Kentucky Wildcats at Vanderbilt Commodores: Game Preview

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats and the Commodores renew their long rivalry in Memorial Gym.

Today, the Kentucky Wildcats travel down to Nashville to challenge the Vanderbilt Commodores in Memorial Gymnasium, the Bermuda Triangle of college basketball where high rankings often go to vanish. Memorial is one of, if not the, most unusual arena arrangements anywhere in the country, something Kentucky fans know only too well.

General

  • Conference: SEC
  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Head Coach: Kevin Stallings (since 1999)
  • NCAA Appearances: 13
  • Most recent NCAA appearance: 2012
  • Most recent NCAA win: 2012
  • Founded: 1873
  • Students: 6,726
  • Record last season: 16-17 (8-10)

Source: Basketball State

About Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt is a private university frequently nicknamed the "Harvard of the South." It has an outstanding academic reputation, and lately has been very successful in football and basketball, although they just lost their football coach to Penn St. University, which, in itself, is a major compliment to what they have been able to do.

Kevin Stallings has proven himself to be an able recruiter and an excellent coach, although he has fallen on very hard times this season with major personnel losses to everything from transfer to dismissal to injury. He is currently saddled with a roster that contains only seven scholarship players.

Season so far:

Despite a relatively mundane non-conference schedule reckoned only 182nd by Kenpom.com, The Commodores find themselves at 8-5 with a good win over Georgia St. (new home of former Wildcat Ryan Harrow) in their first game of the season. The win over Georgia Tech and Loyola Marymount are also pretty good, but other than that, they have only beaten markedly inferior teams.

They have lost to Providence (neutral) and Butler (away) in close games, played Texas close in Austin, and lost their first SEC game to Alabama in Tuscaloosa by five, 68-63

History

Kentucky has a long history with Vanderbilt, with the series beginning in 1912 until now, a total of 184 games, of which Kentucky has won 138 and lost 46 (67%). Notable upsets occurred in 2004 when #5 Kentucky lost to unranked Vandy in Nashville, 2002 when Vanderbilt upset #10 Kentucky in Nashville, 1993 when Vanderbilt upset #1 Kentucky 101-86, and the famous game at Vanderbilt where #12 Kentucky lost to an unranked Vandy squad 98-87 where Rick Pitino was ejected and UK whistled for 28 fouls to Vanderbilt's 11.

Vanderbilt has upset Kentucky when they were ranked #1 a total of 4 times, all but two in Nashville. Two times the Commodores beat Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, the last time in 2012.

Vanderbilt roster

NO NAME Status Class Pos. Height Weight Hometown/Previous School
30 Damian Jones S FR C 6-10 235 Baton Rouge, La./Scotlandville Magnet
11 Kyle Fuller S* SR G 6-1 188 Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde
24 Dai-Jon Parker S** JR G 6-3 190 Baton Rouge, La./Milton (Ga.)
35 James Siakam S* RS JR F 6-7 215 Douala, Cameroon/Brehm Prep
0 Rod Odom S** SR F 6-9 212 Central Islip, N.Y./Middlesex School
3 Luke Kornet MR FR F 7-0 216 Lantana, Texas/Liberty Christian
34 Shelby Moats MR* JR F 6-8 227 Waconia, Minn./Waconia
10 Nathan Watkins R* SO G 6-5 195 Brentwood, Tenn./Ensworth
14 Carter Josephs R* SO G 6-0 185 San Antonio, Texas/Tom C. Clark HS
40 Josh Henderson R+ RS JR C 6-11 231 Roanoke, Va./Cave Spring









Legend





S Starter





MR Major reserve





R Reserve





* Returning player





** Returning starter





+ Injured-unavailable






Player notes

  • True Freshman Damian Jones has been playing well and is the team's best rebounder at 6.1/gm. He is also leading the team in blocked shots at 1.2/gm

  • Rod Odom is the leading scorer. You remember Rod, the guy with the Spalding tattoo? He averages 13.8/gm and is deadly from 3, shooting 46% from the arc.

