It's the 'Cats versus the 'Dores! The Kentucky Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores will do battle as two of the leading teams in the SEC East clash in Rupp Arena.
Make no mistake, folks -- Vanderbilt is going to be a difficult out tomorrow. Kentucky is recovering from the shock of their first loss this year, and the Commodores are coming off a huge win in their bitter in-state rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers.
A quick observation here -- I like situations where our team is coming off a tough loss, and the other team is coming off a huge win. If you were talking about two peers, that would turn this into a trap game. But keep in mind -- we are Kentucky. We are everyone's "Super Bowl," as Coach Cal is fond of saying, and there is no way the Commodores are going to come into this game cocky or careless. So if you were thinking this is a favorable set up for Kentucky, well, I would disabuse myself of that notion if I were you.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Commodores and the 'Cats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||Vandy|
|Strength of Schedule||#93||#48|
|RPI Top 50||4-0||2-0|
As far as how Vanderbilt's season has gone, they have quality wins against the Missouri Tigers (12), the St. Mary's, Calif. Gaels (42), the Florida Gators (47) and the Tennessee Volunteers (22). Their major losses were versus the Cincinnati Bearcats (57), the Illinois Fighting Illini (50) and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (153). Vanderbilt also beat the South Carolina Gamecocks on the road, something UK could not do.
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part and Ken did the second half. For more on the Vanderbilt Commodores, be sure to visit the SB Nation Vanderbilt blog, Anchor of Gold.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
Looking at the Four Factors over the length and breadth of this season, you'd have to say UK has an advantage. But ...
Take your left-hand slider and move it over to the last five games, which represents the SEC season for Kentucky and all but one game of it for the Commodores. Notice how the red line on offensive efficiency is on a nice, upward climb for the Commodores, slightly exceeding the blue line of the Wildcats in game 4. That was our game versus Arkansas, and their game versus Tennessee. Who do you suppose has the tougher defense of those two? If you said, "Tennessee," give yourself a star, and that game was in Thompson-Boling Arena. This is a warning for the Wildcats.
Moving down to defensive efficiency, we see that UK has been consistently better in DE, and significantly better in the last two games. This is a very positive development for Kentucky, and even if we thought poorly of their effort against the Gamecocks, the Wildcats played a solid defensive game.
Over the last 5 games, the Commodores are shooting a higher effective field goal percentage than Kentucky, taking better care of the basketball, and getting to the line at a higher rate. The only one of the Four Factors UK is winning over the last five games is offensive rebounding percent. That's probably not enough to get it done tomorrow, so some of these stats are going to have to swing the other way.
Defensively, the story is reversed. Kentucky is holding teams to a significantly lower eFG% than the Commodores, creating more turnovers, and sending opponents to the line at a lower rate. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is doing a better job of taking care of their defensive glass than the Wildcats are. Shocking, but true.
Finally, both teams over the last five games have shot similar percentages from three, and play at a similar tempo. Vanderbilt shoots more three point shots per field goal attempt than Kentucky does, and plays bench players slightly more minutes than the 'Cats.
Statistically, this is a great matchup. It looks like Vanderbilt's offense versus the Kentucky defense on paper, but that is just a bit misleading due to the lousy 89.7 OE registered by the 'Cats versus the Gamecocks. In reality, this is two of the best offensive teams in the SEC going head-to-head, and neither one is going to back down from the pace or the passion.
This has the statistical makings of a classic, and on paper, it looks like UK's best opponent so far.
