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Vanderbilt Commodores at Kentucky Wildcats: Game Preview

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The Commodores come to town with a younger team than the Kentucky Wildcats.

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Vanderbilt Commodores drop anchor in legendary Rupp Arena to take on the #1 Kentucky Wildcats. This will be the only game between Vanderbilt and Kentucky for the second straight season due to the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the conference. I don’t think any Wildcats fan will miss having to go to Nashville and the quirky Memorial Gym for the return game, other than those who found that ticket easier to come by than the ones at Rupp.

Game Information

TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Stats: Here

I have decided to stop doing the individual match-ups in the previews. It just takes too long and I don’t have time to get them all done properly. In any case, very often they aren’t what we expect due to the coaching chess game.

General

Season so far for Vanderbilt:

Season record: 11-6 overall, 1-3 conference

Vanderbilt is a bit of a surprise to be in this good a shape this season with the dreadful off-season they suffered through, losing a number of experienced and talented players to various issues. They have decent wins over LaSalle on a neutral court, and all three of their pre-conference losses to Baylor, Rutgers and Georgia Tech were by under five points. They also beat a decent Purdue team and a top 100 Yale team in double overtime.

Since entering SEC play, they have only managed to beat Auburn. They lost to Georgia at home by 3, and to Arkansas and, embarrassingly, Mississippi St. on the road.

Series history

Vanderbilt is one of the more successful teams against Kentucky, claiming 46 victories in 185 contests. Between 2006 and 2009, the Commodores pretty much owned the Wildcats, defeating them in 6 of 8 games over that span. In the John Calipari era, the Commodores have been significantly less successful, managing only 3 wins in the last 11 tries.

Over the years, Vandy has had several runs of success other than the above. The Commodores have won more games against Kentucky than the Mississippi schools combined, more than Florida and more than LSU. In fact, Vanderbilt has more wins against Kentucky than any team in the SEC other than the Tennessee Volunteers. Something to be proud of, for sure.

Stats

Vanderbilt Roster:

NO NAME Status Class Pos. Height Weight Hometown/Previous School
30 Damian Jones S** SO C 6-10 248 Baton Rouge, La./Scotlandville Magnet
11 Jeff Roberson S FR F 6-6 206 Houston, Texas/The Kinkaid School
35 James Siakam S** SR F 6-7 225 Douala, Cameroon/Brehm Prep
00 Shelton Mitchell S FR G 6-3 186 Waxhaw, N.C./Oak Hill Academy
13 Riley LaChance S FR G 6-2 194 Brookfield, Wis./Brookfield Central
03 Luke Kornet MR* SO F 7-0 240 Lantana, Texas/Liberty Christian
04 Wade Baldwin IV MR FR G 6-3 195 Belle Mead, N.J./St. Joseph
05 Matthew Fisher-Davis MR FR G/F 6-5 173 Charlotte, N.C./Butler
10 Nathan Watkins R*@ JR G 6-5 195 Brentwood, Tenn./Ensworth
12 Phillip McGloin R FR G 6-1 178 Washington, D.C./Sidwell Friends
14 Carter Josephs R* JR G 6-0 180 San Antonio, Texas/Tom C. Clark HS
34 Shelby Moats R* SR F 6-8 221 Waconia, Minn./Waconia
40 Josh Henderson R* RS SR C 6-11 240 Roanoke, Va./Cave Spring
42 Nolan Cressler R- RS SO G 6-4 204 Pittsburgh, Pa./Cornell








Legend
S Starter
MR Major reserve
R Reserve
* Returning player
** Returning starter
+ Eligible transfer/red shirt
- Ineligible or year in residence
@ Walk on
& Injured, not available

Source: Vanderbilt Athletics

Team Comparison

Rank and Records Vandy UK
RPI #117 #1
Strength of Schedule #113 #4
Overall 11-6 17-0
Conference 1-3 4-0
Home 9-2 12-0
Away 1-3 3-0
Top 25 0-2 4-0
RPI Top 50 0-3 7-0
KenPom Rank #65 #1

