team (remember him?) will be ready to go.
The Golden Eagles don't go very deep. 8 guys play regularly, with 7 players having minutes that hover around 20 a game. The Golden Eagles have some size. Junior Forward Gary Flowers enters the game averaging 14.6 points and 8.9 boards a contest. Red-shirt sophomore Maurice Bolden is 6'10 and listed on the Game Notes as a guard. He's averaging 13 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and has 3 triple-doubles on the year. Rounding out the starting line-up are a pair of 6'0 guards, R.L. Horton and Angelo Johnson, who both average around 9 points a contest. Finally, red-shirt junior Sai'Quon Stone is 6'6, is listed as a G/F, and averages 4.2 points a contest. Clearly, for the Commodores to be successful, containing Maurice Boulden and Gary Flowers will be key. It would seem that Steve T. would stand to get some quality minutes in this game because of Boulden. At 6'10, Steve T. can play inside and out (something that Festus and A.J. are not particularly well-suited to do). If however, Steve T. has not recovered from his strep throat, J.T., despite giving up a few inches, can certainly defend Bolden. Whomever guards him, the Commodores have to be aware that the 6'10 guard can hit the outside jumper. On the year, he's netted 46% of his 3 point attempts, while hoisting the 3rd most attempts on the team.
Flowers is a more conventional threat at power forward. He's shooting over 52% from the field on the year, and is someone the Commodores have to prepare for. Given the way Vanderbilt handled Mercer's dual threats before Christmas, the Commodores have shown an ability to zero in on their opponents primary scoring threats. If that happens though, they can't fall asleep on Horton and Johnson, who have both shown an ability to score when needed.
As is over the case with Vanderbilt, rebounding will be key. Southern Miss enters the game with a +10.6 rebounding advantage over their opponents over their first 12 games. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, only has an +1.8 rebounding edge, and will need to focus on keeping a good Southern Miss team off the boards and limit their second chance opportunities. Nothing else really sticks out in from the Game Notes that seems worth mentioning.
For Vanderbilt, the team has certainly played well in their previous outtings, completely dominating Mercer and Manhattan. Even better for the Commodores, is the fact that freshman John Jenkins has led the team in scoring in those 2 wins. They've gotten balanced scoring from Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy, and appear to be playing much looser than before finals and losing to Illinois and Western Kentucky within 4 days. They too haven't faced great opponents in their last two, but the cohesion and continuity the Commodores have shown has given Vanderbilt fans reason to be optimistic. Should be a good one, tip off at 2pm central. After taking the last two off, I'll be there with the missus, so follow my running commentary on twitter at VSLNation.