Time for the big one, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation. Today, the Kentucky Wildcats make the short drive down I-65 to challenge the other SEC East Division heavyweight besides the 'Cats this year, the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky have a long history, but only very recently have the Commodores been able to consistently challenge Kentucky for supremacy in the SEC, but they are most assuredly competitors for the highly ranked Wildcats this year. Kevin Stallings has done an outstanding job recruiting and developing good players for the only school in the SEC without an athletics department.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Commodores and the Wildcats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||VU|
|Strength of Schedule||#54||#30|
|RPI Top 50||7-0||4-1|
Significant losses for the Commodores this year have come versus the Cincinnati Bearcats (66), the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign (52), versus the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (126), and at the Kentucky Wildcats (8) and Georgia Bulldogs (89). Top 50 wins have come at the St. Mary's, Calif. Gaels (48), Versus the Missouri Tigers (13), twice against the Tennessee Volunteers (29), and at the Mississippi Rebels (44) [all team rankings courtesy of Kenpom.com]
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis. For more on the Anchor of Gold. AoG also has a nice pre-game analysis here., be sure to check out the SB Vanderbilt blog,
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
The Commodores and the Wildcats are not only close in SEC records, but they are statistically close as well. Both Kentucky and Vandy are efficient basketball teams, both offensively and defensively. As you might expect from the overall records of the two teams, the Wildcats are slightly better overall this year in both areas, but they are much closer than with most other SEC foes.
Zooming in on the SEC portion of the season by moving the left-hand slider until you can see only the last 11 games, it is amazing how closely these two teams have tracked on offensive efficiency, ending up virtually tied as of Vandy's last game. Defensively, the Wildcats have consistently been better, which is unquestionably responsible for the four-game difference in their record, and while it is true that Vanderbilt has played a much tougher overall schedule, the fact is that they have not lost to tough teams, having dropped only one game to the top 50, Kentucky in Rupp Arena. The rest of the losses came from outside the top 50, but they have a perfect record so far in Memorial Gymnasium.
Moving on to the offensive Four Factors, the Commodores have shot the ball slightly but not significantly better than Kentucky overall, and unsurprisingly, the Commodores take better care of the ball, but by a relatively small margin. Also unsurprising is the advantage UK has on the offensive glass, as it has on almost every other team in the nation. But interestingly, Vandy gets to the line even more than Kentucky. Watch out for this statistic in Memorial Gym -- if that happens today, UK will be in trouble.
The defensive Four Factors reveal that Kentucky is significantly better in holding teams to lower shooting percentages, a big reason for Vandy's worse record. This stat could be influenced quite a bit by Vandy's better competition. Both teams force turnovers at about the same rate, but Vanderbilt does not take care of their defensive boards as well as UK does. This is another stat to watch -- if UK significantly out-rebounds the Commodores, Vandy could be in trouble. Finally, Vandy puts teams on the line more than UK does, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the offensive inverse of this stat that shows the 'Dores getting to the line more.
Finally, both teams shoot virtually the same percentage overall, but Vanderbilt is shooting the ball better from three in conference play. Both teams take approximately the same percentage of shots from three, and both teams like a high tempo and utilize their bench about the same.
Overall, these two teams are very even statistically, and you would have to say that based purely on stats, Vandy has the advantage in this game due to playing it on their home court.
Vanderbilt Commodores Basketball Roster
|Jermaine Beal||-||G||Starter, significant contributor
|Festus Ezeli||3||C||Reserve, role player||255||6-11||sophomore|
|Lance Goulbourne||5||G||Reserve, role player||225||6-8||sophomore|
|John Jenkins||23||G||Reserve, role player
|Darshawn McClellan||21||F||Reserve, limited role
|A.J. Ogilvy||4||C||Starter, go-to guy
|Jeffery Taylor||44||G||Starter, major contributor
|Steve Tchiengang||33||F||Reserve, role player||240||6-9||sophomore|
|Brad Tinsley||1||G||Starter, role player
|Andre Walker||24||F||Starter, limited role
Position Analysis: Point Guard
Vanderbilt point guard Jermaine Beal has been playing very well of late: Beal is averaging 17.6 points per game in SEC play (4th in the league), and is making 49.1% of his field goal attempts (6th in SEC), 45.3% of his three-point tries (29-64), good for 2nd in the SEC, and 85.4% of his free throws (2nd in SEC). In Vandy's game with UK earlier in the year, Beal scored a team-leading 19 points (4-8 threes), but had only one assist to go along with two turnovers.
