Saturday afternoon, the Kentucky Wildcats travel down to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores in venerable Memorial Gymnasium. This has been a competitive contest now for a good number of years, and this year figures to be no different. The Wildcats take a weak 1-4 road record with them down I-65 with an eye toward making that look at least one game closer to .500.
Let's look a the SEC standings and a comparison of the two teams' season so far, courtesy of Statsheet.com, as always:
|8||South Carolina||13-9||4-5||RPI 51-100||3-2||0.6||4-1||0.8|
As you can see, neither team has been particularly good so far on the road, but Vanderbilt just won a tough game last night at least partially due to a very bad call from one of the officials, Tim Higgins. I suppose that means that they aren't as angry and hungry for a win as they would be had the result gone against them, but I doubt that will make much difference.
What might make a difference is the fact that the Thursday-Saturday afternoon turn-around is quite fast, and the Alabama Crimson Tide game was intense and competitive. Kentucky has had the better part of the week to recover from its thrashing of the Tennessee Volunteers, so it will be interesting to see if Vandy is still feeling the effects of their previous contest.
For the Vanderbilt side, be sure to visit the excellent Anchor of Gold, SB Nation's Commodore side.
More after the jump.
Vanderbilt Commodores Basketball Roster
|Joe Duffy||50||F||Minor reserve||225||6-8||senior|
|Festus Ezeli||3||C||Starter, main post threat, 2nd leading rebounder, best OR%, 2.3 BPG, foul prone
|Lance Goulbourne||5||G||Starter, leading rebounder
|John Jenkins||23||G||Starter, leading scorer, 40% 3pt shooter,
|Chris Meriweather||10||G||Rarely plays||180||6-0||senior|
|Aaron Noll||14||F||Rarely plays||220||6-7||junior|
|Rod Odom||45||F||Major reserve, 42% 3pt shooter||215||6-9||freshman|
|Jordan Smart||12||G||Rarely plays||200||6-6||sophomore|
|Jeffery Taylor||44||G||Starter, 2nd leading scorer, 40% 3pt shooter, lead steals,
|Steve Tchiengang||33||F||Major reserve, defense, can shoot three||245||6-9||junior|
|Brad Tinsley||1||G||Starter, leading assists, 37% 3pt shooter
|Andre Walker||54||F||Major reserve, gets starter's minutes, rebound and defense||220||6-7||junior|
As you can see by my notes above, Vanderbilt has a ton of 3-point shooters. In fact, it's hard to find guys who play for Vanderbilt who don't shoot the three well if they shoot it at all. Vanderbilt shoots more 3's per FGA than Kentucky does, so that should give you an idea about how much of their offense comes from the arc.
Reserve forward Andre Walker is questionable Saturday. He is recovering from an high ankle sprain suffered against Davidson on January 2nd.
Aaron Knoll is out with a broken foot, and will not be back for 4-6 weeks.
Kentucky has no known injuries.
Four Factors Analysis
The Four Factors in this game favor Vanderbilt, mainly because they are an even better shooting team than Kentucky is. Kentucky gets a better OR% and turns the ball over less, but the Commodores get to the free throw line substantially more than Kentucky does, and considering only conference games, Vanderbilt is the best free throw shooting team in the SEC.
On paper going into this game, the Wildcats are in a tough spot. Not only do they have to face the Commodores on the road, but the Wildcats have struggled away from the comfy confines of Rupp Arena, particularly in the SEC. There is no tougher gymnasium anywhere in the United States for opponents than Memorial Gym, and Vanderbilt does its best to maximize that advantage, particularly when Kentucky comes to town.
One thing that augers to the advantage of Kentucky is that Kentucky is a much better defensive team than Vanderbilt, and just as potent on offense. The Wildcats also have a remarkable defensive stopper in DeAndre Liggins, who will make Vandy find significant points from somewhere other than John Jenkins. The trouble is, Vanderbilt has lots of players who can score.
Vanderbilt is also a comparatively deep team, and their depth is reasonably high quality. Fortunately for Kentucky, few of them are better, at least talent-wise, than Eloy Vargas and Jon Hood, so it should be possible for Calipari to steal some minutes that way.
Neither Vanderbilt nor Kentucky are particularly aggressive on defense, but Vanderbilt is dead last in the league in steals, considering only SEC games. Kentucky is 5th, and that combined with Vanderbilt's propensity to turn over the basketball helps the Wildcat's cause. Kentucky also has a small advantage on the offensive glass, but probably only if Josh Harrellson is able to stay in the game, and Festus Ezeli is more athletic and longer than Harrellson. Harrellson is heavier and probably stronger, but we'll have to see how that one washes out. If Harrellson is better, it could really matter for the Wildcats.
The real key for Kentucky will be how well they can defend the Commodores, because they are respectively the #1 and #2 offensive teams in the league considering the entire season. Both teams are likely to burn the nets from three, and this could be the highest-scoring game we have seen in a while. Kentucky is currently the #2 defensive team in the SEC, but their defense has not been as stout on the road, especially in league. If Kentucky brings the same intensity on defense and precision on offense they discovered in the Tennessee game, I like their chances.
It may be that the Tennessee game, and how well they executed, could restore the confidence Kentucky lost in three tough visits to exotic Athens, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford. If not, the Wildcats could be sunk by the Black and Gold navy.