Kentucky Wildcats (11-3) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (9-5)
- Game Time: 8:30 pm EST on January 12th
- Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
- TV Channel: SEC Network
- Announcers: Dave Neal (play-by-play) and Daymeon Fishback (analyst) are on the call tonight.
- Live Online Stream: You can stream the game online or on a mobile device using WatchESPN.
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington or online at UKAthletics.com.
- Satellite Radio: Sirius 105 | XM 190 | Internet 961
- Replay: Check local listings on the the SEC Network and WatchESPN
- Rosters: UK | Vanderbilt
- Odds: Kentucky opened as a 13-point favorite. KenPom projected Kentucky to be a 12-point favorite. Kentucky has failed to cover the spread in two-straight games after covering the spread in five of their previous six games.
- Predictions: UK has a 86.8% chance to win, according to ESPN’s matchup predictor. KenPom gives Kentucky an 86% chance of winning and projects an 82-70 win for the home team. Check out our own breakdown and prediction for the game.
- Digital Gameday Guide
After struggling to defeat a mediocre Texas A&M club, the Kentucky will host Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
So far, the Commodores are 0-2 in SEC play while the Wildcats stand at 1-1. Kentucky’s start to SEC play has been rather unimpressive. Against a much improved conference, it’s imperative that the Wildcats keeps stringing together wins (even if they’re not pretty).
When head coach John Calipari addressed the media after the Cats 11 point victory against Texas A&M, he seemed exhausted. He began the post game press conference with his face in his hands and made mention of having to drag his team to a victory.
By now, Kentucky fans know that this is a process and all that truly matters is the final product in March.
However, you can tell that the coaching staff wasn’t expecting quite this much adversity in regards to getting this group of players to gel. Calipari wants his players holding each other accountable. He even went as far to praise EJ Montgomery for scolding a teammate who wasn’t making the extra pass.
Going forward, the team’s response to Calipari’s challenge will be worth monitoring.
Keys to the game
The Ashton Hagans Show
The emergence of Ashton Hagans has changed the defensive culture of Kentucky’s backcourt. Hagans is improving and controlling the game on both ends of the floor. To make things even scarier for opponents, Hagan’s offense is seemingly catching up with his defense.
On Tuesday night, he was the team’s second-leading scorer with 18 points, five assists, five steals and just one turnover.
The SEC and entire country is starting to take notice of just how good Hagans is. With 19 steals in his last four games, Hagans is beginning to prove he is one of the better defenders in program history. At this point, you have to assume that Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew will be forced to game-plan around Hagans.
Dominate The Boards
Wildly enough, Kentucky has been out-rebounded in each of their previous two outings. On Saturday, the Wildcats’ rebounding slump could grow even worse against a Commodores team that boasts a +5 rebounding margin on the season.
Unexpectedly, Reid Travis has had just 10 total rebounds over the last two games. Before SEC play began, Travis had been a pillar of consistency (especially when rebounding the basketball).
After Kentucky fell behind early against the Aggies, Nick Richards checked in to relieve Travis. While Richards provided instant offense, he grabbed just one rebound. Overall, it’s not hard to see Calipari’s agitation is mounting with UK’s lackluster effort on the glass.
“Like I said, if you can offensive rebound, do you understand I’m not taking you out? Don’t get blocked out. A shot goes up, go, move, run, don’t ever run into anybody,” Calipari said after the win against Texas A&M.
Bryce Drew is working magic down in Nashville, most recently landing top-talent Darius Garland and having his Commodores to a stable 9-5 start.
It’s unfortunate Garland will miss nearly the entire year without getting a chance to show what a special talent he is in a venue like Rupp Arena. In the five games before getting hurt, Garland was pouring in 16 points a game, all while being the Commodores floor general.
If you can’t tell, I am quite upset about missing the chance to see Darius Garland go head to head with Ashton Hagans. It is very possible that they will matchup one day as professionals.
Garland isn’t the only highly touted player on Bryce Drew’s roster, Simi Shittu was also a McDonald’s All-American and is a load down low. Shittu has taken over as Vandy’s leading scorer in Garlands absence. He will be a major test for Kentucky’s bigs, who haven’t seen an athletic big man who can score like him since Duke.
Matt Ryan and Joe Toye can also light it up from deep, and Kentucky has allowed guys like them to put on a show in Rupp far too often this season.
Saban Lee is developing into a great point guard who will be another good test for Ashton Hagans to defend.
The Commodores are also balanced with four players who average double figures in scoring.
Like Alabama, Vanderbilt is a team with several good wins (at USC and vs. Arizona State) but some bad losses. Kentucky can’t afford to play like they did against the Tide if they want to hold at serve and beat the Commodores.
It’s going to be easy to look at Vanderbilt record and overlook them, but they absolutely have the firepower to the Wildcats if they don’t bring it for 40 minutes.
Players to watch
Simi Shittu, Freshman, Center, 14.5 PPG & 8.2 RPG
Shittu’s tough style of play should challenge Kentucky’s front-court. In return, it would serve the Wildcats well to accept Calipari’s challenge & battle in the paint. Shittu is a liability when he has the ball, though, as one of the team’s leaders via turnovers.
Shittu can also be a rim protector with a block in three-straight games. The 6-10 big is also the kind of athletic big that Reid Travis tends to struggle against down low.
Saben Lee, Sophomore, Guard, 12.2 PPG
Lee isn’t a major threat from behind the arc but is when he drives the basketball and pays a visit to the foul line. The bad news for Lee is that he will likely see a heavy dose of Ashton Hagans, which could lead to other Commodores having to step up in their offensive set.
The Cats need to manufacture 40 full minutes of sustained effort. At 1-1 in SEC play, there is no room for dropping another game that they should win. Hopefully the last two games have been a wake up call and the energy will present from start to finish.
Matt Ryan, Junior, Forward, 10.8 PPG
As mentioned above, Ryan is the kind of guy who can light Rupp Arena up if Kentucky’s three-point defense struggles again. He’s also a stretch forward, so it will be harder to put a great defender like Hagans on him.
Ryan is shooting 39.3% from deep and has made a three in every game this season. His best outing was 4/7 from deep in an 11-point loss at Kansas State. Hopefully these Wildcats do better at limiting his production from beyond the arc.