Beal is a strong floor general, and must be accounted for on the perimeter, and although he didn't hurt UK with the drive and dish in the earlier contest, he is a capable penetrator, and help must be given on the drive.
Kentucky's John Wall has made 20-44 shots over the last three games (45.5%), but he's only 2-12 from beyond the arc in his last four games (16.7%). Since he posted nine assists and seven turnovers against Vandy five games ago, Wall has dished out 27 assists to 19 turnovers. Wall has picked up his scoring of late, averaging 21.3 points per game over the last three contests. Wall has also recorded 10 rebounds in two of the last three games.
Wall made only four of 12 shots versus Vandy back in January (2-5 threes), and scored 13 points. As per the norm, Wall will look to push the pace, and get to the rim, in an effort to thwart the 2-3 zone Vandy coach Kevin Stallings will employ.
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
Position Analysis: Two-Guard
Six-three sophomore Brad Tinsley has not been shooting the three-point shot very well all year; He's made 26 of 87 tries, good for 29.9%, but he's finding the open man, averaging an excellent (for a "2" guard) 3.2 assists per game on the year. Tinsley recorded a team-high seven assists against Ole Miss Thursday night.
Against UK earlier in the season, Tinsley scored eight points (3-6, 0-2) and handed out three assists.
While only scoring 7.7 points per game on the year, Tinsley must not be given time to set, for he is capable of getting the hot hand from beyond the arc.
UK's Eric Bledsoe has made four of 11 three-point attempts (36.4%), and 8-17 field goals (47.1%) in the 'Cats' last two games. Since scoring 13 points against Vanderbilt in January, Bledsoe is averaging 9.8 points per game over his last five contests. Normally a strong rebounder (he had seven versus Vandy), Bledsoe recorded no boards against Mississippi State Tuesday night.
Position Analysis: Swing
Vandy's Jeffery Taylor, who is averaging 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game (6th in SEC) in league play, is coming off a hot performance against Mississippi Thursday night; Taylor drilled 8-11 shots and scored 19 points. A strong shooter within the three-point arc, Taylor is making 53.0% of his shots from the field, while averaging 5.4 rebounds per game (2.2 offensive rebounds per game). He leads the 'Dores with 32 steals (1.3 per game).
Last time out against UK, Taylor scored 10 points on four of eight shooting, grabbed two boards, and turned the ball over five times. Taylor is not a three-point threat, having attempted only 10 long-range shots on the year (making only one), but he's not averse to putting the ball on the floor, and creating his own shot. He also hits the boards hard.
Darnell Dodson has been struggling lately from the field; Dodson has made only nine of his last 23 field goal attempts over the last five games (39.1%). In the last four games he's made only 2-13 three attempts. Since scoring 16 and 14 points in back-to-back contests against Vandy and Ole Miss, he's averaging 3.5 points per game.
Position Analysis: Center
Vandy big man A. J. Ogilvy is averaging 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in SEC play, and he's currently sixth in the league with 1.6 blocks per game (also in SEC play). On the season, Ogilvy is making 51.6% of his field goal attempts and 2.1 offensive rebounds per game.
In 21 minutes of action against UK in January, Ogilvy took only four shots, making two, but he was 8-12 from the free throw line mostly due to his ability to draw fouls, especially from UK's Daniel Orton. Ogilvy is a versatile player, capable of taking the 15-foot jumper, or working in the paint.
Ogilvy's paint counterpart, DeMarcus Cousins, has been a monster performer on the boards of late, averaging 13.2 rebounds (6.6 offensive boards) over his last five games. Cousins has continued to make what seems to be almost impossible shots on the blocks; Cousins in 27-54 from the field (50.0%) over the last five games, and he's quickly becoming an assist threat (seven dimes in the last four games).
