Congratulations to the Vanderbilt Commodores for winning the 2012 SEC Tournament championship. Vanderbilt did what they needed to do to upset Kentucky, and all the credit for this victory belongs to them. There will be no sour grapes, no complaining about officials, no moaning and groaning from this writer. Vanderbilt played with heart and intensity, and for them, unlike the Florida Gators, the third time was a charm.
I worried this might happen in the game preview, and it turned out that concern was not misplaced. I am very upset and unhappy about the loss, but at the end of the day, losses happen even to the very best teams during the regular season and conference tournaments. Every one of the likely top seeds suffered a setback this year with the possible exception of the Michigan St. Spartans, who's game is just underway.
While this loss does not impact Kentucky's NCAA seed in any meaningful way, it is a bitter end to a joyous conference season. For whatever reason, the rims in New Orleans Arena got very unfriendly, and for Wildcats fans, that will be a concern going forward. Kentucky missed many open shots today, and the move to the zone by Vanderbilt late in the game seemed to exacerbate Kentucky's shooting woes, which really haven't showed up all year.
Second-guessing is a game for fans and bloggers, and I am wondering why John Calipari didn't think it wise to put in Kyle Wiltjer later in the game when Vandy went to the zone. I suppose the answer is that he had confidence in Darius Miller and Doron Lamb, but for some reason, neither one of those guys could make shots, even though they got several wide-open looks.
Vanderbilt gets all the credit for responding to runs throughout the game, but in the end, it was Kentucky's inability to make open shots and come up with defensive rebounds that cost them the game. Vandy did the right thing by inviting the ice-cold Wildcats to prove they could make threes, and now we see a way in which Kentucky could lose a game against a zone team like Syracuse. Fortunately, cold shooting by Lamb and Miller is something we really haven't seen much of.
Darius Miller deserves credit for playing a very good game, but unfortunately, in the end, he will be mostly remembered for the shots he missed rather than the shots he made. Terrence Jones was a man for 35 minutes and a mouse for the last 5, most likely due to fatigue. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fouled out and wasn't a factor. Anthony Davis played perhaps his worst game as a Wildcat, struggling to get anything done, missing his free throws, and surrendering far too many points inside to Festus Ezeli. Marquis Teague was as cold as everyone else, and only God knows why he was taking threes at all.
I'm not going to implicitly denigrate Vanderbilt's first SEC Tournament championship since 1951 by saying Kentucky played awful -- they didn't. They shot awful, but Kentucky has survived bad shooting days many times before. What happened was the Wildcats just didn't finish the game. Part of that, no doubt, was due to MKG's absence, but he was the only one to blame for that. Other than one bad charging call, every one of his fouls was legit. At crunch time, the Wildcats did not respond, and Vanderbilt did. All credit goes to them.
Next up -- the Big Dance.