Vanderbilt Commodores Basketball Roster
|Jermaine Beal||-||G||Starter, significant contributor||205||6-3||senior|
|Festus Ezeli||3||C||Reserve, significant contributor||255||6-11||sophomore|
|Lance Goulbourne||5||G||Reserve, role player||225||6-8||sophomore|
|John Jenkins||23||G||Reserve, role player||215||6-4||freshman|
|Darshawn McClellan||21||F||Reserve, limited role||240||6-7||junior|
|A.J. Ogilvy||4||C||Starter, go-to guy||250||6-11||junior|
|Jeffery Taylor||44||G||Starter, major contributor||210||6-7||sophomore|
|Steve Tchiengang||33||F||Reserve, role player||240||6-9||sophomore|
|Brad Tinsley||1||G||Starter, role player||210||6-3||sophomore|
|Andre Walker||24||F||Starter, limited role||220||6-7||sophomore|
Position Analysis: Point Guard
Senior Vanderbilt point guard Jermaine Beal may not be Devan Downey dominating, but he is a solid scoring point (13.7 points per game), who runs the Commodore offense with aplomb. In his third year as the point guard starter, Beal, with a 2.31 assist/turnover ratio (60 assists to 26 turnovers), ranks fourth in the SEC.
The 6'3" Beal is quick enough to penetrate and get the ball to the rim, or pull up and make the mid-range jumper -- He makes 55.8% of his two-point shots. Beal leads the 'Dores in shots taken with 202, 26 more than Jeffery Taylor, so his defender (Wall, Bledsoe, or Liggins) must be mindful of the drive, as well as Beal's penchant for taking the three-point shot, both on the break, and out of Vanderbilt offensive sets. He makes the trey at a respectable rate, 35.8% (39-109), and ranks 10th in the SEC in made threes per game with 2.1.
Kentucky's John Wall has been slumping of late. Over his last five games, the talented freshman is shooting only 40.0% from the field (26-65), and over the last six games has dished out 28 assists (4.7 per game), and committed 23 turnovers (3.8 per game). Not horrific numbers, but when compared to his first 12 games at the Big Blue helm (98 assists to 53 turnovers), it is clear he isn't performing as admirably as he did earlier in the year.
Position Analysis: Shooting Guard
Vanderbilt shooting guard, 6'3" sophomore Brad Tinsley, has suffered a bit in the 2009-2010 season from not making shots as consistently as last season. Although he remains a threat from long-range, Tinsley has made only 31.7% of his trey tries on the season (20-63).
Tinsley is capable of driving to the basket, but he scores the majority of his 7.1 points per game from the perimeter, and on mid-range jumpers.
UK's Eric Bledsoe, at 6'1", is at a slight height disadvantage when compared to Tinsley, but Kentucky's freshman two-guard has a distinct advantage as far as athleticism is concerned. If Vandy coach Kevin Stallings opts to zone the 'Cats, and we all know that is the likelihood, Bledsoe will have a real opportunity to be a zone buster, not with is outside shot, but with his ability to drive to the rim. When Bledsoe is on Tinsley's side of the court, look for the UK guard to take advantage of his quickness, and dribble-drive ability, to get into the lane, and possibly pile up the fouls on Vandy's starting shooting guard.
Position Analysis: Power Forward
Andre Walker, Vandy's 6'7" sophomore power forward, has been making shots: 53-86 (61.6%). While only averaging 6.3 points per game, Walker doesn't shoot often, but when he does he's proved to be quite efficient. Walker isn't a three-point threat (zero treys taken), but he is athletic around the basket, and he's second on the team with 5.5 rebounds per game.
Kentucky's Patrick Patterson has suffered from a severe lack of offensive production over his last three games -- Patterson has taken an average of 6.3 shots per game in that span, after averaging 10.9 shots per game through the first 17 games of the year ... Patterson is averaging 8.7 points per game over his last three, after averaging 16.6 points per game through is first 17 games ... Patterson is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game over his last seven games, after averaging 9.0 rebounds through the first 13 games of the year.
Kentucky must find a way to include Patterson in the offense. Whether that means bringing him closer to the basket, or getting him the ball in position to score on the perimeter; Patterson's role needs to be more clearly defined, and this game with the Commodores would be a great time to start.
Position analysis: Small Forward
Jeffery Taylor, Vandy's leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, should prove to be quite a challenge for Darius Miller, and any other Wildcat given the assignment of stopping the talented swing player. While not a threat from the perimeter, Taylor is athletic enough to put the ball on the floor, and get to the basket. He is third in the SEC in field goal percentage, making 54.5% of his shots.
