Polar opposites up next for VU hoops squad

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 11:23pm

Things can change quickly early in the college basketball season.

Rankings, for example, fluctuate wildly as people sort out which teams are good and which ones are not so good. Style of play, likewise, often varies because non-conference competition pits teams of various philosophies and pedigrees against one another.

For Vanderbilt (4-1), the latter is particularly true this week. The Commodores face Missouri on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., ESPNU) and DePaul on Saturday (3 p.m.) in games that figure to have little in common other than that they’ll both be played at Memorial Gymnasium.

“It always takes you by surprise, but it’s what happens at the beginning of each season,” VU coach Kevin Stallings said. “You play teams with varying styles, and none could really be more opposite than the two we’re going to see this week.”

Missouri (4-1) comes to town with a fast-paced, pressing approach. The Tigers average 22.4 forced turnovers and 14.2 steals per game in what they like to call “The Fastest 40 minutes in basketball.”

DePaul (4-1 prior to playing Alabama State on Tuesday) scored more than 60 points in just one of its first five games — and that was an overtime contest.

“In terms of Missouri’s fast-paced, frenetic style of play …and then DePaul, which is use the clock, slow you down and very, very patient and deliberate, it couldn’t be any more contrasting than the two styles we’ll see this week,” Stallings said.

What Vanderbilt will not see — not this week, at least — is its name among the top 25 teams in the country.

The Commodores entered the Associated Press rankings last week at No. 24 but then promptly lost to Cincinnati the same day in their first-round game at the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Although they came back and won their next two games and finished fifth at the tournament, they were one of five teams that were in last week’s top 25 but not included in this week’s version.

“It was nice, but we kind of got it and gave it right back up the same day,” sophomore guard Brad Tinsley said. “That’s another small thing that you want as a college basketball player or team, just to get your name out there and prove you can hang with tough opponents.”

This week’s two teams offer that opportunity, as do upcoming contests at Illinois (Dec. 8), then home games against Western Kentucky (Dec. 11), Mercer (Dec. 21) and Manhattan (Dec. 30). All four schools currently have records of .500 or better.

“We have a very aggressive schedule, a very tough schedule and one that hopefully will prepare us very well for the rigors of league play,” Stallings said. “It’s obviously critical how we handle the schedule. It’s not enough just to have the schedule, we have to handle it well and play well.”

Women face Wright State

Vanderbilt’s women kick off a second straight week in which they will play three games in five days with a visit to Wright State, 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Senior guard Merideth Marsh led the No. 16 Commodores (6-0) to three victories last week and was named SEC Player of the Week. It was the second time in her career Marsh earned the award, which made her the first VU player since Chantelle Anderson (2001 and 2003) to win it twice.

Marsh is one of three Commodores who average at least 12 points per game. Her 15 3-pointers and 19 made free throws both are team-highs.

Vanderbilt will complete the stretch with home games against Bowling Green (Friday) and Western Kentucky (Sunday).