Kentucky Wildcats at Vanderbilt Commodores
- Date: January 29, 2019
- Game Time: 9 pm EST
- Location: Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee
- TV Channel: ESPN
- Live Online Stream: You can stream the game online or on a mobile device using WatchESPN, the Watch ESPN app and fuboTV.
- 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.
- Replay: Check local listings on the SEC Network and WatchESPN.
- Rosters: UK | VAN
- Odds: Kentucky opened as a 9.5-point favorite. KenPom projected Kentucky to be an 8.5-point favorite. The Wildcats have covered the spread in four-straight games but haven’t won by double digits at Vanderbilt since 2005.
- Prediction: ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky an 81.3-percent chance of winning. KenPom gives the road team a 79-percent chance of winning and projects a 74-65 win for the Wildcats. TeamRankings projects a 73-64 Kentucky win. numberFire is going with a 79-71 win for the Cats. Go here for more betting trends and our own prediction.
Back on the road this week, first at Vanderbilt. #UKvsVU pic.twitter.com/LK2HelMDDg— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 29, 2019
Saturday’s win against Kansas completed an impressive three-game stretch for Kentucky. The Wildcats swept their slate of three ranked opponents, setting the tone for the heart of SEC competition.
The Wildcats will return to conference play on Tuesday night when they travel to Nashville for a road matchup with Vanderbilt.
The Commodores (0-6 in SEC play) remain the only winless team in the conference, but they’ve had several close calls, including a heartbreaking overtime loss to Tennessee. How Kentucky plays in that same arena just a week later will be intriguing to watch, as the Vols and Cats are battling for the SEC regular-season crown, as well as a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, likely in the Louisville Region.
The first matchup between Kentucky and Vanderbilt was rather tight, finishing 56-47 at Rupp Arena. Bryce Drew’s club held Kentucky to a season-low point total and will look to do so yet again on Tuesday. Their zone defense caused a lot of problems for the Cats, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust for Round 2.
Despite their record, Vanderbilt has proven they can hang with great teams, so Kentucky can’t afford to come out flat after surviving a gauntlet of ranked matchups.
Consecutive wins over Auburn, Mississippi State and Kansas is an impressive a resume as anyone has to offer over a three-game stretch. However, the Wildcats have struggled to firmly slam the door against inferior teams this season, including the first matchup between these two teams.
The Cats also tend to struggle in Memorial Gymnasium, as their last six wins there have all been by single digits to go with two losses. The last time Kentucky won by double digits at Vandy was way back in 2005.
It’s critical for the Cats to keep their momentum going and have a strong start early. They should be able to control this game from start to finish if they come out focused and ready to handle business for 40 minutes.
3 Keys to the Game
Host a Block Party
Kentucky was able to block eight shots in Saturday’s win against Kansas, including five from Nick Richards alone. Richards has now blocked 15 shots in his last 96 minutes of action which totals 6.3 blocks per 40 minutes. Kentucky’s frontcourt defense has really turned the corner as of late.
Speaking of defense, Kentucky smothered Vanderbilt on that end of the court during their first matchup. The Wildcats held the Commodores to 17 second-half points.
Vandy bigs Simi Shittu and Aaron Naismith combined for 19 points on 8/15 shooting on two-point shots but 1/7 from deep). Look for Bryce Drew to get them more shots in the painted area this time around.
Defending the paint limits crowd-amping dunks and should make the atmosphere much friendlier for the Wildcats.
Defend the Arc
At over seven made threes per game, Vanderbilt isn’t exactly setting the world on fire from behind the arc. In fact, they make just 33% of their attempts. Playing in their home arena should give the Commodores a boost of confidence to a few long-range shots fly.
In their last home game, Vandy had their best three-point shooting day of the season, hitting 10/21 from deep, a big reason why they nearly upset the top-ranked Vols.
The Wildcats will need to prioritize perimeter defense on Aaron Nesmith and Matt Ryan, two players who have combined for 73 three-point makes this season. Saban Lee can also knock them down, hitting seven of his last 10 three-balls.
Stop Saban Lee
With Darius Garland out for the season, Vanderbilt has put a lot more on Saban Lee’s shoulders, and he’s doing his best to carry the offense. He’s averaging 18.8 ppg and 4.3 apg over his last three contests. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky chooses to guard him, as Ashton Hagans spent a lot of time on Matt Ryan last time.
Players to watch:
Simi Shittu - 13.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG
Simi Shittu, a former McDonald’s All-American and, at 6-10, has the size to match up with Kentucky’s bigs. The Cats were able to hold Shittu to just eight points on 40% shooting in their first meeting, warranting the same defensive effort come Tuesday night. However. he’s failed to record a block in four-straight games after getting one in the previous four, including at Kentucky.
Aaron Nesmith - 9.9 PPG, 36% 3PT FG
Kentucky’s perimeter defense starts with containing Aaron Nesmith, who has made 11 triples in his last three games. Nesmith had a 24-point performance last week against Tennessee. His ability to stretch the floor will be a big test for Keldon Johnson.
Matt Ryan - 9.2 PPG, 35% 3PT FG
Ryan is the probably the best shooter on Vanderbilt’s roster, knocking down 41 of his 116 attempts. In the first meeting with Kentucky, Ryan shot just 1-6 from deep but has made 9-22 since then. Vanderbilt needs him and Lee to get going against the Wildcats, as Hagans is bound to slow down whichever of the two he’s guarding.
Saben Lee - 13.4 PPG
As mentioned above, Saban Lee is now the focal point of Vanderbilt’s offense, and he is certainly capable of handling such a task. Despite the team’s loss, he proved that in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge against Oklahoma by scoring 24 points on 12 shot attempts. Lee actually scored 20 total points with six assists in the two matchups with Kentucky last season.