N.C. State, Vanderbilt like look of each other

Wolfpack, Commodores have similar styles, personnel

Ncaa Regional Phoenix

March 21, 2004|By Josh Robbins | Josh Robbins,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - North Carolina State's Marcus Melvin and Vanderbilt's Matt Freije torment opponents the same way.

At first glance, they appear best suited to playing underneath the hoop, where they can use their tall frames and their strength to pile up rebounds and second-chance baskets. But, in reality, the 6-foot-8 Melvin and 6-foot-10 Freije do much of their best work on the perimeter, raining down jump shots over their defenders.

"Both teams have some of the same personnel," Melvin said. "Each team puts five guys out on the floor that can shoot, pass and do a lot of different things."

But that's just one of many similarities between the third-seeded Wolfpack (21-9) and the sixth-seeded Commodores (22-9), who will face each other at 2:40 p.m. today in a second-round NCAA tournament game at TD Waterhouse Centre.

Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek and Commodores coach Kevin Stallings emphasize patience on offense, and their teams entered the Big Dance ranked in the top third of their conferences in scoring defense.

Each team also possesses one marquee player surrounded by a capable supporting cast. The Wolfpack has junior Julius Hodge, a rail-thin guard/forward and the 2003-04 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. The Commodores have Freije, a senior forward who was a unanimous first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection this season.

"I guess Sunday will be kind of a chess match between two coaches to see who can get their stuff executed more efficiently," Freije said.

If N.C. State has a significant advantage over Vanderbilt, that edge comes at the free-throw line. The Wolfpack, which made 79.9 percent of its free throws this season and 20 of 24 in its first-round victory against Louisiana-Lafayette, leads Division I in free-throw percentage.

Though Vanderbilt has shot 70.5 percent from the line, the Commodores made eight of 18 free throws Friday against Western Michigan.

"If we go 8-for-18 again, we'll lose, and we won't be playing any more," said Stallings, whose players might have been nervous because they were playing in their first NCAA tournament game.

Besides Vanderbilt's size advantage - the team starts 7-foot-2 center Dawid Przybyszewski in addition to Freije - the Commodores and Wolfpack have one more significant difference: their conference affiliations.

Though many experts consider the Atlantic Coast Conference the best conference in college basketball, the SEC has compiled a 6-3 record against the ACC this season.

Today's game is the only first- or second-round ACC-SEC matchup in the tournament this year, but even conference pride won't be the significant motivating factor.

"We know we're two good teams, and if we weren't, we wouldn't have made it this far," Hodge said. "And the winner's going to move on to the Sweet 16. So, it's just basically personal pride. We want to continue to play. We want to continue marching."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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