  • Kyle Fuller leads the team in assists, but Vandy is a good passing team with 3 players over 3 assists per game.

  • Dai-Jon Parker is another dangerous shooter, making 45% of his 3-point shots.

Injuries and personnel losses

Vanderbilt
Kentucky

No known injuries

Likely matchups

Starters

  • Dai-Jon Parker vs. Andrew Harrison — Parker is a skilled, experienced player and has excellent size. He can shoot the ball from three and get to the rim, and is arguably the best overall player on the team, skill-wise. Andrew Harrison has yet to prove he can handle players at this level, although his size gives him a slight advantage on offense

Advantage: Vanderbilt

  • Kyle Fuller vs. Aaron Harrison — Fuller surrenders significant athleticism to Aaron Harrison, but he is a very experienced and cagey player who will force Harrison to guard him. Aaron's athleticism, size, and ability to get to the rim are probably more than Fuller can handle on defense, but if Vanderbilt zones, as you expect they will, this matchup becomes a draw.

Advantage: Draw

  • Rod Odom vs. James Young — Odom is a senior who can get it done inside and out, and has even better size than Young does. He gets young in the matchup because he is more of a perimeter player than Siakam. Odom is deadly from three and very clever at getting the ball in the basket from everywhere. But against a player as skilled as Young, he is at a defensive disadvantage. This is close, but I give the nod to Young, who has been one of the best players in the nation this season.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • James Siakam vs. Julius Randle — Siakam is giving away a lot of size to Randle, but he is an athletic player who can get it done on the inside, and is a solid rebounder for his size. Still, he is overmatched by Randle in every aspect other than experience.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Damian Jones vs. Willie Cauley-Stein — This is a nice matchup to watch, but this is one of those cases where Kentucky has the experience advantage. Jones is quite a good player, and has a game roughly similar to WCS. But WCS runs the floor better, is more athletic overall and a significantly better shot blocker.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bench

Kentucky's bench is vastly deeper and more talented than Vanderbilt's. Luke Kornet and Shelby Moats are nice players, but Kentucky is bringing Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee off the bench, all very skilled, big, and strong players.

Advantage: Kentucky

Team comparison

Rank and Records UK Vandy
RPI #18 #114
Strength of Schedule #12 #140
Overall 11-3 8-5
Conference 1-0 0-1
Home 10-0 6-1
Away 0-1 0-3
Top 25 1-2 0-0
RPI Top 50 2-3 0-1


Courtesy of Statsheet.com

Four Factors

Game analysis

On paper, this game favors Kentucky by a mile, but unfortunately, in the weird time warp that is Memorial Gym, almost anything can happen. The Vegas line for this game is around 8 points, and Ken Pomeroy figures that UK will win by 6 points and has a 72% chance to win.

Kentucky shoots the ball only slightly better, overall, than the Commores, but their eFG% defense is much better at 43%. Additionally, the Commodores are very weak on the offensive glass, and Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation The gulf between the two is almost 15%, and if the Wildcats dominate the glass in practice at anything close to this rate, it's tough to see how Vanderbilt competes.

Even worse, the Commodores turn the ball over more than Kentucky, which is somewhat surprising given that Vandy normally takes really good care of the ball. The good news for Vandy on this score is that the Wildcats force very few turnovers.

Kentucky gets to the line on 61% of field goal attempts, #2 in the nation, but the downside is that they don't shoot free throws well. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, they don't get to the line nearly as much, and they shoot free throws even worse than Kentucky.

While Vandy has some nice players, they have no front-court depth and very little overall depth. This is one of the weakest Vanderbilt teams in recent memory squaring off against a very strong, if young Kentucky team. The only way Kentucky loses this game is if they fall prey to Memorial Magic, or if they completely forget to carry out their assignments, miss a ton of free throws, and allow Vandy a bunch of open shots from the 3-point line.

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