I hope everyone remembered to spring forward today, so as not to miss the 2012 SEC Tournament Championship game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and Kentucky Wildcats. The game is at 1:00 PM today, and as usual, A Sea of Blue will have full coverage including a live game thread for your chatting pleasure.
Like with the Florida Gators yesterday, this game represents the third contest between Vandy and UK this season. Also like the Florida game yesterday, it is likely that coach Kevin Stallings learned a lot from the first two, which were both close, competitive contests, and likely has a good idea how to win today's game, if the thing is even possible. For more pre-game detail, see our earlier analysis here and here.
As I mentioned before the Florida game, I really don't like playing teams three times, because you tend to learn more from losses than from wins, and Vandy needs precious little help to finally get over the hump and win a game against Kentucky. Most UK fans, including yours truly, would not be troubled much by a close loss to Vanderbilt at this point for two significant reasons: One, Vanderbilt is a quality team that, if the teams played 10 times, should be expected to win 2 or 3 at least, which puts them right in the sweet spot for this one.
The second reason is that we know very well from last year that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee does not consider the SEC Championship game in their calculus for awarding seeds in the tournament. That means that as far as any impact on the NCAA Tournament is concerned, this game is a complete nullity. It truly has no NCAA Tournament implications whatsoever.
Updated Vanderbilt Statistics:
No injuries to report for either team
Unlike Florida, who matches up very poorly with Kentucky, the Commodores match up very well at every position, or at least as well as any team in America outside of Chapel Hill. Vanderbilt has a big, and reasonably deep front line, plenty of athleticism, and the best 3-point shooter in America in John Jenkins. In two games against the Wildcats this season, the Commodores have lost by a combined total of 15 points, 6 in Nashville and 9 in Lexington. Those margins are almost perfectly according to Hoyle, which means Kentucky should be expected to win this game by something in-between. Call it 7.5 (although Kenpom.com has the margin predicted at 9).
No matter what the line is, this game is likely to be a very tough one for Kentucky. Vanderbilt has had some trouble away from home winning basketball games, but they looked good against a tough, defensive-minded Ole Miss team yesterday winning by 12, and there is no doubt that regardless of the lack of NCAA impact by this game, the Commodores want this game badly.
The linchpin of today's contest will be very much the same as it was yesterday for Florida -- guard the 3-point line. If Kentucky can successfully force Vanderbilt to shoot from the 2-point area, they have a good chance of winning this game. As with Florida, Vanderbilt needs a high number of made threes to win. Unlike Florida, they don't need to make double-digits -- I would guess seven or more would make this game very competitive for Vanderbilt.
Unlike Florida, however, Vanderbilt is not noted for trying to get a lot of threes in transition. They can run, but they don't run like Florida, nor do they press. They will try to get their threes of screening action and ball movement in the half-court, so this game should have a pace that is more to Kentucky's liking. In fact, the Wildcats may want to speed up Vandy a bit if they can, because Vanderbilt's great weakness is ballhandling -- the 'Dores are 9th in the SEC in turnover percent, giving the basketball away at a generous 20.1% clip.
The Log5 odds are something like 80% for Kentucky winning this game, but I think the Wildcats are ripe for an upset right now. If one is coming, this game provides the perfect confluence of motivation, venue, and small intangibles slightly favoring the opponent that have been absent in earlier contests. John Jenkins seems to like these rims just fine, and Kentucky has seemed just the slightest bit vulnerable in this tournament.
In the end, though, I expect the Wildcats to pull it out, mostly by dint of their unsurpassed will to win.