On Tuesday night, UK's Darius Miller reverted to performing his now-infamous disappearing act versus South Carolina, leaving UK with nearly zero production out of the three-spot. UK coach John Calipari needs Miller to be more assertive both offensively and defensively, if this group of 'Cats are to reach their full potential.
Position Analysis: Center
Vanderbilt's A.J. Ogilvy, after a rough start to the season (he was averaging single-digit points until the end of December), has bounced back nicely. He's raised his scoring average to 13.8 points per game, and once again he's become a real presence in the paint, averaging 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
At times Ogilvy will venture away from the basket, but his bread is buttered in the painted area, where he possesses athletic moves to the rim, and an ability to get off shots while being closely guarded.
UK's DeMarcus Cousins, coming off a 27 point performance against South Carolina, has been just short of spectacular for the 'Cats. His plethora of moves around the basket have enabled him to become the 'Cats' number one scoring option. Although he needs to become a better post passer, and not force the issue as much, Cousins' continuing improvement will be challenged Saturday by a strong Vanderbilt defensive post presence, and collapsing help. How the big man responds will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
John Jenkins is the main man coming off the Vanderbilt bench. Averaging starters minutes at 20.7 minutes per game (10.8 points per game), Jenkins, a 6'4" freshman shooter, is making 48.9% of his three-point attempts, and ranks fourth in the SEC with 2.4 made threes per game. Jenkins is skilled in handling the ball as well, and has the hops to get to the rim and finish. He's a dangerous scorer who must be accounted for on the break, and in the Vandy offensive sets.
Festus Ezeli, as 6'11" sophomore center is another paint presence for the 'Dores. He won't score much, 4.4 points per game, but in is 13.2 minutes per game, he averages 1.5 blocks (7th in the SEC), and 3.2 rebounds.
Lance Goulbourne (6'8" swing), Steve Tchiengang (6'9" forward), and Darshawn McClellan (6'7" forward) round out the Vandy bench. All big men, they provide Vandy coach Kevin Stallings with paint fouls to give, and strong rebounding, while averaging a combined 31 minutes per game.
Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton, and Perry Stevenson will once again come off the bench for the 'Cats. This group hasn't been offensively productive for Calipari's team, although Liggins and Orton play solid defense. Dodson, UK's designated three-point threat, has been anything but, lately -- Since going 6-10 from long-range versus Hartford on January 29, Dodson has made only 7-28 treys (25.0%). Dodson averaged 8.7 points per game through his first 11 games, 3.6 points per game in his last six games.
After UK's first loss of the season on the road at Columbia, South Carolina, the 'Cats return to friendly, and I'm sure, rowdy Rupp Arena. We all get to find out if the 'Cats have the maturity and gumption to bounce back from defeat, and more importantly, return to the fast-track they were on prior to playing so poorly against the Gamecocks.
Vandy will come at the 'Cats with a variety of weapons, both perimeter-based, and interior centric. The 'Dores are truly a quad-threat offense, with Beal and Jenkins shooting away from the outside, and Ogilvy and Taylor pounding away in the paint. Kentucky must defend with a purpose, focusing on stopping Beal from penetrating, and ball-denying Ogilvy and Taylor on the blocks.
For UK, getting back to running the high-low offense would be a great start to beginning a new winning streak. The 'Cats have gotten away from what they do best, and the result has been less-than-stellar play lately, with the exception of the Arkansas game last Saturday. Furthermore, if UK is to stop Vandy's 10-game winning streak, rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor will be a large priority for the 'Cats. And that goal can only be attained by positioning Patterson closer to the basket, instead of on the baseline,15-feet from the rim, or on the wing.
Rebounding is what cost UK at South Carolina, and it will cost them Saturday if they don't show an improvement. Vandy is long enough, athletic enough, and has enough shot-makers to snag a victory in Rupp, unless the 'Cats make better decisions and pound the glass.
The difference in this game, though, may very well be the home crowd, and their refusal to allow the 'Cats to lose.
Projected score: Kentucky 75 Vanderbilt 71