Cousins had a big game last time out against Vandy: In 21 minutes of action Cousins scored 21 points (6-10 fg's), grabbed 10 rebounds (8 offensive), and blocked one shot.
Position analysis: Forward
Andre Walker, Vandy's 6'7" sophomore forward has been a tremendously consistent, and under-appreciated performer. While averaging only 5.9 points per game, Walker, in SEC play, is snagging 6.8 rebounds per game, and has possibly become the top passing big man in the league, averaging 3.6 assists per game; His 1.68 assist/turnover ratio is fourth best in the SEC.
Walker is accurate around the basket, making 58.1% of his shots. Versus UK, earlier in the season, Walker scored 10 points of 4-5 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds, but turned the ball over and uncharacteristic four times.
Kentucky's Patrick Patterson finally has the look of someone comfortable in his role. Against MSU Tuesday night, Patterson recorded his first double-digit rebounding effort (10 boards) since UK's game with Long Beach State on Dec. 23 (13 games ago). His six offensive rebounds were the most he's grabbed since Kentucky played Indiana on Dec. 12 (16 games ago). The 19 points (against MSU) is the most he's had since the 21 he recorded against Austin Peay in December.
Since his seven shot effort against Vandy five games ago, Patterson is averaging 10.6 shots per game. In that same time-frame, Patterson has made 24 of 53 shots from the field (45.3%), and five of 13 three-point attempts (38.5%). Since his four turnovers committed against Vanderbilt, Patterson has recorded only five miscues in the five game stretch.
In UK's last game versus the Commodores, Patterson scored 12 points (3-4 from beyond the arc), grabbed four rebounds, blocked two shots, and had two steals.
Freshman guard John Jenkins is the 'Dores primary bench scoring threat; Jenkins averages 10.3 points per game and makes an impressive 45.4% of his trey attempts (49-108). Six-eleven sophomore center/forward Festus Ezeli, 6'8" swing Lance Goulbourne, and 6'9" forward Steve Tchiengang provide the Commodores with depth in the paint. The three combine to score only 10.7 points per game, but they all rebound the ball well, and Goulbourne blocked two shots versus UK in the teams' meeting in January.
Liggins had a nice game against Vandy earlier in the year, scoring nine points, grabbing four rebounds and recording two steals in 25 minutes of action. Daniel Orton, playing only seven minutes and committing five fouls against Vandy last time out, has committed only 2.4 fouls per game since. Orton is has also been accurate with his shot, making 8-11 over the last five games (72.7%). Also, in the last five games Orton has averaged 4.0 rebounds, in an average of 14.8 minutes per game. He's also recorded seven blocks in the last four games (1.8 per game).
For most of the Kentucky contributors, today will be their first foray into Memorial Gym. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe along with Daniel Orton and Darnell Dodson have never before faced the strange set-up of the benches on the ends under the baskets, and if these young 'Cats thought the MSU crowd was loud in Starkville, they are about to play in a place that is arguably even louder and more rowdy, although they are probably not likely to throw objects onto the floor in Nashville.
In SEC play alone, the Wildcats are averaging 1.1 points/possession while allowing 0.94, 2nd and 1st in the league respectively. The Commodores, on the other hand, are averaging 1.13 p/p and allowing 1.07, 1st and 9th respectively. The bottom line is, Vanderbilt has been slightly better on offense but significantly worse on defense.
A.J. Ogilvy, Jermaine Beal and company will be anxious to prove today that they can hold serve in their own house, and they will be supported by a wild crowd in a place where they have been seriously threatened a few times, but have always come through, primarily due to the fact that they tend to shoot great in Memorial Gymnasium and opponents do not.
Home court advantage is likely to hold sway in this game. The Wildcats will be facing a very hot team in the Commodores who's only losses this year have been away from Memorial Gymnasium, and the "Memorial Magic" is likely to be present in spades for this highly anticipated, high profile game. Nashville is surely the most difficult place to play in the SEC, and arguably one of the very toughest in the nation.
This one smells like an upset for the Wildcats.
Projected Score: Kentucky 80 Vanderbilt 83