Source: Statsheet.com

Four Factors

Offense

VU-UK offensive ff

Defense

VU-UK defensive ff

Vanderbilt Team Notes

Vanderbilt is:

  • a good shooting team, better than Kentucky from both 2 and 3-point range.
  • a poor ballhandling team. Point guard Shelton Mitchell alone turns the ball over 31% of the time, and he’s not the worst on the team.
  • a decent offensive rebounding team.
  • solid at getting to the line, again better than Kentucky.
  • a good free-throw shooting team.
  • shooting 3-pointers on 34% of attempts. That’s not a tremendous amount.
  • even younger than Kentucky.
  • a team that does not pressure the ball.

Vanderbilt Player notes

  • Damien Jones is the leading scorer, and he does all his damage inside. He is also the leading shot-blocker for the Commodores.
  • James Siakam is the leading rebounder and a very efficient player
  • Shelton Mitchell is the point guard and a good assist man, but he turns the ball over a lot.
  • Riley LaChance is the most efficient scorer among the starters, and also shoots a blistering 41% from outside. He’s not afraid to jack it up out there, either, having put up 79 3-pointers this year.
  • Jeff Roberson is a role player, mainly a slasher and energy guy.
  • Off the bench, Wade Baldwin is the best defensive player on the team, and a solid shooter.
  • Luke Kornet is the Commodores size off the bench at 7‘0", and he is a "stretch" player who can really shoot beyond the arc. He is shooting the three at 43%.
  • Matthew Fisher-Davis is another shooter off the bench. He has good size and shoots the 3-ball at 45%.

Injuries

Kentucky
  • Alex Poythress is out for the season with a torn ACL
  • Dominique Hawkins is questionable for Kentucky
Vanderbilt
  • No known injuries

Analysis

Vanderbilt is a dangerous shooting team, and they have some size. Unfortunately, they don’t defend particularly well and they have struggled taking cre of the ball and keeping opponents off the offensive glass. The ‘Dores are allowing 99+ points per 100 possessions, and that puts a lot of stress on the offense, particularly when you are likely to be out-rebounded and turn the ball over a lot. The main cause of all this is the youth of the team — Vandy is even younger than UK is.

The main worry for Kentucky is for Vandy to go all Ole Miss on the Wildcats and make a bunch of threes. If that happens, Kentucky’s defense will have to spread out more, and that, as we saw against the Rebels, creates driving lanes and space for Vandy’s smaller front court to operate and get fouled.

Job one for the Wildcats tonight is to guard the 3-point line and force Vanderbilt to put the ball on the floor. That’s easier said than done against the motion offense that Kevin Stallings runs, and his teams are almost always able to get looks on the perimeter when they want them. Kentucky just has to make them challenged looks rather than open shots.

Kentucky must also force the Commodores to handle the ball as much as possible, because that’s when Vandy is prone to turning it over. The press can also have the effect of speeding them up and forcing a few turnovers.

Vandy is unlikely to be able to stop Kentucky’s bigs without fouling, and the Commodores have to keep their big people out of foul trouble, because when they don’t, they get small in a hurry. Kentucky should also be able to take advantage of the Commodores on the glass, but that’s going to be a major focus for Vanderbilt, who thinks they have a chance if they can hold their own rebounding. Free throw shooting and good shot selection are paramount concerns for Kentucky in this game, and most of the offense should be run inside-out against the challenged inside Commodore defense.

This is a dangerous game for Kentucky. If they are the least bit unfocused or relaxed, and Vanderbilt starts making shots, UK could be facing Ole Miss all over again. I don’t think they want that. But if the Wildcats come focused, this could easily turn into another large margin. The key is to make sure Vandy is good and "dead" before the Wildcats take their foot off the gas.