It is time for us to kick off our SEC season, and as it has been four out of the last five years, Vanderbilt is our lead-off opponent.
Normally, Kentucky looks at Vanderbilt as an easy victory, a nice way to slip into the SEC meat grinder. However, Vandy has handed Kentucky four straight losses dating back to January 10th, 2006. The last time we beat 'Dores was at their place in 2005. Think about that -- the last time we beat Vanderbilt was the last time we had a shot at a Final Four, and came away a Kelenna Azubuike rebound short.
So now we will take a look at the 'Dores tendencies. If you want to see a statistical comparison, check out this earlier post.
Vanderbilt runs an open, high-speed offense designed to get a lot of possessions. Very much like last year, Vanderbilt counts on outscoring their opponent, and they do that very well. Vanderbilt is a senior-dominated team that puts up a lot of points. Only 10 times all year has Vandy been held to under 40 points in a half of basketball, and only 3 times have they scored less than 35. Seven times they have scored 50 or more points and 61 once. They are a formidable offensive team. Efficiency wise, the Commodores sit at 32nd vs. UK's 92nd
The Commodores have no less than four players who are averaging better than 40% from three, and Shan Foster is leading them all with an astonishing 51% from the arc. We have heard a lot of talk about Chris Lofton being a deadly 3-point shooter, but how do the two compare? Foster is shooting 11% better from the arc than Lofton this year.
With shooters like these, it is understandable that Vandy would try to speed up the game as much as possible. But they also have an inside presence, Andrew Ogilvy, the freshman from Australia, who is shooting the ball at 64% from the field. The Dores are anything but one-dimensional. As usual, they are an excellent free throw shooting team. They get more defensive rebounds than we do, but offensive rebound rates between the two teams are similar.
Like Kentucky, Vanderbilt does like to turn the ball over. That is the statistic that is singularly responsible for most of our losses this year, and for once, we will be playing a team as fumble-fingered as we are.
Fortunately, we do have an advantage over Vandy defensively, even though that seems hard to believe after the Louisville game. Vanderbilt is at #123 in DE, while UK weighs in at #55. The Commodores are primarily a man-to-man club, but aren't a particularly good one. They have difficulty guarding more athletic opponents, like South Alabama (John Pelphrey's old team), DePaul, Tennessee State, and South Carolina.
Unlike Kentucky, the 'Dores are not allergic to the zone, and I would be surprised if Stallings doesn't give that a try, especially given it's success in the Louisville game. If Kentucky will take quick shots, a zone is just what the doctor ordered for this game, but if UK is patient on offense, the 'Dores will drop it -- they want possessions, and one way UK can take them out of their game is by being deliberate. So you can expect a mix of defenses from Stallings today.
Intangibles and injuries
Well, you have to figure this for the Cats, since they are at home, but Rupp Arena has been a cold place for this year's team. At least we will have the home crowd.
Kentucky is coming into this game, as it has all year, banged up. We don't know if Meeks will even play, Crawford is hobbled by plantar fasciitis, and Jasper by a terrible toe.
Unlike the days of yore, the Commodores are the superior basketball team. They are better in virtually every offensive category, and with 2 of our 4 leading scorers injured or hobbled, that difference is likely to be magnified. Fortunately, we don't match up badly with the 'Dores like we did with Louisville. Thank goodness for small favors.
In order to win this game, Kentucky will have to turn in its best defensive performance of the season. Playing lock-down defense against the Commodores is something that 16 teams have failed to do so far in this young season, and every one of those worthies has gone down in defeat. Statistically speaking, this game is a mismatch offensively, and unless we can hold Vandy down, they will most likely run away with this game.
But Vanderbilt has not faced a team as defensively skilled as Kentucky. The question is, as hobbled as UK is at the moment, will it be able to be efficient enough to control the Commodore big guns?
Kentucky wins if
- they hold the 'Dores to 70 points or less;
- Patrick Patterson is able to dominate the glass;
- Shan Foster is in foul trouble;
- Kentucky shoots lights-out from three;
- Ogilvy is ineffective.
Kentucky loses if
- Patterson gets in foul trouble;
- Crawford or Jasper is unable to play big minutes;
- it turns the ball over more than 18 times;
- Vanderbilt makes 40% + from 3;
- Ogilvy dominates the paint.
Our margin for error in this game is vanishingly small, and Vanderbilt can beat Kentucky in a variety of ways. There is nothing easy for Kentucky in this game, and even at home, the Cats have to play the best game of their season to come away with the W here.